Socio Economic Class English Language Essay

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Discuss the contribution of any ONE or TWO of the following social factors to our understanding of variation in English: gender, socio-economic class, age, social network, context.

A set of assumptions about language behaviour… can, in real terms, sometimes exert more influence on speakers' attitudes than does direct observation of the language itself." [1] Mugglestone's quote is indicative of the dichotomy that exists between attitudes towards language and actual language usage, due to culturally ingrained ideology that regards language, and the lexical choices people make, as a representation of their socio-economic class. While Saussure (1915) described the "arbitrariness of the linguistic sign", suggesting that the linguistic forms which conventionally signify things in the real world do not actually bear a necessary and inherent relationship to those referents [2] , there remain resolutely held views embedded into our culture endorsing, for example, the superiority of one phrase over another of the same meaning, despite the functionality of both (e.g. the historical preference of "different from" to "different to"). As Milroy and Milroy note, this value judgment is less to do with lexical choice, than social motivation [3] . Identifying a person's socio-economic class conventionally involves an examination of factors including his/her occupation, education, income and wealth, and the relation of these to the constructed hierarchy of high, middle and low classes. Cultural stereotypes surrounding language suggest that those at the top of the socio-economic hierarchy will in turn command the best spoken and written language. But as Thomas writes on this ideology: "The values and beliefs we hold which seem to be 'normal' and 'commonsense' are in fact constructs of the organisations and institutions around us created and shared through language." [4] In reality, heterogeneities and varieties of usage far exceed any standard categorization that can link socio-economic class to one's linguistic choices.

"Language has an effect on society through repeated use, through sequences of use, through the laying down of a history of use." [5] The notion that a person's language is a determiner of his/her socio-economic class is embedded within history. An attitudinal shift towards language during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries occurred as one variety of London English gained status to operate as a non-localized, written 'language' [6] . Revisionist historians believe that this choice catered to a specific set of class interests, those of the "economically and politically dominant South Easterners whose own dialect… was selected to be the standard." [7] The concept that one type of language can carry ideological weight that places "different from" as superior to "different to" is undermined by the reality that what is now conceived to be Standard English was formerly a regional dialect itself. Conversely, that it procured supra regional status due to its usage in the capital of the country (which served as a power base and the home to the birth of the printing press) emphasises the contribution of social factors in deciding upon which dialect should progress from local to national status.

While a sense of a written 'standard' of English continued to emerge, during the mid eighteenth century certain figures perceived incongruities and variations in the language which they desired to regulate. In 1712, Jonathan Swift composed a proposal for an official academy, "articulating his anxiety over the danger of linguistic mutability" [8] . A similar worry presides in the minds of the members of the Queen's English Society today, who have recently formed an Academy of English, which aims "to protect the language from impurities, bastardisations and the horrors introduced by the text-speak variation." [9] This analogous attitude towards language is reflective of the authority that prescriptive texts formed and continue to enjoy. The initial idea that "language has an effect on society through repeated use" is evidenced in the influence that prescriptive texts have had in cultivating and maintaining certain, and narrow, beliefs towards language. Prescriptive grammars such as James Greenwood's An Essay toward a Practical English Grammar, 1711, Hugh Jones' An Accidence to the English Tongue, 1724 and Robert Lowth's A Short Introduction to English Grammar, 1762, [10] present vey similar sets of rules regarding language, revealing instances of intertextuality, and, as Watts argues, work together to establish a discourse community of grammarians (as named by Greenwood). These writers promote the use of "correct" English, which has connotations of "perfection" and "unchangeability", portraying grammar as an "art" that "teacheth to write or speak any Language truly and properly", and acquiring standards of precision which can be used to discriminate against those who are not members of a "polite society". [11] That these texts targeted the social institution of public education illuminates the identity of the members within the aforementioned "polite society": the academic. The import of the process, and the ideology of standardization, is palpable; its presence and development from the fifteenth century onwards provides "the major difference between…conceptions of language, linguistic choice, and language variety" [12] , creating an identity for the educated as correct and superior users of language. In inaugurating a standard of written English and providing access to a certain group of users, differences between varieties or dialects of are not minimized but accentuated; a person's language is defined by its difference to the standard, as non-standard shifts status and becomes synonymous with sub-standard.

Prescriptive texts promote binary oppositions of right and wrong concerning written language usage, something which is encouraged by the illusion of perfection that accompanies printed texts due to the work of copy editors and spell checks. [13] A written text's standard is measured by its internal norms. That internal norms between texts often correlate (e.g. the language of the self-titled grammarians) augments the belief in one standard language as pre-eminent. While a standard written language can to some extent be defined by correct spelling and grammar as enforced by the prescriptive model of history, the ideology that a language can be fixed is untenable. However, it is clear that the public view grammars and dictionaries as referential modes which clarify what is right and wrong in written language, modes which do not extend to regulating the varieties of speech.

Linguists are quick to exemplify the reality of the heterogeneities of usage in speech. As Milroy and Milroy argue, the true sense of a 'standard' is "an idea in the mind rather than a reality-a set of abstract norms to which actual usage will conform to a greater or lesser extent." [14] However the dichotomy between linguists and non linguists is clear: non linguists, or in a broader sense the general public, seek associations between language and socio economic class, constructing a hierarchy that tends to privilege those with high social status with speaking the 'best' English. In George Eliot's Middlemarch, Fred Vincy states that "Correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays" [15] thereby tying language to class, invoking the aforementioned ideology that those who have received an education have a grasp of "Correct English". However, instead of showing admiration he exhibits hostility, referring to these individuals as "prigs". Eliot further questions the concept of "Correct English" by referring to it as "slang", thereby undermining its status as superlative, and casting it as a dialect. What this quote suggests most importantly, is that the attitudes towards "Correct English" are changeable depending on the identity of the speaker, which suggests the existence of language communities.

In Labov's study of the linguistic habits of Martha's Vineyard, an island off New England, USA, he observed that "When a man says [rait] or [haus] he is unconsciously establishing the fact that he belongs to the island; that he is one of the natives to whom the island really belongs," [16] reflecting social pressures which function on a local rather than national level. To gain entry into a community, one must speak its language, and acknowledge the linguistic market (Sankoff and Laberge 1978, Eckert 2000), which indicates that linguistic choices can potentially enhance one's possibility of material gain. In The Junior Apprentice, broadcast on June 10th 2010, two female competitors (both aged sixteen) approached teenage boys playing football, seeking market research after perceiving them to meet their target market of teens. Observing the group, girl A said "We need to fit in with them, speak the lingo…innit?" and girl B replied "Yeah, like yo yo yo, wagwan, yeah, yeah." The girls both show an understanding of appearing similar to their target market - or entering into a similar speech community- to increase their chance of material gain, while simultaneously asserting the distinctness of their own language, in altering it to assume the predicted dialect of the boys. That this is an assertion of distinction between the two groups' socio-economic classes, and ultimately a desire for dissociation, is revealed in the actual conversation that takes place between the two groups, which is comparable to the speech patterns the girls utilise throughout the rest of the programme. That they predicted the boys' dialect before speaking to them shows the importance of other social factors at work in determining a person's socio-economic class which in turn may impact upon their lexical choices or habits, including appearance, occupation and geographical location. The girls' assertion of their own linguistic, and consequently social, superiority is enforced by their perception of this marked, or non-standard, language as inferior.

A similar technique often occurs in texts, where class difference is indicated by a speaker whose language is varied from the text's internal norms. An example is Hagrid in the Harry Potter series, whose accent and dialect are illustrated by J. K. Rowling as distinct from other characters: "'Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby,' said the giant. 'Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh've got yer mum's eyes.'" [17] Rowling illustrates Hagrid's accent phonetically, frequently replacing the standard /uː/ with /e/ while creating a marked dialect for him by using non-standard grammatical constructions, such as "you was only a baby" instead of "you were a baby". Rowling's implementation of a distinct voice for Hagrid would be perceived, if conforming to the prescriptive ideology that a person's language is indicative of their socio-economic class, as complementing his personal life: the fact that he never completed his education, and his occupation as gamekeeper, lacking the social status of teacher. Professor McGonagall, in contrast, is described as Scottish, but speaks in the unmarked language of the narrator and the other characters, which could relate to her elevated social status within the series.

The ease with which one can create a marked language in writing encourages the notion that there too exists an unmarked form of language in speech which equates to a superior socio-economic class. The accent which is considered to have the most social prestige is Received Pronunciation, or RP, which has "a social rather than regional distribution" [18] . While a text's internal norms - defined by the general patterns of the text's language - straight-forwardly constitute its unmarked language, in spoken English, as Trudgill and Hannah note, only three to five per cent of the British population actually speak RP. [19] However, that it is heard widely in media broadcasting, such as on BBC Radio 4, helps foster the belief that a significant amount of the populace do speak in this way, and promotes its esteemed status as an accent possessed by those of a high socio-economic class, as reflected by their occupation. Leith (1983) and Crowley (1989) correspondingly attribute the maintaining of "oppressive class relations in Britain" to "the agency of educational institutions and mass media." [20] Cameron suggests that "English speakers' belief in uniformity far exceeds their ability to produce it in speech and writing." [21] This is evidenced if we look at the variety in Hagrid's speech, in his utilisation of both the unmarked "you" and localised "yeh" to imply the same word. People's disillusionment about the uniformity of language and their own language usage was reflected in studies carried out by Labov (1966) and Trudgill (1974), in which "Speaker-Report Tests" revealed that how a person viewed their language usage differed from its reality; several participants believed that they used RP, when in actuality they had localised accents.

The paradox that exists in sociolinguistics between the varieties of actual language usage and culturally ingrained ideology that suggests we talk in fixed dialects and accents which both reflect and are informed by our socio-economic class, stresses the importance of recognising the historical past of the English language as establishing and cementing particular prescriptive attitudes towards lexical variation. While the prescriptive ethos is suggestive of a functioning, invariable Standard in both written and spoken English, in reality, "it is heterogeneity rather than homogeneity, pluralism rather than the monolithic, which marks linguistic usage in a multidimensional society." [22] Mugglestone's assertions of binary oppositions in her depiction of actual usage vs. attitudes towards usage are reminiscent of the common stereotypes that connect language and socio-economic class, including high vs. low status, correct vs. incorrect, educated vs. uneducated, national vs. local, with the first in each pair carrying ideological weight that places it as superior. While these notions may lead to "over-simplified views of the nature of language" [23] , they also illuminate how closely social factors are linked to our understandings of language variation.