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Introduction to Sociolinguistics

1774 words (7 pages) Essay in Sociology

30/06/17 Sociology Reference this

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Sociolinguistics is the study of aspects of societies, including cultural norms, the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. Language is an important portion of identity and culture within many speech communities; also associated with member’s self-esteem; within these communities. Sociolinguists have structured a number of ways to categorize the languages within their status and social function domains such as vernacular. The specific concern of this paper is focusing on the significance and function evaluation of the vernacular (dialect, accent) and through the presentation used and by sociolinguistic-studies, it is intended to decide on the argument if the language change is lead by the implications, role models of media or not.

Touching upon the concepts of vernaculars, dialects and diglossia is a good place to begin. The term “vernacular” has various meanings; but mostly refers to a language not standardized and not officially confirmed; which is used by local people. Generally, vernaculars are spread among communities living in a multilingual atmosphere where they have a different mother-language than the official language of their residence. For example; Afro-American English is a vernacular created among the group of people living in places where the standard American English was officially used; but had African languages as their mother-tonque. Standard languages, like the American English or the Received Pronunciation in Britain are classified as highly prestigious languages associated with educated; as compared to the people talking vernacular languages.

Different from a vernacular; a dialect is a variety of a particular language characterized by specific regional features such as pronunciation; spoken by a specific group of people. Furthermore, according to Fergusson (1996), diglossia is a special language-situation where, in addition to the primary dialect of the language (categorized as (L)), there is a highly regulated and often more complex variety, which is used in official writings and formal speeches (categorized as (H)); but not exactly followed seen in daily conversations. “Diglossic situation exists if it has two distinct codes which show clear functional separation” (Wardhaugh, 1998: 87).

It has been observed that, in due course the standardized varieties of languages (like Standard American English) started becoming less dominant and local varieties (like African American English) became more prominen. Sociolinguists studied the origins of these changes trying to answer whether it was the social factors or impacts of the popular media that triggered these language changes.

Labov suggested certain principles to justify these changes within languages: He first said that “linguistic variation is transmitted to children as stylistic differentiation on the formal/informal dimension, rather than as social stratification. Formal speech variants are associated by children with instruction and punishment, informal speech with intimacy and fun”. ( Labov 2001: 516) Consequently; “linguistic changes from below develop first in spontaneous speech at the most informal level. They are unconsciously associated with nonconformity to sociolinguistic norms, and advanced most by youth who resist conformity to adult institutional practices” ( Labov 2001:516). In connection with these principles stated by Labov (2001), the positive attitude of youth generation on the growing prestige and spreading of the non-standard languages is quite acceptable. Aftwerwards, Labov also stated that these changes were symbols of nonconformity actions against the structured social norms of appropriate behavior, and were generated in the social settings that challenged those norms. Finally, the constructive nonconformity principle of Labov (2001) concluded that these changes were spread to wider communities by those who displayed the symbols of nonconformity in larger pattern of upward mobility. Apparently, the popular media and its figures also had an indirect impact on this by disseminating these changes to language communities, as explained in detail in the relevant section; below.

Likewise, Debra Spitulnik (1997) argues that mass media has a role in the construction of community, and the cultural continuity depends on a social circulation of discourse and public accessibility. The popular mass media has the “ability to enact local concerns on a global stage” and to merge “the ‘marginal with the ‘dominant,’ the ‘parochial’ with the ‘ cosmopolitan,’ and the ‘local’ with the ‘global'” (Johnson and Ensslin 2007: 14). This is said to be a form of re-scaling often associated with the globalization of the late-modernity.

In the light of these studies, the language used in songs of 50 Cent is presented with the main dialect, accent is used alongside the significance and functions of the vernacular speech. In this presented domain of popular media the vernacular is the African American English dialect with standard being the American English.

Appendix 1

The use of vernacular during rapping, affects the voice quality of the speaker within the psychological or emotional states. If the topic is exciting or joyful, voice rises and when it is time to be calm, the voice descends into a bass level.

One of the distinctive features of vernacular is usage of double added prepositions as in “up on it” (line 4). Besides, the use of double negative is common in this vernacular compared to Standard American English. Is is used to structure strong positives and emphasize meanings (line 8). Negatives are formed different from standard American English e.g. use of “ain’t” as a general negative indicator (line 11).

Appendix 2

Mostly a “v” substitution occurs in the vernacular unlike Standard English. When using profanity in combination with the “F” word, speakers pronounce “M.F.” correctly just like in Standard American English in order to emphasize the meaning (line 2). Unlike the standard, there are words in vernacular that indicate the possessive: e.g. in line 4 “them” is used for “they”. If in the context of the sentence a reference is made to “more than one”(plural), it is not necessary to add an “s” to the noun: e.g. “like” in line 5. Also it can be seen that “want to” is converted into “wanna” in line 3.

African American English speakers have a large repertoire of slang words uncommon to Standard American English. The “bread” in (line 6) refers to money in African American English. There is “th” dropping within the African American English as in (line 7) “with” is pronounced as “wif”. The phonetic feature of African American English is quite different from standard American English e.g.; “solve them” is converted to “solve’em” which is continuous sound in one word that can be considered as the compressed phonetic feature of the vernacular (line 9). There is also consonant reduction in African American English: consonant sounds in letters such as (T) are often not pronounced unlike Standard American English (line 11).

In the media images; low and middle class African Americans have a negative image: associated with marginal lifestyles; engaged in bad things. For example; (appendix 2, line 10) it is clearly implied that 50 Cent participated in gangster activities, as he raps in African American English. But the re-scaling process of media within semantic positioning, such as “In the hood they say there’s no b’ness like hoe b’ness ya know” which cross over into ridiculous representations of unsophisticated ideals and ambitions which, most likely, are unattested practices either in low or middle class black communities.

Vernacular has always had a impacted hip hop and rap genres by incorporating meanings (power, money, love, slang idioms) that are historically and contextually situated and relevant to experiences of African American communities. Here vernacular serves as a translator engine, a special tool to express these meanings. This is because, for the African American communities the dialect is not only a variety that one may hear or speak within the community but also a variety delivering local community knowledge, wisdom. For example; the slang idiom “I’m the love doctor” (in line 9 appendix 1), the nickname usually associated with the late Barry White, whose soulful voice is considered by many Americans to be the ultimate music for seduction, is also interpreted by African youth through vernacular.

The other speech communities can also access to vernacular; via popular media. That is how popular media spreads certain linguistic-traits around the world and influences the language of all communities; as opposed to having this communication confined to vernacular society. However, it should be noted that media is only spreading out what’s there but the creator of the change is not the media, it is someone different (in our case, somebody in vernacular).

Given that the standard American English is a political sign for the African Americans which also imply the rejection of their culture; 50 Cent sings especially in vernacular to empower himself within the social and cultural contexts of the African American communities. His vernacular speech also functions as a resistance language towards the white community. It can be assumed that he presents himself as the retainer of local New York, Queens as the low variety vernacular he has chosen to use, which incorporates loss of voiceless “y” and central off-glides as “her” becomes “/hö’/” in (appendix 1, line 13) which New York accent is famous for.

All in all, this ordinary performance involves no visuals but only audio and follows the authentic values which emphasize the potential meaning of the restricted language. 50 Cent seems to be following the guidelines of Clarke and Hiscock (2009) on how keeping it real in rap involves reflecting local realities as well as respecting the African American origins of the genre.

While it can be quite difficult to assess the precise role of the media and its figures in language change, perhaps this issue should be looked in two categories: The direct and the indirect influence of popular media and its figures. As to the direct influence of them over the language change, the answer should be parallel to that of Chambers: “at the deeper reaches of language change – sound changes and grammatical changes – the media have no significant effect at all” (Chambers 1998: 124). The re-scaling process on cultural norms and shaping the vernacular features of media domains is greatly exaggerated. Consequently, language change is the result of the growing prestige of a certain variety of language that is triggered by the social factors such as the non-conformity issues of communities with a vernacular alongside with the standard language. That being said, the media can be considered as having an indirect influence on language change. As also seen in the analyzed example, media plays a major role in raising the awareness to the change taking place; to this growing prestige of a variety within other speech communities as well. In short, it can be concluded that, language change is unlikely to be driven directly by media or its role models only; but they have an indirect impact on it.

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