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Language Differences Among Classes Essay

1876 words - 8 pages

Language variation, whether across different regions or different social groups, is a complex topic with a plethora of factors worthy of investigation. As Figure A and Figure B show, there are some interesting patterns that develop as a result of such factors. The following analysis will consider ways in which a variety of issues can begin to explain the reasons for such correlation in the data. Specifically, ways in which methodological factors, linguistic prestige, and the notion of speech communities and ‘class’, all play a contributory role, will be considered.
Before proceeding to a full evaluation of the implications the data may have, it is important to first establish exactly what the data shows. In Figure A, the use of post-vocalic ‘r’ by different social groups in New York and Reading is displayed. Interpreted on surface value, it appears that post-vocalic ‘r’ correlates with the higher social groups in New York, with the percentage of usage falling from 32% in the highest social group, to an eventual 0% in the lowest. On the other hand, post-vocalic ‘r’ is more prominent with lower social groups in Reading, with 49% of the lowest social group using it, as opposed to the 0% of the highest. In Figure B, the use of vernacular verb forms in Norwich and Detroit is presented in the same type of graph as Figure A. What immediately stands out is that vernacular verb forms are more commonly used by lower social groups in each area, however much more common in Norwich amongst these groups. Although not commonly evidenced in the higher social groups in either area, slightly more use vernacular verb forms in Detroit in the two highest social groups. Both sets of data offer a variety of potential lines of investigation, one of which is the issue of linguistic prestige.
Firstly, the concept of linguistic prestige is significant when considering the complexity of language variation across different regions and different social groups. It can be argued that prestige is subjective, and variable depending on social differences (). This argument can be supported by some of the data present in Figure A. As established, the use of post-vocalic ‘r’ correlates more with higher social groups in New York , whereas in Reading, lower social groups use the form more commonly. What this implies is that the notion of ‘higher class speech’ in New York is interpreted as lower class in Reading, and what is interpreted as lower class by people in New York is in fact of higher prestige in Reading. However, were a hypothetical New York and Reading citizen to meet, it is unlikely that they would attribute each other’s use of post-vocalic ‘r’ to such a social framework, as they both come from different social backgrounds and groups in the first place. There would consequently be a subconscious acceptance of each other’s linguistic form. This suggests that the notion and idea of prestige is abstract, and variable, not presiding over the entire global speech community,...

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