Linguistic and Cultural Relativity

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Updated: Apr 12, 2022
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People from various regions may speak a particular language with a certain accent in common. For example, they can speak Standard English but with a regional accent. Some people use Received Pronunciation accent along with a regional accent. However, one should not refer to Standard English as Received Pronunciation as it is only concerned with pronunciation.

Finally, some groups do show an accent and if that group is linked to a particular geographical area where certain vocabulary and grammar are used, then one has a geographical accent.

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According to Lyn (2008), accent is a concept that is relative and can only really be heard with regard to another accent.. One’s accent is affected by his or her ethnicity, caste, social class and so on at the critical learning period (Long, 2015).

Listeners do think that some languages are better than others (Maass and Arcuri, 1996). This is because of the prestige that is attached to the language. Prestige in this context referees to the level of regard normally associated to a particular dialect or language within a community in relation to a particular dialect or language within a community in relation to other languages or dialects (Cuddy, et al, 2008). Nonetheless, a dialect variety which is considered prestigious in one context, may not uphold the same status in another. The status of language differences is relative according to audience, situation and other contextual elements which are highly local.

Cuddy, et al (2008) points out that, prestigiousvarieties of language are those varieties which are generally considered by the society to be the most correct or most superior variety. The notion of “a standard language” in a speech community is linked to the prestige of the languages that are spoken in the community. Generally, listeners would attach the notion of standard to languages that are they hear functioning in in higher domains, and has written form. For example, a Zambian will tend to think that English is better than other languages because it is the language that isused bypeople in higher domains such as the political elites in parliament as well as in situations that are considered important such as a job interview.Consequently, rich literally heritage, high degree of language modernization and considerable international standing (expand).

In conclusion, there is a strong link between the prestige of a group of people and the prestige that is accorded to the language that they speak. This is because language is intertwined in culture.

Variation in language is a topic of significance in sociolinguistics because it takes interest in social factors in society and looks at how each factor plays a role in language varieties. Languages vary depending on race, class, and gender of a speaker. The divisions among groups in each case contribute to the differences of how people use language.

Class is the structure of relationship between groups where people are classified based on their education, occupation and income.Labov (1972) in his study of the New York City addresses and identifies how class affects language variation. He shows the social classes in four categories; the lower working class, the upper working class, the lower middle class and the upper middle class. He also shows the styles of speech in three ways which are; casual, careful, conversation and reading. According to the study the upper middle class speakers almost always use the standard ‘ing’ variety and the lower class speakers almost use the non-standard “in” variety. Each class makes preference of the use of one pronunciation over the other regardless of the speech style. Nevertheless, the lower class shifted from using “ing” in the reading style. Accent and dialect are tremendously important for the way people asses each other socially. One’s accent does not only indicate his or her regional origin but also the social class to which they belong.

Gender as another language variant affects language variation through the influence of the language choice and other ways. Gender deals with traits associated with being men and women. In other words, it refers to social, cultural and psychological constructs that are imposed upon biological differences between males and females (Eagly, et al, 2000). The speech of men and women differ one from the other in terms of degree. The language of men can be direct, non-standard and aggressive unlike women’s language which is usually less harsh, emotional and standard.

Language forms may preserve conservative attitudes that depict men as superior in terms of morality, intellectuality, and spirituality or absolutely to women. Let us also take into consideration the conventions of naming in marriages. Consider also the titles of married and unmarried people of either sex. Stage performers are often exempted from these rules. For instance, “William is married to Miss Anna”. In addition, some nouns denote workers in a given occupation (Maass and Arcuri, 1996).

In some instances, there may seem to be gender neutral such as in “teacher’,” social worker”, “doctor”, “lawyer”, “nurse”. Nevertheless, speakers and listeners will show this in forms such as “woman doctor”, “male nurse”, and so on. We also take into consideration forms that differentiate by gender through the addition of diminutive affixes such as in “waitress”, “stewardess”, and “usherette”.

In most languages, there are words and phrases which seem to be restricted to sex variations and most of them could help explain that there is a possibility of taboo elements here. For instance, society appears to find it more acceptable that men swear more than women do ( Cuddy, et al, 2008). Some of the male-female varieties that are more interesting are to do with phonetic and phonological differences between the ways in which both sexes handle language. These differences are minor and hence, cannot be considered to indicate taboo words considering that the majority are not aware of them. Lyn (2008) gives an example of women having a greater tendency to have a glottal stop (?) in consonant clusters of the type found in simply(sim?pli) than for men. Lyn (2008) further states that in actual fact, allowing for all factors such as social class, ethnic group and age, research indicates that women use a variety that is more closely related to the standard variety (the prestige accent) more often than men do. Hence, we relate to the ealiier idea that women use better language than men. Hence, it can be argued that female speakers are considered to use language forms which are better or more correct than males.

Now we look at race as another factor that brings about language variation. In this context, race can be defined as a grouping of humans based on shared physical and or social qualities into categories viewed as distinct by society (Eagly et al, 2000). Race is assigned to people by showing that people can sense others’ races through language where physical features are not available to them. This is unlike the common interpretation that race is something marked on our bodies such as skin pigmentation, shape of the eyes, nose size, hair type, and so on. In the first context, it can be observed that language allows us to categorise people into various races.

Members of the same race share a certain ideology and often ethnic language varieties (Cuddy, et al, 2008). Some examples of characteristics of an ethnic language variety are; lexicon that is distinct from the standard language variety, phonological differences, isolated grammatical features, and style of conversation with regard to a speaker’s voice tone, his or her speech volume and so on.(Maass and Arculi, 1996) asserts that the characteristics might have been deposited from the speaker’s native language, or from second language learning processes. For example, if the first language of a speaker has no inflections, articles or copula the speaker as well as other native speakers of that language might find it troublesome to incorporate these features when speaking the second language. Consequently, when a particular group changes or leaves out some features of a standard variety, the group forms a distinct variety that in turn can characterise an ethnicity.

Language is implicated in most of the phenomena that are at the centre of social psychology, attitude change, personal identity, and personal identity. Social linguists see language as a means through which subject responses are elicited and to which they respond. The elements of social life constitute an intrinsic part of how language should be used (Biihrig and Thije, 2006). Linguists view language as an abstract part that exists independently of particular moments of usage, but any form of communication is situated in a social context that affects the linguistic form of usage by the participants. In this foregoing, we shall establish how the external social factors such as social tension, racism, sexism, mediarepresentation, and popular entertainment affect the way people use language.

Social tension results from the rapid development of urbanisation, the feminisation of poverty, tension, and environmental burdens (Wardhaugh, 2006). Eventually, they all end up coming with tremendous consequences among which is effect on the usage of language. For many languages in the world, people tend to think that their language is not good enough because it is not the one that is taught in in schools and is not used for business purposes. People who use the other language make money and they are respected by other people. As a result, other people want to use that language.

In the social tension, we look at the connection between language and power and attitudes to the language. The usage of a particular language by an individual may influence the attitudes of people towards him or her. In some parts of the world, you can be arrested for having spoken a language that is forbidden in a particular region (Cuddy, et al, 2008).

I reside in Mkushi, a district that is located in the central province of Zambia. Residents who are bilinguals usually choose to speak the languages to suit the situation at hand. For example, politicians in their address of the local residents at political rallies tend to use Swaka or Lala because these are the native languages in the district and hence, they want to be recognised as part of the natives. Similarly, when people of different native languages are doing shopping at the local markets, they prefer to use the districts native language so as to establish a good business relationship. Marketers also strive to speak English even if not standard to the people they consider to be important and elite buyers as a sign of respect and hospitality to the clients.

Everyone seems to have an idea of what is a “good” language or variety and what is a bad one in a given social context. This opinion is entirely socially conditioned (Maass and Arculi, 1996). In some instances, people with power such as government or schools decide what is good or bad language. In other instances, it is just ordinary members of a language community who possess these views. For example, I made a local observation of peer conversations especially for those that seem to be in the limelight. They would rather use English or Bemba respectively which is not the district’s native languages. This is because English and Bemba are considered to be more superior owing to the fact that it is the language that is standard and taught in the local schools regardless of the fact thatLala is very similar to Bemba. In my interview with several peers, Lala is attached to the primitive people of the district who have not undergone schooling. As a result, the language is slowly becoming unpopular.

On race as an external factor that influences language use, Language is often overlooked as one of the means through which we distinguish ourselves from others. But rather than being fixed and predetermined, the argument is that racial identities can shift across contexts and in moment to moment interactions. Race is both a social construct and a vital social reality (Eagly, et al, 2000). Hence, the development of language is not just as a means of communication but also to structure the ways of how we think and how we process beliefs. For example, if the language we are using naturally and regularly links blackness with inferiority and negativity, the black lives may not seem to matter nearly as much as the white one’s do. (Eagly, and et al, 2000) takes into account that the English language is racialised because of the deeply rooted nature of racist ideas.

Literally, everyone knows that black things are not good. For example; “black spot”, “black day”, and “black mail”. On the contrary, good things are white and white things are not bad as in “white night”, white magic, “white lie”. This prejudice against darkness and the privileging of whiteness is spread through the entire usage of English (Johnston, 2009). This extends to idioms from “white lie”, and “white magic” to “black list, “black mood, “black market, or “black mark”. White is often a symbol of purity and chastity, immaculacy, spotlessness, innocence, and virtue whereas black is a symbol of evil, sin, disgrace, immorality, and wickedness. In the same vain, Standard English is seen to be superior to Jamaican, hongkong, or Nigerian English, which have deep and complex histories but are considered as inferior patois because they are mostly spoken by non-white populations. These declarations affect the way in which we interact with other people and can contribute to racial discrimination (Cuddy, et al, 2008).

Language is amongst the powerful means through which sexism is perpetrated and reproduced. Sexism maybe defined as an ideology based on the belief that one sex is superior to the other (Eagly, et al, 20000. The lexical choices of everyday communication to which women should display communal warmth traits and men should display competence traits are reflected in the content of the stereotypes. As a result, language subtly reproduces the societal divisions of status and power in favour of men, which are attached to the corresponding gender roles (Lyn, 2008). Additionally, the hidden but consensual norm upon which the prototypical human being is male is woven in the structure of many languages. Syntactical and grammatical rules are designed in a way that terms that are feminine mostly derive from the corresponding masculine form. Similarly, masculine nouns and pronouns are often used with a function that is generic to refer to both men and women (Celce, et al, 2013). People affect the attributions of the receiver in a way that is consistent with their stereotypical beliefs by choosing terms at different levels of abstraction. Hence, linguistic abstraction is a very subtle resource used to represent women in a way that is less favourable and thus to enact gender discrimination results.

Finally, the impact of popular media and media representation on the language used especially the spoken language is quiet high. Upton, (2004) asserts that, people have a tendency of adopting the styles and words used in popular media very easily. Children who watch cartoon movies are influenced by the characters in terms of their language style and the diction used to such an extent that they tend to use the same style in their conversational speech.

To end the foregoing, the control of media is usually done by bilinguals and they use the media to freely mix the languages. For example, Lala and Swaka are the languages used mostly by the local radio station in Mkushi but the radio speakers tend to mix the language with some English words. As a consequence, listeners especially youngsters copy the speaking style. This is in fact a matter of concern because the native language has to a larger extent lost its purity because it is blended with other languages.

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Linguistic and Cultural Relativity. (2022, Apr 12). Retrieved from