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Posted on August 30th, 2012, by

The language is the verbal manifestation of the internal world of an individual, his or her thoughts and feelings. At the same time, the language mirrors the social identity of an individual because, judging by the language of an individual, it is possible to define the social background of an individual, his or her social standing, educational level, age, gender, origin and other important issues related to the personality and social identity of an individual. In other words, the language is the mirror which reflects the social background of an individual. At the same time, to trace certain the social identity, it is necessary to have extensive knowledge of the language. For instance, in order to define the origin of an individual, it is necessary to have extensive knowledge of existing dialects which are specific for certain region or in order to identify the age of an individual, it is necessary to have extensive knowledge of the current language used by the youth, for instance, and peculiarities which were typical for older generations, and so on. The language is a very powerful tool which can help to study an individual’s cultural and social background. It is through the language linguists can trace peculiarities which cannot be uncovered through any other means. Therefore, through the social identity of an individual is closely intertwined with his language because it is through language the social identity and social background of an individual manifests itself. In this respect, the analysis of the set of extracts A, which includes intergenerational talks is particularly noteworthy because, through peculiarity of the language and speech of people involved in the conversations, it is possible to trace their age and the social identity.

However, before the analysis of the conversation, it is necessary to briefly dwell upon the interdependence between the individual’s language and his or her social identity because the social identity is formed in the course of the development of an individual and language mirrors the internal world, thoughts of an individual and his or her way of thinking. The interdependence between language and human thought raises questions which remain unanswered till present days, in spite of the progress of modern sciences. In this respect, the question of the impact of language on thinking and priority of though over language and vice versa is the central question contemporary linguists, sociologists, and psychologists attempt to answer. In actuality, many researchers, including Cromie (2004) and Biever (2004), arrive to the conclusion that language and thought are closely intertwined and arguments concerning the impact of language on thinking are still highly controversial.

Some researchers (Cromie, 2004) focus their attention on the problem of what comes first ”“ language or thought. Basically, modern researches do not provide a definite and precise answer to this question. Neither Cromie (2004), nor Biever (2004) attempt to stick to either position strictly, but both researchers point out that there is still the room for doubts and arguments concerning relationship and interdependence of thought and language.

In this regard, the research conducted by Cromie (2004), called “Which comes first, language or thought?”¯, is particularly noteworthy since the researcher reveals an expected finding. To put it more precisely, Cromie (2004) points out that the recent researches of five-months-olds reveal the fact that though comes first. However, on analyzing other researches, Cromie (2004) reveals the controversy of the issue.

The author draws various examples which prove the fact that the relationship of language and thought changes in the course of the development of an individual. To put it more precisely, Cromie (2004) points out that at the early age, until the age of one, thought is prior to language. However, the older an individual grows the more significant the impact of language becomes. The author (Cromie, 2004) states that the adults are consistently more influenced by the native language structures, while children, especially babies, are less vulnerable to the impact of language.

Obviously, babies are not sensible to the impact of language because their language competence is not fully shaped, while adults’ minds and thoughts are influenced by traditional language structures, which they have learned since the beginning of their life. In this regard, the impact of language on thought is particularly obvious in the research conducted by Biever (2004), called “Language may shape human thought”¯. The researcher refers to the example of the Piraha tribe, whose language contains only words one and two. As a result, the tribe members proved to be unable to reliably tell the difference between several objects, including four and more. In such a way, under the impact of the language constraints, the mode of thinking of the Piraha tribe is different from that of other people who have more numbers in their language. Therefore, language can restrain thinking and limit capabilities of people when they deal with counting, for instance. At the same time, such interdependence between language and thought can be extrapolated on other fields of human knowledge and thinking.

In fact, the three extracts represent the conversation held between three different groups of people. The first extract is a conversation between two women in their seventies who are socially and physically active. The social identity of the woman becomes obvious in the course of the conversation. For instance, it is possible to trace some nostalgic elements in their conversation. One woman refers regularly to the past and, what is more important, she stresses that her life was better in the past. The overall impression is that she regrets about the past and, thus, she reveals the fact that she is an old person who is inclined to nostalgia. Another woman involved in the conversation seems to be quite passive. She is definitely taking the secondary position in the conversation following the lead of her interlocutor. However, she definitely agrees with the first woman. At the same time, she looks as if she is tired and is not really engaged in the conversation. In fact, she mainly uses the affirmative exclamations and she is not too wordy. Nevertheless, she agrees with her interlocutor and the mode of her conversation and her language show that she is approximately of the same age as the first woman. Both women are concerned with their past and they have only a short-run future plans, while the second woman often uses repetitions in her speech that proves that her language and thoughts are not as sharp as those of the younger generation.

The second extract is the conversation between a younger speaker and an elderly speaker. In fact, the age difference is implicit and it can be traced through the subject of their conversation. On the one hand, there is a younger speaker, who asks his interlocutor about his grand-children, while, on the other hand, there is an elderly speaker, who has grand-children and great-grand children. In such a way, the social identity of the elderly speaker can be clearly identified. As for the younger speaker, his age can be easily traced through the analysis of his reactions on the replies of the elderly speaker. To put it more precisely, the younger speaker is definitely impressed that his interlocutor has grand-children, but he is sincerely surprised that his interlocutor has great grand-children. In such a way, the impressing effect of replies made by the elderly person makes it possible to presuppose that another interlocutor is a younger person. In addition, the latter cannot define the age of the elderly person that clearly indicates to his age because younger people cannot always define the age of people accurately. As a rule, people at the age of 14-16 may be interested in the family background of their interlocutor and often they make errors while attempting to define the age of a person. In addition, the tone of the conversation is quite formal as if people involved in the conversation are totally different that implies a significant age gap between the younger and elder speaker. In such a way, the language reveals the social identity of both speakers.

Finally, the third extract is the conversation between two nurses and the elderly speaker who is about to celebrate her 99th anniversary. The latter is clearly stated by one of the nurses. However, the age of the elderly woman can be clearly traced through the analysis of her speech.

She is apparently unwilling to speak and she is not really engaged in the conversation. Instead, she gives short replies to the questions of the nurses. She is probably dissatisfied with their work or simply wants to stay alone. Or else, she is probably tired and needs some rest, whereas the nurses’ questions are tiresome for her. At the same time, nurses repeat her questions and when they refer to the elderly woman they repeat one and the same phrase or idea several times that people normally do when they talk to an elderly person who may suffer from hearing problems. The regular repetitions make the conversation rather monotonous but they are essential to the elderly woman to comprehend what nurses ask her about and what they talk about. In addition, the elderly woman has difficulties with the pronunciation of long and complex words, where her sentences and their structure are very simple. She has significant difficulties with expressing her thoughts and she needs time to word in her ideas to explain to nurses what she wants. As for nurses, they attempt to be quite friendly and they take care of the elderly woman that implicitly indicates to their professional background.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the language mirrors the social identity of an individual. The analysis of the language of an individual can reveal his or her social background and helps to identify their social standing, age, occupation and many other socially significant issues. As the matter of fact, the analysis of the three extracts reveals consistent age differences between people involved in the conversation. This fact proves that the language is the manifestation of an individual’s social identity and reveals his or her thoughts and internal world. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that the interdependence between thought and language does exist, but it is still impossible to definitely say what comes first, thought or language. What is beyond a doubt is the importance of both language and thought. According to researches conducted by Biever and Cromie, it is possible to estimate that thought is prior at the early stages of the development of an individual, while later, especially in adult life, language takes the lead. Obviously, the language reveals individual specificities of speakers. At the same time, the analysis of the language and speech of people can help to reveal their identities and their background. Consequently, the language is a very complex system, but it proves to be dependent on the social background of an individual.

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