What are the factors that determine variation in language use?

As we know, there are different theories of language origin and generation; hence there are also different theories and approaches to linguistic variations, also known as ”˜lects’. Why do these variations appear and how are they classified by modern science? Well, first of all one language can have several variations functioning in specific communicative situations ”“ the main factors are circumstances of communication, its main subjects and objects, i.e. who speaks and what the topic is. Further, there are variations characterizing different social groups or, eventually, different parts of the territory uniting native speakers. Such variations usually reveal their peculiarities on almost every level of language structure ”“ phonetic, derivative, morphological, lexical, syntactical, and grammatical (Fasold, & Connor-Linton, 2006).

The scientists single out the following varieties within one language: idiolect, ecolect, subdialect, dialect, register.

Idiolect represents speech of an individual. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy idiolect is talked about as a language that can be characterized comprehensively in terms of inherent properties of a particular speaker. Here attention is paid not to those features that are specific for this person as a member of a certain community but to those which tell him from any other member of the same community. So, this variation is revealed in word selection, grammatical constructions, word order and phrases, idioms this person uses more often than others. Some scientists tend to defend the idea that a language is just a package of idiolects. This idea resulted in the development of the genetic model of language, according to which idiolects change in contact with other idiolects and from generation to generation influencing the evolution of a language (Gregory, & Carroll, 1978).

Idiolects can easily grow to ecolects. An ecolect is a language of a family, household. This term has appeared recently and now it is a neologism. It stands for those particular words and phrases that are used by members of one household and are not so spread in surrounding families or small communities.

The latter, usually territory-restrained part of language users, may have a subdialect. It is generally obvious at phonetic level, in pronunciation of some sounds; it may result in recognizable accent. Subdialect is an object of study for comparative linguistics, and it is referred to as a subdivision of a dialect.

A dialect, in its turn, is the main territory variety of language common for people living within one territory. In sociolinguistics and in everyday life dialect is opposed to standard or literary language, it is considered to have less prestige ”“ and less prerogative ”“ than standard, but for a linguist no language or its variety can be right or wrong, ”˜more or less prestigious and correct’ and therefore any variety is called a dialect, so that every person speaks in some dialect. Very often scientists argue what to call a dialect and what to call a language, and then usually a neutral term ”˜idiom’ is used (Fasold, & Connor-Linton, 2006).

On the other hand, there are varieties of language dependent on their functioning. First of all it is literary language, or literary standard, which is a codified variety of national language. Literary language is divided into functional styles serving for different communicative needs of the society. Under standard we mean some variety that is adopted in official documents, authorized sources, official papers, that is, in addition, taught at schools, in this way it is the language of culture and science. Then there go colloquialisms describing speech of non-educated or half-educated urban population violating literary norms. Colloquialisms are usually traced in spoken language (Freeborn, French, & Langford, 1993).

Then there is such a variety as sociolect (known as socioeconomic class). Here we find peculiarities specific for certain group. Sociolects may unite a professional group of speakers; they reflect social stratification of the society.

This is slang of youth, computer workers, argot of prisoners and so on. A variety of language used in a specific social setting is also called a register, sometimes referred as style. The problem of putting the borders between registers is rather serious for linguists, because within this subject they often use such terms as acrolect, diatype, text type, acrolect, genre, basilect, and mesolect. The term ”˜register’ was introduced in the middle of 20th century by Thomas Bertram Reid. The followers went on to make a distinction between variations in language based on the user with social, geographical characteristics, sex and age and variations in language based on use, when the same user has a choice of how to express these or those thoughts, ideas, emotions etc. (Fasold, & Connor-Linton, 2006).

Finally scientists single out ethnolect, or regional variety used by particular ethnic group.

Sometimes linguists talk about narrower varieties, for instance a language to speak with children or with foreigners, male/female varieties etc.

Variation linguistics is a separate branch of knowledge many scientists try their hands at. All of them work for appreciation of different theories. One of them is famous sociolinguist Leslie Milroy who has reflected his ideas in such works as “Language and social networks”, “Observing and analysing natural language”, “One speaker, two languages: cross-disciplinary perspectives on code-switching”, “Sociolinguistics: method and interpretation”, “Real English; the grammar of English dialects in the British Isles”, and “Authority in Language: investigating standard English”. Leslie Milroy is widely recognized as the author of the theory of social networks. This word combination stands for those formal and informal social relationships of which any human society is made up. In this way the author pays attention to how they are changed by specific individual patterns of language use. These individual patterns linguistic variations in the version of Leslie Milroy again typify and differentiate separate groups (geographic and social, cultural and historical, male and female) inside a compound urban community.

Then, in particular, one of the most interesting phenomena Leslie Milroy pays attention to is code-switching. This is a term that in linguistics means a situation when during conversation speakers jump from one language to another or from one variation of language to another. It is often studied as a means of structuring conversation in interaction (Milroy, & Muysken, 1995). One of the theories, called the Markedness Model was presented by Carol Myers-Scotton.

According to it, code-switching appears when a speaker is not put under strict limits of language use, when he can fully practice language choices. Meanwhile the main point in the Communication Accommodation Theory, introduced by Howard Giles, is that we need to practice changes in talking in order to underline or vice-versa to shorten the distance in social background or other status in front of other parties within the conversation. Howard Giles puts forwards that when a speaker looks for approval in a social situation he tries to congregate the speech with that of the interlocutor. It consists of language of choice, dialect and accent, and para-linguistic factors. On the other hand, when we want to emphasize the social gap between ourselves and other speakers, we associate us with the group we belong to.

In fact, basically the language theories are divided into sociological theory and biological theory. Most of ideas reflected above refer to the first one, but in the meantime there is a good deal of argue for the second as well (Eckert, & McConnell-Ginet, 2003). Among them we would love to pay attention to gender theories and in particular to a curious research by Courtney M. Bell, Philip M. McCarthy and Danielle S. McNamara “Variations in Language Use across Gender: Biological versus Sociological Theories”. The authors build their suppositions on the base of biological theory developed in the works of Bergvall, Tannen, Maltz and Borker, Gilligan, and the ideas of social constructionist theory defended by Leaper and Smith, Fitzpatrick, Coates and Johnson, Mulac and Dinidia, West and Zimmerman (Bell, McCarthy, & McNamara, 2006).

According to the research of Maltz and Borker as well as that of Gilligan expect that men use a linguistic style, which describes their orientation to themselves, adhesion to principles and rules, their eagerness to supremacy and competition, whilst women use a linguistic style, which describes their integral nature, worry about others rather than themselves, assistance, obedience and nurturance. While Coates and Johnson consider gender variations to be more preferential than exclusive, others headed by Fitzpatrick support the ides that “context can create, erase, or reverse gender differences”. Anyway, for the authors the context plays role in interpreting the results of gender differences and language. The three researchers, Courtney M. Bell, Philip M. McCarthy and Danielle S. McNamara conduct investigation to check up the Gilligan’s model according to which men use more self-reference words than female, the latter use more social words than males, because women are nurturing and apprehensive to others rather than themselves, and they eager to maintain social relationships. The authors tend that there are no differences in the language men and women use during emotional conflicts. Their study gives empirical verification for biological theories and no support for social constructionist theories (Bell C. M., McCarthy P. M., & McNamara D. S., 2006).

The results of the study have demonstrated that there are not essential differences between genders for the number of social words, positive emotion, and negative emotion words. Biological theory is supported in the idea that gender do not persist within a context of marital conflict. The researchers come up with the conclusion that gender differences in language use are not opposed and that context does really matter in stating which gender uses a specific variation or language strategy. Besides, they have proved that women are in fact more verbose than men for the reason that they tend to elaborate, ask questions, and produce supportive comments within talking.

In this way, we have traced the situation where there are loads of approaches to understanding of variations in language use. It’s quite reasonable as so many men so many minds, and in addition to that this is a rather curious subject to study, while language is something we handle continuously in our everyday life. We are all different, and that’s why the way we select, use and combine sounds, words, sentences and expressions can not be the same too, so variations in language use are absolutely natural. Finally, investigating language, we also investigate ourselves, and that is the most consoling fact.

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