Fatchul Mu’in

Spektrum pemikiran


Posted by fatchulfkip on March 19, 2008


A discussion of language in social context is focussed on a language acquisition and language learning, significance of language in a community, and relation of language and society. The language acquisition is differentiated from the language learning. The former is unconsciously conducted by a language user, whereas the latter is consciously conducted by a language user. The significance of language in a community is viewed from the viewpoint of its importance in a community; and it is discussed in relation to the three inseparable elements in a community: human being, community, and language.

Human Beings and Language

Man is a social being who always needs another’s help. It is hardly imagined that he is able to live alone in a forest without being accompanied by another. In reality, he lives together and cooperates between one and another. Thus, we may agree that human being is a social creature because he has to live a community.

In the effort to fulfill his daily need, he has to work together between one and another. This cooperation can only be conducted in a community. When he needs rice, for instance, he is not necessary to plant in a field by himself. Rice planting is the farmers’ business. Someone who needs rice, he can buy it.

            Based on the example above, we have a clear picture that all the members of a community need help from one to another. They cannot live alone and try to fulfill their daily need such as food and clothes by themselves. This is to say that they need working together.

            The cooperation among the members of a social group will run well if a a means of communication known as language is used. By using a language man can express his ideas and wishes to other people such as when he needs their help. There will be a close cooperation among members of the group.

            The three elements mentioned above; human beings, community, and language are closely related to each other. When there are human beings in any part of the world, there will be a social community in which the same members of the group use a given language as a means of communication. The existence of a language for the community is very important. This is because, in reality, men as social beings always live in a community and need a language as a means of interaction among them.

In the social context, language is not only a means of communication but also it is a means of creating and maintaining social relationship among speakers of the language. As an illustration, take an example, there are two persons in the waiting room of railway station. At first, they do not know one and another. They, then, begin to make a talk to avoid their boredom. They talk many things. They give information to one and another.  This is the function of the language as a means of communication and at the same time as a means of creating social relationship.

If they are from the different social and geographical backgrounds, they will use different dialects. Here, we have what we call social dialect and geographical dialect (Trudgill, 1983:14). For instance, if one of them is someone speaking Indonesian language, who is from North Sumatra, will probably use Indonesian language with a certain accent spoken by people from that part of the country; and the other will probably use the other dialect (Betawi dialect) if he is from Betawi.

Other than the regional dialect, there is a social dialect. This kind of dialect refers to a veriety of language spoken by a group of people belonging to a certain social class (Trudgill, 1983:14). For instance, if someone is a middle-class businessman, he will use the variety of language associated with men of this type.

Based on an illustration, a language may have some varieties. In fact, a language itself can be categorized as one of varieties of whatever human languages. So,  it can be said that language varieties may refer to: (a) two or more distinct languages used in a community, (b) distinct varieties of one language, and (c) distinct speech levels of one language

The facts shows that there are more than one language existing and being used in a given speech community. A situation in which there are, at least, two languages are used is known as a diglossic situation; a person having mastery of two languages and using them alternately is known as a bilingual speaker; and the mastery of two (or more) languages by the individual speaker is known as bilingualism.

People may use different pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, or styles of a language for different purposes. They may use different dialects of a language in different contexts. In some communities they will select different languages according to the situation in which and according to the persons to whom they speak; they may use distinct speech levels.

Troike and Blackwell (1986) state that the means of communication used in a community may include different languages, different regional and social dialects of one or more languages, different register, and different channels of communication (oral or written).

Furthermore, Troike and Blackwell explain it in a more detailed description and state that the language use is related to the social organization of the group, which is likely to include differences in age, sex, and social status, as well as differences in the relationship between speakers, their goal of interaction, and the setting in communication takes place. The communicative repertoire (linguistic repertoire) may also include different occupational code, specialized religious language, secret codes or various kinds, imitative speech, whistle or drum of language, and varieties used for talking to foreigners, young children, and pets (Trioke  & Blackwell, 1986 : 51).

Language and Society

A society can be seen from its physical environment.  Our view of physical environment may be conditioned by our language.  In this relation, it can be explained that the physical environment in which a society lives can be reflected in its language, normally in the structure of its lexicon (the way in which distinctions are made by means of single words).  For instance, English has only one word for snow  but Eskimo has several. For English people, it is not necessary to make distinction of snow because their physical environment of society does not enable it; there is only kind of snow in the society. For Eskimos, it is essential to distinguish one kind of snow from another in individual words. Their physical environment ‘force’ them to make some names of snow (Trudgill, 1983:26)

            If English people have only one word for rice to refer what the Javenese people call as pari, gabah, beras dan sega. This is because both speaking communities have different interests. It is obvious that the Javanese poeople are necessary to cretae different vocabularies mentioned above.

            Other than the physical environment, the social environment can also be reflected in language, and can often have an effect on the structure of the vocabulary (Trudgill, 1983:27).  For example, a society’s kinship system is generally reflected in its kinship vocabulary. We can say that kin relationship in Banjare society is important so that there are many kinship vocabulary such as muyang, muning, waring, anggah, datu, kai, abah, anak, cucu, buyut, intah, cicit, muning dan muyang. Besides, there are some words such as: uma, julak, gulu, paman, and acil. Also, there are some words such as:: ading, laki, bini, ipar, marui dan warang (Suryadikara, 1989).

            A language is used by a man as a means of communication in his effort to interact one with another. In reality, he is not free from rules of using language agreed by speech communities in which he lives and interact with the other members of the community in accordance with the values and the other cultural aspects. The values of a society, for instance, can  have an effect on its language. The most interesting way in which this happens is through the phenomenon known as taboo. Taboo can be characterized as being concerned with behaviour which is believed to be supernaturally forbidden, or regarded as immoral or improper; it deals with behaviour which is prohibited in an apparently with behaviour.

Relationship between Language and Society
            An important concept in the discussion of communication is the speech community. It refers to a group of people who use the same system of speech signals. Another definition of the speech community is any human aggregate characterized by means of a shared body of verbal signs and set off from similar aggregates by significant differences in language use (John T. Plat and H.K. Plat, 1975: 33).

The relationship between language and the context in which it is used (Janet Holmes,2001:1). In other words, it studies the relationship between language and society. It explains why people speak differently in different social contexts. It discusses the social functions of language and the ways it is used to convey social meaning. All of the topics provide a lot of information about the language works, as well as about the social relationships in a community, and the way people signal aspects of their social identity through their language.

Ronald Wardhaugh (1986: 10-11) summaries the relationship between and society. According to him, there are some possible relationships between language and society. A first one is that, viewed from the participants, social structure may either influence or determine linguistic structure and/or behaviour. For instance, in relation to the age-grading phenomenon, whereby young children speak differently from older children and, in turn, children speak differently from mature adults. Socially, the participants may have different origins, either regional, social, or ethnic origins; and, they must met with the particular ways of speaking, choices of words, and even rules for conversing. This relationship will be discussed more detailed in the next chapter.

A second possible relationship between language and society is directly opposed to the first: linguistic structure and/or behaviour may either influence or determine social structure. This is supported by the Basil Bernstein’s finding on the use of elaborated and restricted codes. This finding will be discussed more detailed in the next chapter.

A third possible relationship between language and society is that language and society may influence each other; this influence is dialectical in nature. This is to say that speech behaviour and social behaviour are in a state of constant interaction and that material living conditions are an important factor in the relationship.


A language is an important thing in a given community, a speech community. It is not a means for communication and interaction but also for establishing and maintaining human relationships.

            One characteristic of a language is that is social. That is to say that all speech events must be in relation to the social aspects. A new-born child acquires a language in the social environment (family as a part of the speech community). A language use also occurs in the speech community.

            Based on the geographical area, one community may be different from one to another. This results in the different varieties of language: dialects. These kinds of dialects are known as geographical or regional dialects. The fact also shows us that the members of a community or speech community are in the same social hierarchy. Consequently, there are also varieties of the same language used by the different types of the language users. These kinds of language varieties are known as social dialects.


  1. Explain why English-Speaking people only have one word (rice) to refer what Javanese people call pari, gabah, beras, sego, etc.
  2. Explain why Banjare-Speaking people only have some words to refer what Javanese people call as perahu.
  3. Mention vocabularies of English-speaking communities showing their kinship system!
  4. Find out some tabooed words both in English and in your own language



  1. Forma L. Gonzales said

    I really like this topic. A million thanks to the author. It is so informative that i could utilize it for my teaching in the Graduate level. I suggest you publish more on this particular subject.

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