Fatchul Mu’in

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Posted by fatchulfkip on March 19, 2008


When a study of language in which the linguistic factors are related to the factors beyond the language, such as language use that is done by its speakers in a certain speech community, it refers to sociolinguistics. According to Fishman, for instance, socially, the language use involves “Who speaks, what language, to whom, when and where” Fishman, 1972:244).. When some aspects of sociology are adopted in studying a language, this means it presents an interdisciplinary study; and its name represents a combination of sociology and linguistics. In this relation, some experts call it as sociology of language; and some others call it as sociolinguistics.

The following discussion involves some terms such as language, linguistics, sociology or its aspects, and sociolinguistics as well as relationships between language and society


A term sociolinguistics is a derivational word. Two words that form it are sociology and linguistics. Sociology refers to a science of society; and linguistics refers to a science of language. A study of language from the perspective of society may be thought as linguistics plus sociology. Some investigators have found it to introduce a distinction between sociolinguistics and sociology of language. Some others regard sociolinguistics is often referred as the sociology of language.

Sociolinguistics is defined as:

  1. The study that is concerned with the relationship between language and the context in which it is used. In other words, it studies the relationship between language and society. It explains we 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 provides 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 (Jenet Holmes, 2001)
  2. The study that is concerned with the interaction of language and setting (Carol M. Eastman, 1975; 113).
  3. the study that is concerned with investigating the relationship between language and society with the goal of a better understanding of the structure of language and of how languages function in communication ( Ronald Wardhaugh, 1986 : 12)

Socio-cultural Aspects

A group of people is required by both community and society. They communicate and interact between and another. They have a membership consciousness on the basis of the common goals and their behaviour is ordered and patterned. If they live in a given area, have the same culture and living styles, and can collectively act in their effort to reach a certain goal, they will be known as a community.

A society in which some groups of people are living may show what we call social stratification. A term social stratification used to refer to any hierarchical ordering of group within a society (Trudgill, 1983).

A system of social stratification is not always similar to one another; it may be represented in castes (such as in India); it may be represented in different social classes: high class, middle class, and lower class (such in United States); and it may be represented in some terms such as: elite group vs. common people, “kawula vs. gusti” (such as in Indonesia). A society in which its members are stratified shows social classes followed by social status and role.

Social class may be defined primarily by wealth, or by circumstances of birth, or by occupation, or by criteria specific to the group under investigation. If wealth is a criterion, this may be calculated in terms of money, or in terms of how many pigs, sheep, or blankets an individual or family possesses, or how much land they claim. Social status is often largely determined by social class membership (Troike and Blackwell, 1982: 87).

A married man automatically has a status as a husband of his wife and as a father of child(ren); in his office, he may be a director; and in his neighbourhood, he may be a religious leader. According to Soerjono Soekanto, social role is a dynamic aspect of status ( Soekanto, 1982: 236-237).

Thus, the man has three statuses: as a father, a director, and a religious leader. When he fulfils his duties and responsibilities in accordance with his single status, he plays one role. Whatever the groups are called, each of them must occupy a position in a social rank or have a social status. Therefore, a member of a given social rank or social status plays a role in accordance with his status.

Social relationships among people in society are based on some rules, values, etiquette, etc. In communication, for instance, people are ordered by rules (of speaking); they are guided by values (of how to behave in a good manner) than can be conducted through etiquette (of using a language).

Social Units of Language Use

a. Speech Community
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. (John T. Plat and H.K. Plat, 1975: 33).

Troike and Blackweel state that speech community must meet three criteria: (1) it is any group within a society which has anything significant in common (including religion, ethnicity, race, age, deafness, sexual orientation, or occupation), (2) it is a physically bounded unit of people having range of role-opportunities (a politically organized tribe or nation), (3) it is a collection of similarly situated entities that something in common (such as the Western World, European Common Market, or the United Nations) (1982:19).

b. Speech Situation

According to Dell Hymes, a speech situation is a situation in which a speech occurs. Within a community, we may detect many situations associated with (or marked by the absence of) speech. Such situations will be described as ceremonies, fights, hunts, meals, lovemaking, and the like (in Gumperz, John J. and Dell Hymes, eds., 1972: 54).

c. Speech Event

According to Dell Hymes, a speech event refers to activities or aspects of activities that are directly governed by rules or norms for the use of speech. An event may consist of a single speech act; and it often comprises several speech acts (in Gumperz, John J. and Dell Hymes, eds., 1972: 56).

d. Speech Act

According Dell Hymes, speech act is the minimal term of the speech event. It represents a level distinct from the sentence, and cannot be identified with any single portion of other levels of grammar, nor with segments of any particular size defined in terms of other levels of grammar. An utterance may have the status of command depending on a conventional formula. When we ask someone to leave the building, we may say: “Go!” not “Go?” An interrogative sentence “Can you help me?” may be meant to ask someone to do something; “what time is it?” may be meant to remind that the listener comes very late (in Gumperz and Dell Hymes, eds., 1972: 56).

e. Speech Styles

The term style refers to a language variety that is divided based on the criterion of formality. This criterion tends to subsume subject matter, the audience of discourse, and the occasion. Based on the criterion, Martin Jose (in Brown, 1982: 192) recognizes the speech into frozen, formal, consultative, casual and intimate styles. A frozen (oratorical) style is used in public speaking before a large audience; wording is carefully planned in advance, intonation is somewhat exaggerated, and numerous rhetorical devices are appropriate. A formal (deliberative) style is also used in addressing audiences, usually audiences too large to permit effective interchange betweens speaker and hearers, though the forms are normally not as polished as those in a frozen (oratorical) style. A typical university classroom lecture is often carried out in a formal (deliberative) style. A consultative style is typically a dialogue, though formal enough that words are chosen with some care. Business transactions, doctor-patient conversations, and the like are consultative in nature. Casual conversations are between friends or colleagues or sometimes numbers of a family; in this context words need not be guarded and social barriers are moderately low. An intimate style is one characterized by complete absence of social inhibitions. Talk with family, loved ones, and very close friends, where you tend to reveal your inner self, is usually in an intimate style.

Someone may speak very formally or very informally; his choice of the styles is governed by circumstances. Ceremonial occasions almost require very formal speech; public lectures are somewhat less formal; casual conversation is quite informal; and conversation between intimates on matters of little importance may be extremely informal and casual.

We may try to relate the level of formality chosen to a number of factors: (1) the kind of occasion, (2) the various social, age, and other differences that exist between the participants, (3) the particular task that is involved, e.g., writing or speaking, and (4) the emotional involvement of one or more of the participants (Wardhaugh, 1986: 48).

f. Ways of Speaking

A way of speaking refers to how a language speaker uses in accordance with behavior of communication regulated in his speech community. This means that he has to apply “regulation” of using his language. That is why Fishman suggests that in using a language someone has to consider to whom he speaks. Considering the person to whom he speaks, he will determine what language or its varieties he wants to use to speak. His consideration is not only based on to whom he speaks, but also on when or where he speaks. The language speaker will consider the setting of time and place.

In relation to the ways of speaking Dell Hymes states that the point of it is the regulative idea that the communicative behavior within a community is analyzable in terms of determinate ways of speaking, that the communicative competence of persons comprises in part a knowledge of determinate ways of speaking (in Gamperz and Hymes, eds., 1972 : 57).

g. Components of Speech

A language use occurring in a speech community must be in relation to speech situation, speech event, speech act, and speech styles, as well as components of speech. Those form an integrated parts in the communicative behavior. Dell Hymes (in Gumperz and Hymes, 1972 : 59-65) states the speech are in the sixten components, being grouped together under the letters of the word SPEAKING. SPEAKING here stands for (S)etting, (P)articipants, (E)nds, (A)act sequence, (K)ey, (I)nstrumentalities, (N)orms, and (G)enres. The further explanation will be explained later.

Factors Influencing Language Use

They are four dominant factors influencing someone’s language use in a given speech community: (a) the participants: who speaks, to whom he speaks, (b) the setting: where does he speak? (c) the topic discussed, and (d) the function: what and why does he speak?. These factors (and the other factors) will be discussed in detail in the next chapter (Wardhaugh, 1983). These four factors can be illustrated as follows:

For instance, there are two persons involving in a speech act. They are called as participants. They are identified as father and his son. At home (setting), in order to be familiar between them (function), both father and his son (participants) speak Javanese language to talk about daily activities (topic); they use Indonesian language in another topic. Both speakers never Javanese outside their home to each other; they use Banjarese or Indonesian language.

Social Dimensions Influencing Language Use

Starting from the factors above, language use is determined by social dimensions: (a) social distance scale: how well we know someone, (b) a status scale: high-low status in social life; superior-subordinate status, and (c) a formality: formal-informal; high-low formality.

Social structure may either influence or determine linguistic structure and/or behaviour. The age-grading phenomenon can be used as evidence. In this relation, for instance, young children speak differently from other children; and children speak differently from mature. Consequently, there are some varieties of the same language (dialects, styles, speech levels, etc.) and ways of speaking, choices of words, and rules for conversing. Linguistic structure and/or behaviour may either influence or determine social structure.

Sociolinguistics studies a language and its varieties, and how they are used in the speech community in relation to the socio-cultural background of the language use itself.

Bilingualism, Code Switching and Interference


A language is used by its speaker for the sake of communication and interaction. Initially, a newborn child tries to master one language used his immediate social environment such as: family (father and mother) and surrounding people. In the age of pre-elementary school, he may have a mastery of one language; or, he may have a mastery of his mother tongue or native language. In the age level, he can be said as being a monolingual speaker. For him, to be able to use one language is sufficient.

In the next development, when he wants to go to elementary school, the new social environment ‘force’ him to learn another language until he has a mastery of the language (Indonesian language, for example). When he can be stated as having a mastery of Indonesian language, he is called as bilingual speaker.

According to Weinreich, bilingual is a person who involved in alternately using two languages. In this case, it can be said that before someone can be stated as bilingual speaker, of course, he has to master two languages. Mastering two languages enables him to use two languages alternately. That is to say that in one situation he uses one language, and in the other situation he uses the language. Therefore, he, then, can be stated as a person involved in what is called as bilingualism, the practice of alternately using two languages (Weienreich, 1968: 1). William F. Mackey defines bilingualism as the alternate use of two or more languages by the same individual (Mackey, in Fishman, ed., 1972: 555).

Code Switching

We may refer to a language or a variety of a language as code. This is useful because it is neutral. This is to say that such terms as language, standard language, dialect, style, speech level, register, pidgin, Creole, and the other variety of the language can be called as codes. In other words, the term code is meant to refer to one of the varieties in language hierarchy. If a language is a variety of human languages, we, for example, will know that English, Javanese, Banjarese, Arabic, and Indonesia languages respectively, are codes. In reality a language has a number of varieties, and its varieties (dialect, style, pidgin, Creole, speech level, register, etc) are also referred to as codes. In this relation, Fishman states that each language variety can be identified its sound systems, vocabularies, grammatical features, and meaning (Fishman, 1972:5).

The use of language in a situation of bilingualism and/or multilingualism often involves the problems of who speaks, what language, to whom and when (Fishman, 1972:244). In such situation, we often look at a speaker changes his language or a variety of the same language for one to another. This language change depends on a situation or a necessity of using a language or its varieties.

When a language is regarded as a system of code, the language change from one to another is known as a code switching. For instance, a speaker uses Indonesian language, and then he changes it to the other one. This language phenomenon is known as a code switching.

However, as illustrated above, there may be some possibilities of language varieties of the same language either in the forms of dialects, speech levels, styles or registers. Also, as steted above, all languages and/or varieties are known as codes. In this relation, the concept of code switching covers a switching of one language to another, that of one dialect to another, that of one speech level to another, that of one style to another, and that of one register to another.


Discussion on interference must be related to the use of two or m ore languages by the same individuals. This is to say that the use of those languages (or the languages are in contact) may result in interference phenomenon. So, bilingualism and bilingual have a close relationship to the language phenomenon.

As stated above, the concept of bilingualism has become broader and broader. It was regarded as the equal mastery of two languages, as explicitly defined by Bloomfield as “the native-like control of two languages”. When a speaker has the mastery of two languages whose bilingualism is in line with the Bloomfield’s concept, it seems that he will not make a linguistic deviation known as interference.

Originally, the concept of interference referred to the use of formal elements of one of code with the context of another, i.e. any phonological, morphological, lexical or syntactic element in a given language that could be explained by the effect of contact with another language (Troike and Blackwell, 1986).

Mackey defines interference as “the use of features belonging to one language while speaking or writing another”. The description of bilingualism must be distinguished from the analysis of language borrowing (Fishman, ed., 1972:569). The language borrowing will be illustrated under the discussion of integration.

The use of languages in the alternate way may result in linguistic deviations in one language used by a given language user. This deviation is known as interference. In this relation, Weinreich says that the practice of alternately using two languages will be called bilingualism and the persons involved, bilingual. Those instances of deviation from the norms of either language either language that occurs in the speech of bilinguals as a result of their familiarity with more than one language, i.e. as a result of language contact, will be referred to as interference phenomena (1968:1).

The levels of interference may be cultural, semantic, lexical, grammatical, and phonological.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>1. <!–[endif]–>In cultural level, cases of interference may be found in the speech of the bilingual; their causes may be found, not in his other language, but in the culture that it reflects. The foreign element may be result of an effort to express new phenomena or new experience in a language that does not account for them. For instance, an Indonesian speaking English is ‘forced’ to use such words as sampan, kelotok, and ketinting because of no equivalent words in English language. The foreign element may result of the introduction of the custom of greeting and thanking in his own language. For instance, he may say ‘Good night’ instead of ‘Good evening’; or he may say ‘Thanks’ instead of ‘No thanks’.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2. <!–[endif]–>In semantic level, interference occurs when a speaker introduces new semantic structures. Even though the semantic units may be the same in both languages, a foreign way of combining them may introduced as a new semantic structure. Both Indonesian and English, for instance, have comparable units for mengandungconsist of; but when an Indonesian language speaker uses a sentence Paragraf itu mengandung beberapa kalimat he introduces into his speech a foreign semantic structure based on the English model The paragraph is pregnant of several sentences instead of The paragraph consists of several sentences.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>3. <!–[endif]–>In lexical level, interference may involve the introduction of morphemes of language A into B. For instance, an Indonesian commentator using the words such as hand ball, kick off, off side, goal, keeper, etc in an Indonesian-language foot ball broadcast; the other speaker may say Banyak handicap dalam perjuangan ini or Dalam pembuktian kita perlu melakukan cross check, etc.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4. <!–[endif]–>In grammatical level, interference may involve the use of grammatical patterns of one language in another. The grammatical patterns or categories may be morphological or syntactical. The possible examples are: (a) An English speaking Indonesian language does not know its word-formation (using the affixes me-kan) may say Dia meninggal tempat ini satu jam yang lalu” instead of Dia meninggalkan tempat satu jam yang lalu. In the other side, in making a plural noun, Indonesian language shows a different way from that of English language, (b) A student learning English may meet difficulties (and the same time, makes interference) when he wants to say many book instead of many books. This can be explained that he is influenced by the Indonesian language word-order banyak buku. Although, a word banyak is a marker of plurality, it is not followed by a plural noun buku-buku; (c) A student learning English may use say He go to school everyday instead of He goes to school everyday. This interference occurs as a result of no system of agreement or concord between noun and verb (subject and predicate) in Indonesian language; all the subjects are followed by the same predicate (verb) such as Saya pergi; Dia pergi, Mereka pergi, etc.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>5. <!–[endif]–>In phonological level, the problem of interference concerns the manner in which a speaker perceives and reproduces the sounds of one language in terms of another. This interference occurs in the speech of bilingual as a result of the fact that there are different elements in sound system between one language and another, or between native and foreign language. In some cases, the native and foreign languages have the similarity in sound system and in grammatical system. However, in most cases, both languages have different either in sound system or in grammatical system. Different elements in sound system between both languages may be of several kinds.

First, it is the existence of a given sound in the latter, which is not found in the former. Second, both languages have the same phonetic features but they are different in their distribution, namely: when and where they may occur in an utterance. Third, both have similar sounds that have different variants or allophones. Interference arises when a bilingual speaker identifies a phoneme of one language with that in another. For instance, an Indonesian speaking English may pronounce bag as [bæk] instead of [bæg]. This interference occurs because of the fact that /g/ never arises in the final position of Indonesian language words; so, /g/ is identified as /k/ in that position. In addition, he may replace /v/ with /p/, /f/ with /p/; he may not use a /p/ with aspiration.


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 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.

Sociolinguistics studies a language and its varieties, and how they are used in the speech community in relation to the socio-cultural background of the language use itself.


  1. What is meant by sociolinguistics?
  2. Explain a language from the viewpoint of social perspective?
  3. What are the social units of language use? Explain!
  4. What are meant by a bilingual, bilingualism, interference, and code switching? Explain and give some examples to support your answers!

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