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Social Dialects

Social Dialects

Language use also tends to mature with age. Adults who exist in more professional environments than young people also cannot use informal language as frequently. Older people also have an advanced understanding of how to use language to achieve different goals and adapt to different social contexts.

Young people might greet one another by saying "Wassup?" while older people grow accustomed to using more formal greetings such as "Hello! How are you?"

Education

Education level, often connected with socioeconomic status, has one of the most significant impacts on social dialect. Children with lower education levels, especially in early childhood, tend to be slower in acquiring language than other children. It takes them longer to develop an advanced vocabulary and understand complex syntactical structures. Higher education levels also lead to the development of more formal vocabulary and the use of more advanced vocabulary. For example, people who attend college and post-graduate institutions will use more technical language than those who only study through high school.

Young adults with higher education levels are more likely to be able to write a convincing persuasive speech than young adults who have not learned rhetorical appeals.

Ethnic Background

The ethnic group or groups a person belongs to also shapes language use. Not to be confused with the physical socially-constructed label of race, a person's ethnicity is their social identity and accounts for factors like nationality, religion, and culture. A language variety that's specific to an ethnogroup is called an ethnolect.

It is common among Jewish people to exclaim "oy vey" when frustrated.

Gender

Gender identity can profoundly impact other social factors in a person's life, like their social status and their level of education. As a result, gender identity can affect language patterns.

For example, in communities where women are seen as inferior to men, they may use more formal vocabulary and sentence structure when talking to a man they do not know than when talking to other women.

In many cultures, there is social pressure on men to appear strong and not express emotions. As a result, men tend to suppress emotional ideas more than women when talking. When asked how they are, a woman is likelier to be honest and say, "I cried last night," than a man, even if it is true for him.

Socioeconomic Class

Socioeconomic class is one of the most important social factors in social dialect. A person's social class is their standing in society based on their socioeconomic status, which is a combination of their income, wealth, education level, and occupation. The financial gap between social classes in the United States is quite large today, which impacts what members of each class have in common, including language use. People in the United States typically fall into one of the following six classes:

  1. Upper class - People who have inherited wealth through many generations.

  2. New money - People with inherited wealth for just one or two generations and a high income.

  3. Middle class - People with professional, "white collar" jobs like teachers, doctors, and lawyers, and typically have a college education.

  4. Working class - People who work in "blue collar" jobs like truck drivers and factory workers, and typically have more technical training than college educations.

  5. Working poor - People with a low educational level who work low-level jobs.

  6. Poverty - People with a low educational level who work part-time, have low-income jobs, or are unemployed.

These are the general characteristics of people in each social class. People might belong to one of these social groups and not possess all of these characteristics or might move throughout social groups in their lifetime.

Those in lower social classes also tend to work jobs that accept the use of informal communication and slang. People who work in white-collar jobs or exist in the elite circles of the upper and new money classes typically don't find settings that accept such a combination. As a result, those in the upper class will use different vocabulary and syntax than those in the lower classes.

The sociolinguist Basil Bernstein researched the impact of socioeconomic class on social status in schools. He found that students from working-class households had a smaller vocabulary, used more informal language, and followed predictable linguistic patterns. On the other hand, he found that students from middle-class households had a larger, more formal vocabulary and used more complex syntax that was less predictable. Both codes of language are a rich reflection of socio-cultural context and the way social forces come together in a complex web to shape language use.1

Occupation

Frequently Asked Questions about Social Dialects

Social dialect is a variety of language associated with a particular social group. 

Social dialect is a variety of language associated with a particular social group. Regional dialect is a variety of language associated with geographic location.

When a social dialect is used in written form and in formal settings, it becomes standard language. 

Many factors affect social dialect including socioeconomic class, education level, age, and occupation. 

African American Vernacular English, also known as Ebonics, is an example of how ethnic background impacts social dialect.

Final Social Dialects Quiz

Question

What is a social dialect?

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Answer

Social dialect is a variety of language associated with a particular social group.

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Question

Which dialect is more consistently similar throughout the same physical communities? 

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Answer

Regional

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Question

In the Southern United States, people use contractions like “y’all.” People in the Northeast do not use these words. Is this an example of social dialect?

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Answer

No. This is an example of regional dialect. 


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Question

True or False. Each person has one social factor that impacts their dialect. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following is not an example of a social factor impacting dialect?

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Answer

Brian pronounces car like “cah” because he lives in Boston. 

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Question

What is the official form of a language in written form called?

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Answer

Standard language 

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Question

What is another name for social dialect?

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Answer

Sociolect

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Question

What differences did Basil Bernstein find between students in working-class households and middle-class households?

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Answer

Students from working-class households followed predictable linguistic patterns while students from middle-class households did not. 

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Question

Ebonics is an example of the way which social factor can impact variation in language? 

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Answer

Ethnic background 

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Question

What is dialect?

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Answer

Dialect is a form of language that is unique to a particular group. 

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Question

How are dialect and accent different? 

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Answer

A person’s accent is how they pronounce words while dialect includes pronunciation, syntax, vocabulary, and grammar. 

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