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Speech Communities

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  • Pages: 6
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  • Category: Identity

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In the New Merriam-Webster Dictionary a speech community is defined as a socially distinct group that develops a dialect; a variety of language that diverges from the national language in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. Gumperz, Dorian, Fishman, Labov, Hymes, and Corder helped define a speech community. This essay will touch on the basis of multiple aspects of a speech community depending on their similarities and differences as well as how the concepts of these speech communities relate to such articles written by Heller and Jackson.

Speech communities are formed by language and social behaviors. Linguistics defines a speech community through many ways. All speech communities have a set of grammatical rules, phonology, syntax, and lexicons. As well as having social norms in which they share through actions. By a person’s speech it can give an idea of a person’s background in ways of where they are from, how educated one is, as well is if they are friendly or unsociable.

Now linguistic acculturation explains the process when two or more cultures collide for a long time they begin assimilate each other’s language. In the most extreme cases of language shifts, pidgins and creoles are developed. Besides linguistic acculturation, the situation of bilinguals, some abandon their native tongue for another. Other bilinguals have a language used within the home different from outside of the home. This mostly refers to dialectal behavior. The second concept is superposed. This occurs when there are different activities going on in the same group.

Now Gumperz defines a speech community as “any human aggregate characterized by regular and frequent interaction by means of a shared body of verbal signs and set of from similar aggregates by significant differences in language use” (219). Gumperz feels as if people should share the same norm, communicate regularly, and share verbal signs.

Besides Gumperz definition there are three other definitions to a speech community in which Dorian evaluates against her own beliefs of a speech community. In Dorian’s article she proposes that in these three definitions from Gumperz, Labov, and Fishman does not include a third group. Dorian categorized this third group as the low proficiency semi-speakers and near passive bilinguals. Dorian stresses the importance of including the marginal speakers. As for Fishman’s definition it is the most like Gumperz. Fishman defines the speech community as ‘A speech community is one, all of whose members share at least a single speech variety and the norms for it’s appropriate use’ (1971:232). In Fishman’s description, he touches on the ideas of social norms similar to Gumperz. Labov definition is as follows: ‘The speech community is not defined by any marked agreement in the use of language elements, so much as by participation in a set of shared norms; these norms could be observed in overt types of evaluative behavior, and by the uniformity of abstract patterns of variation which are invariant in respect to particular levels of usage.

It seems plausible to define a speech community as a group of speakers who share a set of social attitudes toward language’ (1972b:120-1). Labov defines the speech community in this concept by regions in which people exist. They share a same way of speaking and similar norms. As all of these definitions identify the use of language, in Hymes’ definition of a speech community he believes that it is a social group who makes a speech community instead of just its language. Hymes definition is states, ‘the entire organization of linguistic means within it’ (1974: 47). Now for Corder he finds that a speech community is made only by people who find themselves as speaking the same language. Dorian found that Hymes and Corder only assessed more on social factors and not the linguistic factors. Hence in everyone’s definition another will find a flaw in the way they may view the speech community. However what seems to associate with the explanation of a speech community in Monica Heller’s article is Gumperz’s definition.

Many factors change a person’s pursuit in abandoning their native language entirely because of where they have moved from the place where it is spoken or because of political, economical, and cultural pressure, therefore, a community must be defined partly in relation to some other community and to circumstances. The French and English speaking communities studied by Heller is an example of this.

Monica Heller’s article, “Negotiation of language choice in Montreal” took place in Montreal, Canada. She worked with a bilingual speech community of French and English. During her studies and observations, she has come to the realization that Montreal’s interaction and socialization of individuals living in Montreal has become a political act. She says that even buying a pair of socks has become a problem. She quotes, “In the place of unconscious, or semi-conscious, use of language in everyday life is an extreme awareness of language, a new way of holding conversations that involves the negotiation of language choice in every interaction. That awareness of language comes from the symbolic role it has in political life, and from the social value it has acquired as an obvious characteristic of the social groups involved in sifting relationships.” Not only do people have to know the different types of “implicit” and “explicit” strategies to be able to hold a conversation, but they also have to know the individuals ethnic background.

Montreal has gone through many changes due to his history after the Seven years war. There has been a threat in the economic hegemony, influence on the authority of a nation, to rise, leading the French language to diminish and give rise to the language of English. Eventually, geographic isolation began to occur in the cities and in Montreal; the east end became a French community, whereas the west end became an English community. Monica Heller explains that the “geographic isolation is reinforced by a total reduplication of cultural institutions,” such institutions include religion, schools, and social stratification all separated between French and English speaking places. Also the French made up most of the working class, and the English were the elite, upper, and middle classes. This was because the position of English was strengthened through “the presence of the English -Speaking majority in the rest of Canada and the United States, and the tendency of immigrant groups to assimilate to the English population.”

Because there is an ongoing social and political change in societies, one must be able to negotiate and work together in creating strategies to be able to “conventionalize” a way of normalizing relationships and in Heller’s text, “encode social information necessary to know how to speak to someone.” The French and English speaking communities studied by Heller is such a great example of how a community must be defined partly in relation to some other community and to circumstances. In fact, the article laid out some very important points on speech community and how two or more languages can co-exist in the community’s repertoire, although every member does not know every language spoken within the speech community rounds. Heller calls this a person’s “mother tongue.” Besides the Monica Heller’s description of Montreal, Jean Jackson describes the speech communities among the Vaupes Indians. The Vaupes Indians are located in Southeast Colombia in small tribes. These small tribes socialize with each other in ways through marriage and each tribe has their own language. Due to marriage and other factors, Vaupes Indians are known to be multilingual of three to even ten languages.

A unique feature in which the Vaupes Indians have is marriage is not allowed within the father tribe, meaning each tribe professes exogamy. And from their patrilineal descent unit it traces their father language. The Vaupes Indians importance of multilingualism lies in their use of their father language as a badge of identity. They use this badge of identity to trace back to their native tribe, but also to prove their identity to the marriage rule. Other than their father language, due to the vast number and dispersion of the Tukano tribe, their language became the common lingua franca. Through the closeness of the tribes as well as their individuality describes dialectal behaviors. The Vaupes Indians define Gumperz description of a speech community by their shared norms among one another to act appropriate in their communities.

In conclusion, the speech community defines where a person stands in the community world. Every person belongs to a speech community. A speech community is formed by a group of people that is raised in the same communicative tradition.

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