How does linguistic variation cue representations of a speaker’s social identity and, presumably, stereotypes about relevant social groups? Although studies have indicated that phonetic variation in speech may activate social stereotypes (Purnell, Idsardi & Baugh, 1999), research on the mechanisms of this process has been scant. The term “stereotype” was introduced into the variations of sociolinguistic literature in Labov’s (1973) taxonomy of language forms charged with broad social meaning, reprised in Labov (2001).
The first element in this classification, “indicators”, are variables whose use is restricted to certain social groups, but whose use “shows zero degree of social awareness and are difficult to detect for both linguists and native speakers” (Labov 2001, p. 196). “Markers”, the second category, occur when “indicators” rise to the level of social consciousness. They exhibit “social recognition usually in the form of social stigma…” (Labov 2001, p. 197) The third linguistic element is that of “stereotypes”. Labov (1973, p. 314) defines these as “socially marked forms, prominently labeled by society.
”Labov (1973) elaborates, stating: “stereotypes are referred to and talked about by members of the speech community; they may have a general label, and a characteristic phrase which serves equally well to identify them” As they grow, children learn to become members of the cultures into which they are born, it is from here that they get their cognitive understanding of the physical and more importantly the social world. The following assignment explores the influences that different language styles have on the cultural outlook that children grow up to have, especially in context of stereotypes or prejudices that they might carry.
When children babble, very often the first words that they say are to serve some social purpose. (for example – ‘hi’ or waving their hand to show greeting. In the Indian context, they are taught to touch feet of elder people. ) We know that the grammatical complexity of sentences increases with age. In some cultures children are talked to by adults a lot more than other cultures. Along with this, the nature and modification of speech, long sentences with more adjectives, exaggerations, also take place.
This gives us an idea that children who are spoken to more, are more included in the adult world and grow up to be more inquisitive and close knit. Language can be biased against women by ignoring their existence. Biased language can also reinforce people’s false ideas of what men and women are. A fixed image of someone based on unsourced evidence and observation is called a stereotype. For example, television is full of stereotypes. A “normal” British family depicted by television advertisements has two children at school, a father who works full time and a mother who stays at home and looks after the house.
The trouble with this picture of a “normal” family is that it is totally false. Only 5% of households are really like this. Many stereotypes are concerned with being male or female and how males and females are supposed to behave. For example women are supposed to be “gentle” and men “aggressive”, girls are supposed to be “quiet” and boys “noisy”. But just think of how many noisy girls and quiet boys you know and you realise what a false impression stereotypes can give. In the Japanese culture, talking a lot and loudly is considered disrespectful; hence implying that talking politely means talking softly and talking less.
Proverbs such as ‘talkative males are embarrassing’ are taught to children, automatically developing in them a stereotypical image of the traits that are present in ‘good men’. Japanese mothers do not ask for elaborate recounting of occurrences and interrupt children frequently while they speak; North American mothers on the other hand ask questions to make children talk more – thus, the Japanese encourage concision and the North Americans self expression. Thus, language is used to teach cultural values that promote some stereotypical ideas that get stored in the child’s brain.
As adults talk to children, they start teaching culturally specific language practices and transmitting cultural values. Language also conveys culturally specific values through the books that children read, exposing them to culturally different ideas. I would like to bring to your notice the example of History books in India and those in Pakistan. The language used to portray the two countries’ perception of each other encourages the students to develop a particular image of the historical happenings.
The language used is brash and insulting and there are many words that cannot imply any different or alternate meaning. These have consequences, and it is highly possible that these values are transmitted to children and they carry it with them for their lifetime. The perception that they develop because of the language that is used in books alters the outlook that they have about Islamic religion and it is generalized to all people from Pakistan.
The notion that the language we speak or are spoken to influences the way we think and thus, our behavior is illustrated by Benjamin Whorf, who meant that language shapes thought. One belief is that – If language is the way thought is expressed, then acquiring language should have consequences for developing thought, and differences in the language acquired should result in differences in the cognitive processes of the speakers of those languages.
If we were to go with this belief then cultures in which discrimination, racism, class system, biases etc are prevalent, children would grow up with these ideologies as they hear about these things all the time.
If languages differ in the distinctions that they make, then learning the language must consist in part learning to make those distinctions too. “The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group… we see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because of the language habits of our community predisposes certain choices of interpretation” as said by Sapir, Whorf’s teacher.
While Whorf himself quoted “We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances to it, as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way – an agreement that holds through our community and is codified in the patterns of our language”. With the theory that says that concepts and words develop together, it is understood that the language that we speak is the medium through which we perceive the world and the episodes and people that are part of it. Words are a form of new information. Learning the word and the concept happen simultaneously.
These concepts get coded in the system of the child and it translates to their thinking and understanding of things. Black children born in the United States, who have grown up in poverty and in an unstable environment, listening to their families about talk about their depraved state and attending schools that teach them self defence and attitudes of equality, or schools where they stand victim of their colour they learn attitudes of resilience and fighting back – the way they are spoken to and referred to impacts the way they think of the deal as they grow older.
The beliefs that they carry with them from their natives gets reinforced and observable in these kind of settings. In the western world the reference to sex is very free, in Central Asian countries, this reference is not very freely done. As a result of the language that is used in the two places, in terms of sexual engagement, the concept and attitude that the children of the two places carry are vastly different and their approach towards it is also different The effects of parental naming practices on cognition may be hard to untangle from the effects of other information.
The parents who are use more adjectives and are more specific in their description of people or ideals, those children also have more capacity for distinctive characteristics. Let us consider another example – Incorrect: Although she was blonde, Mary was still intelligent. Revised: Mary was intelligent. A speaker that is using a given arrangement of allophonic variations falling into socially relevant categories would cue the perception of a social / linguistic identity for a given listener. This model is, then, rather compatible with models of sociolinguistic variation that subscribe to exemplar theory.
Thus, along with direct observation, we have seen that children also learn from what others say. Thus, children who are told different things will end up with different prejudices and biases of the world. This influence of language on the development of culture specific beliefs would also count as an example of language as a vehicle of socialization. BIBLIOGRAPHY – 1. The Fundamentals of Cognitive Psychology – Chapter 7, Language, Culture and Cognition in Development. 2. Sociolinguistic Cognition : Stereotypes in Sociolinguistics 3. http://www. steverhowell. com/lakoff. pdf 4. Stereotype Dynamics 5. About Cognitive Linguistics.