Society and Its Relationship with Language
Society and Its Relationship with Language
The question that you pose to me was what has this course made me aware of society and its relationship with language. I feel that this question is a more of general, application and personal tone. Therefore I am going to write about my experience and my understanding in relation to this course.
First of all, I understand that sociolinguistic is the study about language in connection to society. How do I define language? I see language as a tool. It serves a range of functions. Language is also like a vehicle or a medium in human interaction. Society means a community of people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, organizations and etc. Then what is the relationship between society and language? In my opinion, when people use language to communicate, the language itself has become part of society. There are many possibilities about the relationship between language and society. The possibilities are society influences language, or language influences society, or society and language influence each other or no influence at all.
As an example, my name reflects that I am a Chinese. But I do not speak a single word of Chinese nor can I even write a single Chinese character. Instead, I speak fluent Bahasa Melayu and English. How can this be? This is because of my upbringing and my interactions with the community I live in. My parents communicate using non-standard Bahasa or Malay that is Peranakan ( Chinese Straits) to their children. When I ask them why they can t speak Chinese, they say that their parents never taught them although I knew my grandparents do speak in one of the chinese dialect. My parents felt comfortable communicating in Peranakan as the surrounding neighbours too are using the language. As for me, I get to learn the language as my mother tongue and the standard Bahasa and English through formal learning. These are my linguistic repertoire.
From here in relation to sociolingusitic, I learnt that there is language shift in my culture. My forefathers are from China. They married the local women and their children were able to communicate in two languages that is Peranakan and a chinese dialect. But the generation after are not able to communicate in the language of their forefathers but have adopted the language of their dominant society that is Peranakan.
However the language now is slowly facing death as the very young generation are not expose to the language in terms of usage. They prefer English instead. It is considered as a more prestige language. I myself had not been using the language Peranakan for quite sometime as I do not have anyone to talk to in Peranakan. I have forgotten some of the terms use in Peranakan. Sometimes I find it difficult to use the correct terms or words. This is when I tend to code-switch in English or standard Malay. I am experiencing language loss here so do most of the younger generation of my culture.
In addition, when I converse with my elders in Peranakan I have to be aware of their status, power and solidarity. When I speak to my grand-aunt, I have to be conscious of her salutation and the manner of my conversation that is extremely politeness. In Peranakan the salutation for grand-aunt (patriarchal) is Ipoh and when we converse I had to be humble and my tone of voice must be soft and lady-like. Unlike when I converse with my peers in Peranakan, I use gua or lu meaning you and I and the manner we converse can be rowdy at times.
Besides, I noticed that there is a difference in Peranakan and the standard malay although both are malay language. Peranakan is considered as non-standard or a colloquial variety. In Malaysia, the high variety is the standard malay that is Bahasa Melayu. For example, the word cup and toilet in standard Malay we call cawan and tandas but in Peranakan we call changkir and chi-wan .
I realized that we can identify a speaker identity, social class and educational background just by listening to their language in terms of pronunciation, grammar, intonation or semantics. There are many dialects in Malay. One can identify their state of origin if they belong to the north, east-coast or southern Malaysia. For example, the dialect from Trengganu, ikan is pronounced as ikang . One can also identify the race of a certain ethnic group. For example, the typical Chinese, unable to roll their tongues will pronounce lari as lali .
In continuation of my story, I became a teacher and I was posted to teach in a chinese school in Klang. When I went to that school, most of the pupils and some teachers (even the Headmaster!) thought that I am a Malay or Muslim just because I cannot speak chinese. It really shows of how much knowledge they have and their thinking.
Initially, I had a tough time adjusting to their culture and comprehending them. Over a period, I manage to understand a little chinese as I hear the same words uttered or verbalized everyday. The pupils took the initiative to speak English with me as I refuse to speak to them in chinese. There are advantage and disadvantage situations I am facing. First, my pupils had to learn English in order to communicate with me. My colleagues, the educated ones will speak in English with me but the low-educated ones will speak in Malay with me. The disadvantages I encountered are at times I am not included in my colleagues conversation as I do not belong there meaning I cannot converse chinese. At times I get stared at by others when they see me conversed in malay with another chinese in public. Anyway I have tolerated their antics for years and now I am furthering my studies in this university.
In conclusion, my discussion above shows that the society somehow influence and sometimes determine the language and dictate behavior of an individual. It also shows that the varieties of language that speakers use reflect their regional, social, or ethnic and maybe gender too. Moreover, ways of speaking, choices of words and rules for conversing are highly determined by certain social requirements. This course has certainly made me reflect and ponder about the society I am in contact with and its relationship with language. I have learnt and understand more now about sociolinguistics.