Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsSo far we’ve talked about language as something which varies both between people and for an individual. We’ve also seen that language is something we hold attitudes towards. The attitudes that people have towards language are arbitrary in themselves, but as we’ll see later on in the course, these attitudes can have a real impact on people’s lives. But language doesn’t just reflect who we are - it also allows us to in a sense “make” ourselves. For example, I’m speaking English to you, an audience that shares my language. But the way that I’m speaking is, of course, not the same as how each of you would speak English. Perhaps most obviously, there are anatomical differences between individuals.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 secondsThis means that the parts of the body that we use to produce speech are physiologically different to one another. In effect, we’re each producing speech with our very own unique instrument, so in that sense, our language use is a product of who we are. But we are also different from one another because of our personal and social identities. On this course, we have learners from different places, of different ages, and who would maybe see themselves as belonging to a different social-class to their peers. We each have our own hobbies, friendship groups, beliefs and so on. This means, that in effect, each of us are members of potentially countless social groups.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 secondsWhat’s more, we communicate our membership of these groups through the way we use language. There will be certain words that you would only use when talking to people who you share an interest with, but not to others. This allows us to project our membership of a group, and in turn, this allows our ties to that group to be strengthened. On top of all that, each one of us belongs to a unique collection of groups. A big part of what motivates our research in sociolinguistics is exploring how people express all of these aspects of their identity through their language.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsWe’ll look at some of the major theories and approaches used by sociolinguists to explore language and identity in this week of the course. But for now, let’s take the time to think about how our own language is shaped by belonging to different social groups. What social groups would you consider yourself to be a part of? And does your language change when you’re communicating with those groups? Take a moment to reflect on these questions, and share your thoughts with us in the next step!

What do we mean by identity?

Central to sociolinguistics is the notion of ‘identity’ and how we go about expressing this through speech.

Dr Claire Childs explains more in this short video - feel free to make comments for your fellow learners in the usual fashion.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity

University of York

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