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Language in Society by. Victoria Fromkin-Robert Rodman

Chapter 8

Language in Society



I have noticed in traveling about the country a good many differences in the pronunciation of common words. . .. Now what I want to know is whether there is any right or wrong about this matter. . . . If one Way is right, why don't we all pronounce that way and compel the other fellow to do the same? If there isn't any right or wrong, why do some persons make so much fuss about it?

Letter quoted in "The Standard American" in J. V. Williamson and V. M. Burke, eds., A Various Language


All speakers of English can talk  to each other and pretty much understand each other. Yet no two speakers speak exactly alike. Some differences are due to age, sex, state of health, size., personality, emotional state, and personal idiosyncrasies. That each Derson speaks somewhat differently from all others is shown by our ability to recognize ac­quaintances by hearing them talk. The unique characteristics of the language of an individual speaker are referred to as the speaker's idiolect. English may then be said to consist of 400,000,000 idiolects, or the number equal to the number of speakers of English.

Beyond these individual differences, the language of a group of people may show regular variations from that used by other groups of speakers of that language.  When the English spoken by speakers indifferent  geographical regions and from different social groups shows systematic differences,  the groups are said to speak different dialects of the same language. The dialects of a single language may thus be defined as mutually intelligible forms of that language which differ in systematic ways from each other.

It is not always easy to decide whether the systematic differences between two speech communities reflect two dialects or two different languages. A rule-of-thumb definition can be used: "When dialects become mutually unin­telligible—when the speakers of one dialect group can no longer understand the speakers of another dialect group—these 'dialects' become different lan­guages." But to define "mutually intelligible" is itself a difficult task. Danes speaking Danish and Norwegians speaking Norwegian and Swedes speaking Swedish can converse with each other. Yet Danish and Norwegian and Swedish are considered separate languages because they are spoken in sepa­rate countries that are distinct political nations and because there are regular differences in their grammars. Similarly, Hindi and Urdu are mutually Inteligible “language” spoken in Pakistan and India, although the differences between them are not much greater than the English spoken in America and the English spoken in England (or parts of England) and the English spoken in Australia. On the other hand, the various languages spoken in China such Mandarin and Cantonese have been referred to as "dialects" of Chinese because they are spoken within a single country and have a common writing system, although in spoken form they are mutually unintelligible.

Since neither mutual intelligibility nor the existence of political boundaries is decisive, it is not surprising that a- clear-cut distinction between language and dialects has evaded linguistic scholars. We shall, however, use the rule­-of-thumb definition and refer to dialects of one language as mutually intelligible versions of the same basic grammar, with systematic differences be­tween them.

However "dialect" is defined, what is certain is that systematic variations do occur within a language community, as pointed out by William Bright:' 

Within any recognizable speech community, variations are normally found on all levels of linguistic structure—phonological, tgrammatical, and lexical. Some of the variations are correlated with geographical location . . . some . . . may . . . depend on the identity of the person spoken to or spoken about . . . Other variations are correlated with the identify of the speaker. These include cases of difference between men's and women's speech . . . linguistic variation may also be correlated with the social status of the speakers [or] . , . with other facts in the social and cultural context (p. 32).



The educated Southerner has no use for an r except at the

beginning of a word.

Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi


Dialectal diversity tends to increase proportionately to the degree of com­municative isolation between the groups. Communicative isolation refers to' `a situation such as existed between-.America, Australia, and England in the -eighteenth century. There was some contact through commerce and emigra­tion, but an Australian was less likely to talk to an Englishman than to an­other Australian. Today the isolation is less pronounced because of the mass media and jet airplanes. But even within one country, regionalisms persist. Children learn the language spoken to them and reinforce the unique fea­tures characteristic of the dialect used.

The changes that occur in the language spoken in one area are not neces­sarily spread to another area. Within a single group of speakers who are in regular contact with one another, the changes are spread among the group and "relearned" by their children. When some communication barrier sepa­rates groups of speakers—be it a physical barrier such as an ocean or a mountain range, or social barriers of a political, racial, class, or religious kind—linguistic changes are not easily spread and dialectal differences are reinforced.



'W. Bright. 1976. Variation and Change in Language: Essays by William Bright. A. S. DO. :d. Stanford University Press. Stanford, California.


Dialect changes in the grammar do not take place all at once within the speech community., Rather, they take place gradually, often originating in one region and slowly spreading to others, and often  taking place throughout the lives of several generations of speakers.

A change that occurs in one region and fails to spread to other regions of the language community gives rise to the dialect differences we have referred to. When enough such differences give the language spoken in a particular region (for example, the city of Boston or the Brooklyn section of New York) its own "flavor," that version of the language is referred to as a re­gional dialect. The phonological or phonetic distinctions are often referred to as different accents. A person is said to have a Boston accent, a Southern accent, a Brooklyn accent, a Midwestern drawl, and so on. Thus, accent refers to the characteristics of speech that convey information about the speaker's dialect—that reveal if the speaker comes from a certain part of the country, or belongs to a particular sociolinguistic group, or grew up in an­other country. Americans often refer to someone as having a British accent or an Australian accent; in Britain they refer to an American accent. The term accent is also used to refer to the speech of someone who speaks a lan­guage non-natively; for example, a French person speaking English is de­scribed as having a French accent. Accent most often is used to refer to pho­nological differences or "interference" from a different dialect or second language.

A humorous Language Guide to Brooklyn illustrates the pronunciation characteristics of a Brooklyn accent:

earl: a lubricant

oil: an English nobleman

tree: the numeral that precedes four doze: the ones yonder

-fodder: male parent'


A similar glossary was published to "translate" a Southern dialect:

sex: one less than seven, two less than eh-et, three less than nine, foe less than tin.


American regional dialects area constant source of humor. A sports writer, Jim Murray, discussing the Southern regional dialect in a column en­titled "Berlitz of the South,” begins: "When the North conquered the South in the late unpleasantness between the two, it tore down the rebel flag, broke up the Confederacy, sent the carpetbaggers in, but it never could do much about the language.” 2 He then provides ."a few common translations you may want to have" if you are ever in the South, including:

watt: primary color, as in "the flag is raid, watt, and blue"

height: where you don't like someone

pa: something good to eat

bike: what you do with a pa

mine: principal or chief

mane: Homo sapiens, your best friend is your mine mane rod: what you do in auto

2 Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1973


These regional dialects tell us a great deal about how languages change, which will be discussed at greater length in the next chapter. But it is inter­esting to note here that the origins of many regional dialects of English can be traced to the people who first settled America. To a great extent, the varieties of American English arose from the English spoken in southern England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

An example of how regional dialects developed may be illustrated by ex­amining changes in the pronunciation of words with an r.

The English colonists who first settled this country pronounced an r wher­ever it was spelled. In the seventeenth century, Londoners and James­towiim pronounced farm as [farm] and father as ffa6ar,'; By_! QQthe citi­zens of London no longer pronounced r in places where it was formerly pronounced; an r was now pronounced only when it occurred before vowels. Farm had become [fa:m] and father [fa:o;)] and far [fa:]. In New England and along the Southern Atlantic Seaboard, close commercial (and linguistic) ties with England were maintained. In these areas, American English re­flected the same "r-dr9pping" that occurred in England, but  other regions the change did not enter the language, which is why most Americans today


Table 8-1 Comparison between Seventeenth- and Nineteenth-Century London English


Seventeenth-century London

Nineteenth-century London

1.         r was pronounced wherever it was spelled: farm [farm], father [faðər], farther [farðər]

(Standard American English of today retains this pronunciation)

2.         The vowel in words like half.  last, path, and laugh was [,T]

(This is the vowel still used in these words ir, Standard American)

3.         The vowel in dire, dat v. trite was a diphthong: clue [dyu]

4.             The h in which, when, what, where signified a voiceless w /m/; which con­trasted with hitch

(The contrast was maintained in areas of the Midwest and West)

5.             Words like lahorworv, di(liollarv. cemeter.v were given both primary and secondary stress: laboratory

(American dialects preserved this stress pattern)


1.             r was only pronounced when it oc­curred before a vowel: farm [fa:m], father [faðə], farther  [fa:ðə]

(In New England and the South, a similar change occurred)

2.             The vowel [a-.] in these words changed to the back vowel [a:]

(A similar change occurred in New England: laugh: British [la:f], New England [laf]

3.             The diphthong was maintained except after r

(The [yu] was also maintained in New England and the South, in Standard American the [yu] became [u] after an alveolar: duce [du])

4.         The voiceless /A~/ was lost, all wh words were pronounced with a voiced /w/, which and witch became homo­phones

(This change spread to many regions of America)

5.         Secondary stress was lost in some of these words with subsequent syllable loss, and stress shifted to the second syllable: laboratory [lob5rotri]


pronounce r before consonants as did our English ancestors two hundred years ago.

By the time of the American Revolution, there were three major dialect areas in America: the Northern dialect spoken in New England and around the Hudson River; the midland dialect spoken in Pennsylvania; and the Southern dialect. These dialects differed from each other, and from the En­glish spoken in England, in systematic ways. Some of the changes that oc­curred in British English spread to America; others did not. Pioneers from all three dialect areas spread westward. The intermingling of their dialects "leveled" or "submerged" many of their dialectal differences, which is why the, English used in large sections of the Midwest and the West is very simi­lar. Many of the features that characterized seventeenth-century British per­sisted in the States long after they were changed in England, as is shown in Table 8-1.

Other regional changes took place in the United States, further separating American regional "accents." In the Southern dialect, for example, when the r was dropped it was replaced by a "schwa-like" glide: farm is pro­nounced as two syllables [faom], as are four [loo] and poor [po;)]. This led Jim Murray to end his column cited above with the admonition: "Also re­member, there is no such thing as a one-syllable word." This, of course, is not so, as his own examples show, but it is true that many words which are monosyllabic in Standard American are disyllabic in the Southern dialect:


the word right, pronounced as [rays] in the Midwest, New England, and the

Middle Atlantic states and in British English, is pronounced [rant] in many

parts of the South.

Regional dialects also may differ in the words people use for the same ob­ject. Hans Kurath, an eminent American dialectologist, opens his paper "What Do You Call It?" by asking: "Do you call, it a pail or a bucket? Do you draw water from afauce, or from a spigot? Do you. pull down the blinds,

V                                         the shades, or the curtains when it gets dark? Do you wheel the baby, or do

V                                         you ride it or roll it? In a baby carriage, a buggy, a coach, dr a cab?"3 One takes a lift to the first floor (our second floor) in England, but an elevator in

t America: one gets five gallons of petrol (not gas) in London; in Britain apub­lic school is "private" (you have to pay) and if a student showed up there wearing pants ("underpants") instead of trousers he would be sent home to get dressed. If you ask for a tonic in Boston you will get a drink called a soda

r or soda-pop in Los Angeles, and afreeway in Los Angeles is a thruway in New York, a parkway in New Jersey, a motorway in England, and an ex­pressway or turnpike in other dialect areas. -

Kurath produced dialect maps, on which dialect differences were geo­graphically ploticd. For instance, he might rise black dots to mark every vil- lao,e whose speakers retained the voiceless w pronunciation of wheelbarrow, 1 and a white dot where voiced w was pronounced. Often in such cases, the

f is black dots fall together, as do the white dots. These define dialect areas. When a line can be drawn on the map between the areas, it is called an iso­gloss. When you "cross" an isogloss, you are passing from one dialect area to another. Sometimes several isoglosses will coincide, usually at a political

I Hans Kurath, 1971. "What Do You Call It?" in Juanita V_ Williamson and Virginia M. Bu-ke, eds. A Various Language: Perspective on American Dialects (Holt, Rinehart and Win­ston. New York.)


boundary, or at a natural boundary such as a river or mountain range. Lin­guists call these a bundle of isoglosses, and the regional dialects thereby de­fined are particularly distinctive.

Systematic syntactic differences also distinguish dialects. In most Amer­ican dialects sentences may be conjoined as follows:

John will eat and Mary will eat — John and Mary will eat.

But in the Ozark dialect this transformation is also possible: -,--,John will eat and Mary will eat -+ John will eat and Mary.

Some American speakers use gotten in a sentence such as He should have gotten to school on time; in British English, only the form got occurs. In a number of American dialects the pronoun I occurs when ine would be used in British English and in other American dialects.

Am. between you and I                                                   Br. between you and n.2

Am. Won't he permit you and I to                                Br. Won't he permit you and me to

Swim?                                                                                         -swim?

. An British English n syntactic transformation permits the deletion of the pronoun in the sentence I could have done it to form I could have done, which -is not permitted in the American grammar.

With all such differences we still are able to understand the speakers of another dialect. Even though regional dialects differ as to pronunciation, vo­cabulary, and syntactic rules, these are minor differences when compared with the totality of the grammar. The largest part of the vocabulary, the sound-meaning relations of words, and the syntactic rules, are shared, which is why the dialects are mutually intelligible.


We don't talk fancy grammar and eat anchovy toast. But to live under the kitchen doesn't say we aren't educated.

Mary Norton, The Borrowers

Standard English is the customary use of a community when it is recognized and accepted as the customary use of the

community. Beyond this .. . is the larger field of gcod English, any English that justifies itself by accomplishing its end, by hitting the mark

George Philip Krapp, Modem English: Its Growth and Prasei,t Use

Even though every language is a composite of dialects, many people talk and think about a language as if it were, a "well-defined" fixed system with various dialects diverging from this norm.

Mario Pei, a professor of Romance languages and the author of a number of books on language that were quite popular at one time, supported such a view. In his discussion of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, published in 1961, Pei' accused the editors of the dictionary of confusing "to the point of obliteration the older distinction between standard, substan‑

4 M. Pei. "A Loss for Words." Saturday Review, November 14, 1964, pp. 82-84.


dard- colloquial. vul2ar. and slang." Pei attributed to the editors the view

that "Good and bad, night and wrong, correct and incorrect no longer exist" (p. 82).

In light of our discussion in Chapter 1, it is obvious that Pei was a p       T

Lelcri -

tive rather than a descriptive grammarian. Prescriptive grammarians, or Ian­guage "purists," usually consider the dialect used by political leaders and the upper socioeconomic classes, the dialect used for literature or printed documents, the dialect taught in the schools and propagated by the mass media, as the correct form of the language.

But how does one dialect become so prestigious? Once a dialect gets a head si_af_t—,ito_fteiib_ builds upmomentum. The more  "important" it gets, the more it is used; the more it is used, the more important it becomes. Such a dialect may be that spoken in the political or cultural center of a country and may spread into other regions. The dominance in France of the Parisian dia­lect, and in England (to a lesser extent) of the London dialect, is attributable to this cause.

The ridiculousness_ of the vieyr that a particular dialect is better than any otherNV—asrevealed by the great Danish linguist Otto Jesperson' when he wrote: –We set up as the best language that whiclf best writ­ers, and count as the best writers those that best write the language. We are therefore no further advanced than before."

The dominant or prestige dialect is often called the standard dialect. Stan‑

i American English (SAE) is a dialect of English that many Americans almost speak; divergences from this "norm" are labeled "Philadelphia dia­lect," "Chicago dialect," "Black English," and so on.

SAE is an idealization. Nobody speaks this dialect, and if somebody did, we wouldn't. know 1t-'6e_cause SAE is not defined precisely. Several years ago there actually was an entire conference devoted to one subject: a precise definition of SAE. This convocation of scholars did not succeed in satisfying everyone as to what SAE should be. The best hint we can give you is to listen to national broadcasters (though nowadays some of these people may speak a regional dialect).

When two languages are compared, it is necessary to compare one of the dialects of each language. The "standards" are usually used. When Amer­ican and British English are compared, SAE and the British spoken by edu­cated British people, called Received Pronunciation (RP)," are the dialects used for this purpose. The standard dialect is taught to nonnative speakers and is usually the most widespread; speakers of all dialects usually under­stand it easily even if they do not use it. Speakers of different dialects use the standard as the written form, since this dialect is the accepted literary lan­guage.

In France, a notion of the "standard" as the only correct form of the lan­guage is propagated by an official academy of "scholars" who determine what usages constitute the "official French language." This Academy en­acted a law forbidding the use of "Franglais" words in advertising (words of English origin like le parking). The Parisian dialect is considered the —stan-


dard" at the expense of the hundreds of local village dialects (called patois

5 O. Jesperson. 1925 (reprinted, 1964). Mankind, Nation and Individual. Indiana University Press. Bloomington.

6 Received Pronunciation (commonly called RP) is the British pronunciation that is "re­ceived" (accepted as "proper") at the royal court.

[patwa] by the Academy). Many of these patois are actually separate lan­guages, derived from Latin (as are French, Spanish, and Italian). In the past (and to some extent M the present) a Frenchman or Frenchwoman from the provinces who wished to succeed in French society nearly always had to be bidialectal. In recent years in France the regional "nationalist" movements have placed as a major -  demand the night to use their own languages in their schools and for official business. In the section of France known as l'Occi_ tame, th-- popular singers sing in the regional language, Languedoc, both as a protest against the official "standard language" policy and as part of the cul­turatrevival movement. One of the most popular of these singers, Mart', has recorded a very popular song concerned with just this question. The final chorus in Languedoc, French, and English reveals this:


Mas perque, perqu& M'an pas dit


La lenga de mon pail?


Mais pourquoi, pourquoi Ne m'a-t-on pas dit 1,6cole

La langue de mon pays?


But why, why

Did they not speak to me at school

The language of my country?


In the province of Brittany in France there is also a stro-.,- for the use of Breton in the schools, as opposed to the "standard" French. Bre­ton is not even in the same language family as French, which is a Romance language like Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, deriving from Latin; Breton is a Celtic language in the group with Irish, Gaelic, and Welsh. We will discuss such family groupings in Chapter 9. It is not, however, the structure of the language or the genetic family grouping that has led to the popularity of the Breton singer Gilles Servat in. Brittany and in other sections of France where this Breton movement is supported. It is rather the pride of a people who speak a language or a dialect not considered as good as the "standard,"

` I and their efforts to change this political view of language use.

Those who interpret "standard" literally and consider other dialects as in­ferior are not confined to Paris. Although a standard dialect is in no linguistic way "superior," we still find self-appointed guardians of "the purity of the

United in practically all countries, and certainly in the U ited States.

. In April 1977 the State Transportation Director of California became in­censed because she would receive memos that she believed included "im­proper" English. She sent a memorandum to ail the employees of the De­partment of Transportation: "I would . . . like to point out two words which are frequently used around here are plural and not singular; those Words are 'criteria' and 'data.' " She goes on to say she hopes never again to see these incorrectly used. The problem of course is that language changes i but such change does not mean corruption. For the great majority of Amer­' ican English speakers, criteria and data are now mass nouns, like informa­tion. Information can include one fact or many facts, but one would still say "The information is. . . ." For some speakers it is equally correct to say "The criteria is . . ." or "The criteria are. . . ." Those who say "The data are . . ." would or could say "The datum (singular) is. . . ."

A difficulty faced by those who wish to dictate the correct forms of words and syntax is that it is not always clear, even to the users of standard language which forms are correct. A letter from a farmer to a zoo, described in an article in the Los Angeles Times, reveals this confusion:

Would you send me a couple of mongooses to kill off the snakes on my farm?" That didn't sound right and he began again: "Would you send me a couple of mongeeses. . . ?"

That didn't sound right, either, and, on the third try, this plain man of the land found the answer to a dilemma that has been vexing linguists for centuries:

"Would you send me a mongoose to kill off the snakes on my farm? And, while you're at it, you might as well send me another one."

The idea that language change equals corruption goes back at least as far as the Greek grammarians at Alexandria,  circa 10Q,200 B.C. They were con- cemedTfia-t-the' Greek spoken in their time was different from the Greek of Homer, and they believed that the earlier forms were purer. They also tried to "correct" the imperfections but failed as miserably as do any modern counterparts. Similarly, the Moslem Arabic_ grammarians in the eighth  and


ninth centuries A.D. working at Basra attempted to purify Arabic in order to restore h to the perfection of the Koran Arabic.

A standard dialect (or prestige dialect) may have social functions—to bind people together or to provide a common written form for multidialectal speakers. It is, however, neither more expressive, more logical, more com­plex, nor more regular than any other dialect. Any judgments, therefore, as to the superiority or inferiority of a particular dialect are social judgments, not linguistic or scientific ones.


For some blacks and some whites (notice the infamous all has been omitted) it is nct a matter of you say e-ther and we say i-ther; but rather.

. . . You kiss your children, and we give 'em some sugar. . . . You cook a pan of spinach, and we bum a mess of greens. I You wear clothes, and we wear threads. . . . You call the` police, and we drop a dime. You say wow! We say ain't that a blip. You care, love and hurt, and we care, love and hurt.-The. differences are but a shade.

Sandra Haggerty, -On Digging the Difference" (Los Angeles Times, April 2,•1973)




1982, Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Reprinted with permission

Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1977.

While the majority of U.S. dialects are free from stigma to a great extent, especially the many regional dialects, one dialect of North American English has been a victim of prejudicial ignorance. This is the dialect spoken by a large section oLWn-middle-class U.S. blacks; it is usually referred to as

ge secti

Black En-lish'IBEpor Negro English or Nonstandard Negro English. The 1~      _K       -           -

distinguishing   features of this English dialect persist for social, educational, and economic reasons. The historical discrimination against black Ameri­cans' has created ghetto living and segregated schools. Where social isola­tion exists, dialect differences are intensified. In addition, particularly in re­cent years, many blacks no longer consider Their dialect to be inferior and it has become a means of positive black identification.

Since the onset of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, Black English has been the focus of national attention. There are those who attempt to equate the use of Black English with inferior "genetic" intelligence and "cultural deprivation," and justify these incorrect notions by stating that BE is a "deficient, illogical, and incomplete" language. Such epithets cannot be


applied to any language and are as unscientific in reference to BE as to Rus­sian, Chinese, or Standard A merican English~ The cultural-deprivation myth is as false as the idea that some dialects or languages are inferior. A person may be "deprived" of one  cultural background but very rich in another.

There are people, white and black, who think They can identity an unseen person's race by hearing him, talk, believing that different races inherently speak differently. This assumption is equally false; a black child raised in an

1                                                                                        41

upper-class British household will speak RP English. A white child raised in an environment where Black English is spoken will speak Mack English. Children construct grammars based on the language they hear.

There are, however, systematic differences between BE and SAE, just as there are sntern4tic differences between Australian and American. English. Dialect differences ma-y-sh'ow up in the phonological  rules of the grammars. British grammar has a rule that can be stated a!; "De Fe-tethe /r/ except before a vowel." Black English has the same rule (as do some nonblack Southern dialects). Words like guard and god, nor and gnaw, sore and saw, poor and pa, fort and fought, and court and caught are pronounced identically in BE because of the presence of this phonological rule in the grammar.

Uther words that do not rhyme in SAE do rhyme in BE: yeah and fair, idea and fear. In BE (and other Southern dialects) the "r-deletion" rule has been extended in some cases, so that it is also deleted between vowels. Carol is pronounced identically with Cal, and Paris with pass. It is possible, however, that in these words no deletion rule applies but the lexical repre­sentations of Carol and Cal, for example, are identical, without the r.

For some speakers of BE an 'V-deletion" rule also occurs, creating homo­phones like toll and toe, all and -aw e;Ifelp and hep [hep]. (Again, some of these may not include the I as part of their phonological representations.)

A regular phonological rule in BE and not in SAE simplifies consonant clusters, particularly at the end of words and when one of the two conso­nants is an alveolar (/t/, Idl, /s/, W). The application of this rule may delete the past-tense morpheme so that past and passed (pass + ed) are both pro­nounced pass. When speakers of this dialect say I pass the test yesterday,

I As used here, "American" refers to the United States.

they are riot showing an ignorance of past and present, but are pronouncing the past tense according to the rule pF---t in their grammar_.

"passed" /pxs + t/ --> apply rule            [pTs]

Because of this consonant rule, meant and mend are both pronounced the same as men. And whenq combined with the "l-deletioa" rule, told, toll, and toe have identical pronunciations.



toll                 toe

Phonemic Representation


/tol"               /to/

Consonant cluster





simplification rule





/-deletion rule




0        NA

Phonetic Representation


[to]                [to]

The merging of the past and present tense forms in words such as pass [phis] apd passed [p'ws] is clearly due to a phonological deletion rule rather

than a syntactic ap

 merging of tenses. The deletion rule is optional; it does not

always apply, and studies have shown that it is more likely to apply when the final [t] or [d] does not represent the past tense morpheme, as in nouns like past [phis] or paste [plies] as opposed to verbs like passed or chased where the final past tense [t] will not always delete. This has also been found true with final [s] or [z], which will be retained more often by speakers of BE in words like seats [sit + s] where the [s] represents "plural" than in words like Keats [knit] where it is more likely to be deleted.

There are other systematic differences between the phonology of BE and SAE. BE shares with many regional dialects the lack of any distinction be­tween /t/ and /c/ before nasal consonants, producing identical pronunciations of pin and pen, bin and Ben, tin and ten, and so on. The vowel used in these words is roughly between the [i] of pit and the [c] of pel.

In BE the phonemic distinction between /ay/ and /aw/ has been lost, both having become /a/. Thus why and wow are pronounced [wa]. Another change has reduced the /n-y/ (particularly before /1/) to the simple vowel [0] without the glide, so that boil and boy are pronounced [bo]. One other regular feature is the change of a final /9/ to /f/ so that Ruth is pronounced [ruf] and death [dcf]. It is interesting that this [0]—[f] correspondence also is true of some dialects of British English where, in fact, /0/ is not even a phoneme in the language. Think is regularly /fink/ in Cockney English.

Notice that these are all systematic changes and "rule-governed." The kinus of changes that have occurred are very similar to sound changes that have taken place in languages all over the world, including Standard English. Some dialects of Black English drop final nasal consonants. The preceding, vowel, however, retains its nasalization, so the words end in nasalized vowels. (Note the rule in Standard English that nasalizes a vowel before a nasal consonant, discussed in Chapter 3.) This is precisely how French de­veloped nasal vowels. Linguistic change caused final nasal consonants to be dropped, leaving behind a nasal vowel to distinguish the word.    -

Every dialect of every language has its own lexical items and its own pho­nological rules. The preponderance of likenesses of Black English to Standard English—the two dialects share most lexical forms and rules—is what makes the differences so conspicuous. If Black English were as incompre­hensible as Russian, man), Americans would probably have more respect for it.

Syntactic differences, as noted above, also exist between dialects. Lin­guists such as William Labov have investigated the syntactic structures of Black English. It is the syntactic differences that have often been used to illustrate         "illogic"         it just such differences that point up

,strate the "illogic" of BE, and yet is

the fact that BE is as syntactically complex and as "logical" as SAE. Following the lead of early "prescriptive" grammarians, some "scholars" and teachers conclude that it is illogical to -say he don't know nothing be­cause two negatives make a positive. Since such negative constructions Occur in BE, it has been concluded by some "educators" that speakers of BE are deficient because they use language "illogically." Consider the fol­lowing sentences from BE and SAE:

SAE                                                                 BE

Affirmative:  He knows something.      He know something.9

Negative:He doesn't know anything.   He don't know nothing.

                 He knows nothing.                   He know nothing.

Affirmative: He likes somebody.            He like somebody

Negative:      He doesn't like anybody.  He don’t like nobody

                      He likes nobody                   He like nobody

Affirmative: He has got some.                  He got some

Negative:      He hasn't got any.                He ain’t got none

.                       He's got none.                     He got none


in Black English when the verb is negated the indefinites something, somebody, and some become the negative indefinites nothing, nobody, and none. The rule is simple and elegant and of a type quite common in the world's languages. This was the rule that existed in earlier periods for all dialects of English. In Standard English, if the verb is negated the indefinites become anything, anybody, and any. If in the negative sentences in SAE the forms nothing, nobody, and none are used, then the verb is not negated. The speakers of both SAE and BE know how to negate sentences. The rules are essentially thesame, but differ in detail. Both dialects are strictly rule-gov- erned, as is every ery syntactic process of every dialect in the world.

It has also been said that BE is "illogical" because the copula (that is, the verb to be) is deleted in sentences such as He nice. Consider the following sentences from SAE and BE:

SAE                                              BE

He is nice/He's nice.                He nice.

They are mine/They're mine.     They mine.

I am going to do it!Yrn gonna do it.      I gonna do it.

9 As the examples in this list show, Black English also regularizes the present tense verb forms. In SAE the third person singular verb forms are inflected by adding to the verb the par­ticular phonetic form that is the same as the plural ending (for example, [z] as in loves or knows, [s] as in kicks, or [@z] as in kisses). The absence of this ending in Black English may be the result of the application of phonological rules such as those discussed above.

Note that wherever the standard can use a contraction (he + is ---), he's), Black English can delete the copula The following sentences, Wit! show that where a contraction cannot be used in SAE, the copula cannot be deleted in BE:`

SAE                                              BE

*He is as nice as he says he's.     *He as nice as he say he.

*How beautiful you're.         *How beautiful you.

*Here I'm.                                 *Here I.

These examples further illustrate that syntactic rules may operate slightly differently from one dialect to another, but that the surface forms of the sen­tences are derived by rule—they are not strings of words randomly put to­gether. It is interesting to note that many languages allow such ~c~;la dele­tion. In Russian the copula is never used in such sentences. In Swahili, Mimi ni mwanafunzi "I am a student" is grammatical and so is mimi mwanafunzi "I a student" with the copula, ni, missing.

In BE, the possessive morpheme -'s is absent whenever possession is re­dundattly specified by word order:

SAE                                                     BE

That is John's house.                     That John house.

That is your house.                        That you house.

That house is John's.                     That house John's.

(but not *That house John.) That house is yours.     That house yours.

(but not *That house your.)

There is nothing "illogical" about the presence of such a rule; when word order suffices to indicate possession, the possessive ending is -sup~Lrflu- ous."

Other BE sentences that are formed by syntactic rules different from those in the'6rammar of SAE are:

He done told me.

I been seen it.

I ain't like it.

I been-washing the car.

These are not "corruptions" of the standard but dialect sentences that ap­pear strange to nonspeakers of the dialect, although not as,strange as the following sentence appears to a nonspeaker of French:

It me I' a dorand. he me it has given

He has given it to me.

There have also been studies of vocabulary differences between BE and SAE. Edith Folb" conducted a comparative study of Los Angeles urban

10 Sentences taken from W. Labov. 1969. "The Logic of Nonstandard English" (Georgetown University, 20th Annual Round Table, No. 22),

E. Folb. 1980. Runnin' Down Some Lines: The Language and Culture of Black Teenagers. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Mass.

black and white vocabularies. She demonstrated that there is a class of words shared by blacks of various socioeconomic and social groups and by blacks in different sections of the city, such as Watts and Venice. She also found that there are differences among these groups that reveal differences of experience and outlook. Reedl= points out that many of the terms Folb found in use in different black communities in Los Angeles could also be found in Chicago's Black Belt, New York's Harlem, or Boston's Roxbury section, pointing to a shared black lexicon across the country that he sug­gests "may owe something to modern communication between black groups." He adds, "A striking uniformity in basic characteristics . . . has evidently resulted from mass labor migration from specific areas of the South, beginning after World War I, but having its greatest impact following World War IL"

There are many more differences between the grammars of BE and SAE than those we have discussed. But the ones we have listed are enough to show the "regularity" of BE and to dispel the notion that there is anything —Illogical" or "primitive" about this dialect.

The study of Black English is important for linguists, of course, but it is also important for nonlinguists. When teachert in an American school teach French or German or Russian, we expect them to know both English and the language  they are teaching. Yet in many schools in our country where the students are primarily speakers of Black English, instruction seldom if ever takes place in Black English. There is nothing wrong with attempting to teach the standard dialect in all schools for nonlinguistic reasons, but the standard will be learned much more easily by speakers of other dialects if teachers are aware of the systematic differences and permit children to use their own dialect to express themselves. Certainly, there would be less of a communication breakdown between students who speak Black English (not to mention other speakers of nonstandard dialects) and their teachers if these nonstandard dialects were not considered to be inferior versions of the standard. Children who read your brother as you bruvver are using their own pronunciation rules. They would be more likely to respond positively to the statement "In the dialect we are using, the "th" sound is not pronounced [v], as it is in yours" than they would be to a teacher who expressed an atti­tude of contempt toward their grammar. To give another example, when speakers of BE do not add the -'s in possessive phrases like Mary hat (in­stead of Mary's hat), an attempt to "correct" them which assumes that they do not understand possession as a concept creates serious problems for both the children and their teachers. The children know perfectly well what they mean, but their teachers may not know that they know, and the children do not know why the teachers cannot understand them and keep telling them they are "wrong." Thus, a linguistic study of the systematic differences be­tween dialects may, hopefully, repair some of the damage that has been done in situations like these—whatever the motivations of those involved.

Another important reason for studying these dialects is that such study provides rich data for an understanding of the extent to which dialects differ

_,.12 C. E. Reed. 1977. Dialects orAmerican English, revised edition. University of Massachu­setts Press. Amherst, Mass.

and leads to a better knowledge of human language. Furthermore, the his- fuiy of any reveals important information about language change in general.

History of Black English Take the history of Black English as an ex­ample. It is simple enough to date its beginning—the first blacks arrived in Virginia in 1619. There are, however, different theories as to the factors that led to the systematic differences between Black English and other American English dialects.

One view suggests that the origins of Biack English can be traced to the fact that the Negro slaves learned English from their white masters as a sec­ond language. The difficulties of second-language learning tor an adult are all too clear to anyone who has attempted to do this. The basic grammar may be learned, but many surface differences persist. These differences, it is sug­gested, were reflected in the grammars constructed by the children of the slaves, since they heard English primarily from their parents. Had they been exposed to the English spoken by the whites as children, their grammars would have been less different from regular Southern speech. The dialect differences persisted and grew because the black in America was isolated by social and racial barriers as important as the geographic barriers that isolated the New Zealander from other English speakers. The proponents of this the­ory point to the fact that Black English and Standard American are basically identical in their deep structures; that is, they suggest that the phrase-struc­ture rules are the same but transformational rules and phonological rules change sentences to produce surface—differences.

A second view suggests that many of the particuiar features found in Black EngTish are traceable to influences of the African languages spoken by

the slaves. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centurie§,—Africans who           X spoke different languages were purposefully grouped together by the slave traders to discourage communication between the slaves, the idea being to prevent slave revolts. This theory suggests that in order to communicate with each other the slaves were forced to use the one common language all V had access to, namely, English, and used a simplified form—called apLd& —with various features from West African languages. According to this view, the differences between BE and other dialects are due more to "deep" syntactic differences than to surface distinctions.

That Black English is closer to the Southern dialect of English than to other dialects is quite apparent. This fact does not favor either of the oppos­ing views. The theory which suggests that the Negro slaves imitated the En­glish of their white Southern masters explains the similarities in this way. One might also explain the similarities by the fact that for many decades a large number of Southern white children were raised by black women and played with black children. It is not unlikely that many of the distinguishing features of Southern dialects were acquired from Black English in this way. A publication of the American Dialect Society in 1908-1909 makes this point clearly:

For my part, after a somewhat careful study of east Alabama dialect, I an con­vinced that the speech of the white people, the dialect I have spoken all my life and

the one I tried to record here, is more largely colored by the language of the negroes than by any other single influence."

The two-way interchange still goes on. Standard American English is con­stanily enriched by words, phrases, and usage originating in Black English, and Black English, whatever its origins, is one of the many dialects of En- glish, influenced by the changes which go on in the other dialects.


Language is  a steed thct cc Lies one into c for co:jritn).

Arab proverb

Many areas of the world are populated by peopIr- speaking divergent lan­guages. In such areas, where groups desire social or commercial communi­cation, one language is often used by common agreement. Such a language is called a lingua franca.

In medieval times, a trade language came into use in the Mediterranean ports. It consisted of Italian mixed with Frencn, Spanish, Greek, and Ara‑

7. bic, and was called Lingua Franca, "Frankisib language." The term lingua franca was generalized to other languages similarly used. Thus, any lan­guage can be a lingua franca.

English has been caiieu "the lingua franca of the whole world, ' wench, at one tirne, was "the lingua franca of diplomacy," and Latin and Greek were the lingua francas of Christianity in the West and East, respectively, for a millennium. Among Jews, Yiddish has long served as a lingua franca.

More frequently, lingua francas serve as "trade languages." East Africa is populated by hundreds of tribes, each speaking its own language, but most Africans of this area learn at least some Swahili as a second language, and this lingua franca is used and understood in nearly every marketplace. A similar situation exists in West Africa, where Hausa is the lingua franca.

Hindi and Urdu are the lingua francas of India and Pakistan, respectively. The linguistic situation of this area of the world is so complex that there are often regional lingua francas—usually the popular dialects near commercial centers. The same situation existed in Imperial China. An old Chinese say­ing still quoted today notes that two people separated by a blade of grass cannot understand each other. In modern China, the Chinese language as a whole is often referred to as Zhongwen, which technically refers to the written language, while Zhongguo hua refers to the spoken language. Ninety-four percent of the people living in the People's Republic of China are said to speak Han languages, which can be divided into eight major dia­lects (or language groups) that for the most part are mutually unintelligible. Within each group there are hundreds of dialects. In addition to these Han languages there are more than fifty "national minority" languages, including the five principal ones: Mongolian, Uighur, Tibetan, Zhuang, and Korean. The situation is clearly very complex and for this reason an extensive lan­guage reform policy was inaugurated in the People's Republic to spread a standard language, called Putonghua, which embodies the pronunciation of the Peking dialect, the grammar of Northern Chinese dialects, and the vo­cabulary of modern colloquial Chinese.

11 L. W. Payne, "A Word-List from East Alabama," Dialect Notes. 3:279-328, 343-391.



The Linguistics Delegation sponsored by the Amenicar, Academy of Sciences, which visited the People's Re­pjb1:c in 197~, -;,,as very impressed by the program, which aims at making? all Chinese conversant in Putonghua, as a second dialect or language. The na­tive languages and dialects are not considered inferior; rather, the approach is to spread the "common speech" (the literal meaning ofputonghua) so that all may communicate with each other in this lingua franca. 14

Certain lingua francas arise naturally; others are developed due to gov­ernment policy and intervention. In many places of the world, however, there are still areas where people cannot speak with neighbors only a few miles away.


Padi derv; kontri; una ol we de no Rom. Mck una ol kak una yes. A kam bcr Siza, a no kam prez am.

Den kin memba bad we posin kin du logtem afto posin kin don dai;

bat plcriti tcm di gad we posin du

kin bcr wit im bon dcm.

Mrk i bi so wit Siza.

Julius Caesar H1, u, translated to Krio by Thomas Decker

A lingua franca is typically a language with a broad base of native speak­ers, likely to be used and learned by persons whose native language is in the same language family. Often in history, however, missionaries and traders from one part of the world have visited and attempted to communicate with peoples residing in another area. In such cases the contact is too specialized, and the cultures too widely separated for the usual kind of lingua franca to arise. Instead, the two (or possibly more) groups use their native languages as a basis for a rudimentary language of few lexical items and "straightfor­ward" grammatical rules. Such a "marginal language" is called a pidgin.

A notable pidgin that exists today is called Tok Pisin. It was once called Melanesian Pidgin English. It is widely used in Papua,' New Guinea. Like most pidgins, many of its lexical items and much of its structure are based on only one language of the two or more contact languages, in this case English. Tok Pisin has about 1,500 lexical items, of which about 80 percent are derived from English.

Although pidgins are in some sense   rudimentary, they are not devoid of Grammar. The phonological system is rule-governed, as in any human Ian­guage. The inventory of phonemes is generally small, and each phoneme may have many allophonic pronunciations. In Tok Pisin, for example,

[g], and [s] are -!! possible pron-miciations of the phoneme /s/; [masin1l [ma


gin], and [ma6in] all mean machine. When a New Guinean says [masin] and an Englishman says [magin], the difference in Pidgin is nondistinctive and no more serious than the different p's in gap [gaep] and [gTph], that is, they are freely variant.

Although case, tense, mood, and voice are generally absent from pidgins (as from many nonpidgin languages), one cannot speak an English pidgin by

11 For further information, see W. P. Lehmann, ed. 1975. Language and Linguistics in the People's Republic of China (Texas: Texas University Press. Austin.). One of the authors of this book, V. Fromkin, was a member of this delegation.


merely using English without inflecting verbs or declining pronouns. Pidgins are not "baby talk" or Hollywood "Injun talk." Me Tarzan, you Jane may be understood, but it is not pidgin as it is used in West Africa.

Pidgins-are simple, but are rule-governed. In Tok Pisin, verbs that take a direct object must have the suffix -m, even if the direct object is absent in surface structure; this is a "rule" of the language:


Mi driman long kilim waripela snek. I dreamed that I killed a snake.

Bandarap em i kukim. Bandarap cooked (it).


Other rules determine word order, which, as in English, is usually quite strict in pidgins because of the lack of case endings on nouns.

With their small vocabularies, pidgins are not very good at expressing fine distinctions of meaning. Many lexical items bear a heavy semantic burden, with context being relied upon to remove ambiguity. Much circumlocution and metaphorical extension is necessary. All of these factors combine to give                                friendlier definition of friend

give pidgins a unique flavor. What could be tL fr     I

than the Australian aborigine's him brother belong me, or more poetic than this description of the sun: lamp belong Jesus? A policeman is gubmint cat­chum-fella, whiskers are grass belong face, and when a man is thirsty him belly allatime burn. And who can top this classic announcement by a Chi­nese servant that his master's prize sow had given birth to a litter: Him cow pig have kittens?

Pidgin has come to have negative connotations, perhaps because the best-known pidgins are all associated with European colonial empires. The Ency­clopaedia Britannica once described Pidgin English as "an unnily bastard jargon, filled with nursery imbecilities, vulgarisms and corruptions." It no longer uses such a definition, since in recent times there is greater recogni‑

..tion of the fact that pidgins reflect human creative linguistic ability. Tok Pisin has its owl `writing system, its own literature, and its own newspapers and radio programs, and it has even been used to adc:ress a United Nations meeting.

Some people would like to eradicate Tok Pisin. A pidgin spoken on New Zealand by the Maoris was repf-aced, through massive education, by Stan­dard English, and the use of Chinese Pidgin English was forbidden by the government of China. It, too, has died out. Pidgins have been unjustly ma­ligned; we must realize that they may serve a useful function. The linguist Robert A. Hall points out that a New Guinean can learn Tok Pisin well enough in six months to begin many kinds of semiprofessional training.',' To learn English for the same purpose might require ten times as long. In an area with well over 500 mutually unintelligible languages, Tok Pisin plays a vital role in unifying similar cultures.

During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth c.-niurit--s many pid­gins sprang up along the coasts of China, Africa, and the New Wodd to ac­commodate the Europeans. Chinook Jargon is a pidginized American Indian language used by various tribes of the Pacific Northwest to carry on trade.

15 Robert A. Hall. 1955. Hands Off Pidgin English (Pacific Publications. New South Wales.).


The original Lingua Franca was an Italian-based pidgin used in Mediterra­nean ports, and Malay, the language of Indonesia arid' Malaysia, has been highly influenced by a”Dutch-based pidgin" Some linguists have even sug­gested that Proto-Germanic was originally a pidgin, arguing that ordinary lin­guistic change cannot account for certain striking differences between the Germanic tongues and other Indo-European languages. They theorized that in the first millennium B.C. the primitive Germanic tribes that resided along the Baltic Sea traded- with the more sophisticated, seagoing cultures. The two people communicated by means of a pidgin, which either grossly af­fected Proto-Germanic, or actually became Proto-Germanic. If this is true, English, German, Dutch, and Yiddish bad humble beginnings as a pidgin.

One distinguishing characteristic of pidgin languages is that no one learns them as native speakers. When a pidgin comes to be adopted by a community as its native tongue, and children learn it as a first language, that lan­guage is called a creole; the pidgin has become creolized. Creoles become fully developed languages, having more lexical items and a broader array of grammatical distinctions than pidgins. In time, they become languages as complete in every way as other languages.

Creoles often arose on slave plantations in certain areas where Africans of many different tribes could communicate only via the plantation pidgin. Hai­tian Creole, based on French, developed in this way, as did the "English" spoken in parts of Jamaica. Gullah is an English-based creole spoken by the descendants of African slaves on the islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. Louisiana Creole, related to Haitian Creole, is spoken by large numbers of blacks and whites in Louisiana. Krio, the language spoken by as many as 200,000 Sierra Leoneans, developed,at least in part, from an English-based pidgin.

The development of pidgins with subsequent creolization may account for both a reduction in the number of the world's languages (for many languages may be replaced by a single Creole, as is happening today on New Guinea) and much of the linguistic diversity—the multiplicity of languages—in the world today.

Styles, Slang, and Jargon

fr Slang is language which takes off its coat, spits on its hands—and goes to work

Carl Sandberg


You were probably not surprised to learn that your language is "spoken differently" in the different parts of the world; dialects are a common phe­nomenon. But you may not be aware that you speak two or more "dialects" of your own language. When you -are out with your friends, you talk one way; when you go on a job interview, you talk differently. These "situation dialects" are called styles,

Nearly everybody has at least an informal and a formal style. In an infor­mal style the rules of contraction are used more often, the syntactic rules of negation and agreement may be altered, and many words are used that do

not occur in the formal style. Many speakers have the ability to use a num­ber of different styles, ranging between the two extremes of for-mat and in­formal. Speaker., of minority dialects sometimes display virtuosic ability to slide back and forth along a continuum of styles that may range from the informal patterns learned in a ghetto to "formal standard." When William Labov was studying Black English used by Harlem youths he encountered difficulties because the youths (subconsciously) adopted a different style in the presence of white strangers. It took time and effort to gain their confi­dence to the point where they would "forget" that their conversations were being recorded arid so use their normal style.

Many cultures have rules of social behavior that strictly govern style. In some Indo-European languages there is the distinction between "You famil­iar" and "you polite." German du and French to are to be used only with "intimates"; Ste and vows are more formal and used with nonintimates. French even has a verb tutoyer which means "to use the 'tLl' form," and German, uses the verb duzen to express the informal, or less-honorific style of speaking.

Other languages have a much more elaborate code of style, usage. In Thai, one uses kin "eat" to his intimates, and very informally; but he uses thaan "eat" informally with strangers, and rabprathaan on formal occasions or when conversing with dignitaries ur esteemed persons (such as ones par­ents). Thai also has a style for talking about Buddhist monks. The verb "eat" is chap when said of a monk. The ordinary third-person pronoun in Thai is khaw "he, she, it, they," but if the person referred to is a monk a Thai must use than. Japanese and Javanese are also languages with elabo­rate styles that must be adhered to in certain social situations.

One mark of an informal style is the frequent occurrence of slang. Almost everyone uses slang on some occasions, but it is not easy to define the word. One linguist has defined slang as "one of those things that everybody can recognize and nobody can define."" The use of slang, or colloquial lan­guage, introduces many new words into the language, by recombi-L.'rig old 1 words into new meanings. Spaced out, right on, hangup, and rip-off have all gained a degree of acceptance. More rarely, slang will come up with an en­tirely new word for the language, such as burl, flub, and pooped. Slang often  consists of using old words with totally new meanings ascribed to them. Grass and pot have widened their meaning to "marijuana"; pig and fuzz are derogatory terms for "policeman"; rap, cool, dig, stoned, bread, and split have all extended their semantic domain. The words we have cited sound "slangy" because they have not gained total acceptability. Words such as dwindle, freshman, glib, and mob are former slang words that in time over­came their "unsavory" origin. It is not always easy to know where to draw the line between "slang" words and "regular" words. This seems always to have been true. In 1890, John S. Farmer, coeditor with W. E. Henley of Slang and Its Analogues, remarked:"The borderland between slang and the. `Queen's English' is an ill-defined territory, the limits of which have never been clearly mapped out."

Hippie and pot are no longer recognized as slang by some persons, but are

by others. Also, one generation's slang is not another generation’s slang.


" Paul Roberts. 1958. Understanding English (Harper & Row. New York.), p. 342.


Fan (as in "Dodger fan”) was once a slap.2 teen, short forfanatic. Phone, too, was once a slangy, clipped version of telephone, as TV was of televi­sion. In Shakespeare's time, fretful and dwindlewere slang, and recently goof, blimp, and hot dog were all hard-core slang.

The use of slang varies from region to region, as one would expect, so slang inNew York and slang in Los Angeles are not the same. Interestingly, the word slang is slang in British English for "scold."

Slang words and phrases are often "invented" in keeping with new ideas and customs. They may represent "in" attitudes better than the more conservative items of the vocabulary. Their importance is shown by the fact that it was thought necessary to give the returning Vietnam prisoners of war a glossary of eighty-six new slang words and phrases, from acid to zonked. i The words on this list—prepared by the Air Force—had come into use dur­ing only five years. Furthermore, by the time this book is published, many of these terms may have passed out of the language, and many new ones will have been added.

A number of slang words have entered English from the "underworld," such as,.,snovv for "cocaine," payola, C-note, G-man, to hang paper ("to write 'bum' checks"), sawbuck, and so forth.


Practically every conceivable science, profession, trade, and occupation has its own set of words, some of which are considered to be "slang" and 0 others "technical," depending on the status of the people using these "hi" words. Such words are sometimes called Jargon or argot. Linguistic jargon, some of which is used in this book, consist-S-0i ter-u-is`sucfi as phoneme, mGr_ pheme, case, lexicon, rule, style, and so on. The existence of argots or jar­gons is illustrated by the story of a seaman witness being cross-examined at a trial, who was asked if he knew the plaintiff. Indicating that he didn't know what plaintiff meant brought a chide from the attorney: "You mean you came into this court as a witness and don't know what plaintiff means?" Later the sailor was asked where he was standing when the boat lurched. "Abaft the binnacle," was the reply, and to the attorney's questioning stare he responded: "You mean you came into this court and don't know where abaft the binnacle is?"

Many jargon terms pass into the standard language. Jargon spreads from a narrow group until it is used and understood by a large segment of the popu­lation, similar to slang. Eventually, it may lose its special status as either jargon or slang and gain entrance into the t-espenable circle of formal usage.

This is true of the now ordinary French word meaning "head," tote, which was once a slang word derived from the Latin testa, which meant "earthen pot." But some slang words seem to hang on and on in the lan­guage, never changing their status from slang to "respectable." Shake-


 used the expression "beat it" to mean "scram" (or more politely, "leave!"), and "beat it" would be considered by most English speakers to still be a slang expression. Similarly, the use of the word pig for policeman goes back at least as far as 1785, when Grose called a Bow Street police offi­cer a China Street pig.

Taboo or Not Taboo

Sex is a four-letter word. Bumper-sticker slogan

An item in a newspaper included the following paragraph (the names have been deleted to protect the guilty):

This is not a Sunday school but it is a school of law," the judge said in warning the defendants he would not tolerate the "use of expletives during jury selection." "I'm not going to have my fellow citizens and prospective jurors subjected to filthy jangtiage," the judge added.


How can language be filthy? In fact, how can it be clean? The filth or beauty of language must be in the ear of the listener, or in the collective ear of society.

There can't be anything about a particular string of sounds which makes it Intrinsically clean or dirty, ugly or beautiful. If you tell someone that you pricked your finger when sewing, it would not raise an eyebrow, but if you refer to your professor as a prick, the judge,-quoted above would undoubt~ edly consider this a "dirty" word.

Certain words in all societies are considered taboo—,vords that are not to be used, or, at least, not to be used in "polite society.– The word taboo was borrowed from Tongan, a Polynesian language, and in that society it refers to acts which are forbidden or which are to be avoided. When an act is taboo, reference to this act may also become taboo. That is, first you are forbidden from doing something; then you are forbidden from talking about

What acts or words are forbidden reflect the particular customs and views ,of the society. Some words may be used in certain circumstances and not in others. Peter Farb reports that among the Zuni Indians it is improper to use the work takka, meaning "frogs," during a religious ceremony; what must be used instead is a complex compound word which literally translated would be "several-are-sitting-in-a-shallow-basin-where-they-are-in-liq­uid. 17

In certain societies, words which have religious connotations are consid­ered profane if used outside of formal or religious ceremonies. Christians are forbidden to "take the Lord's name in vain" and this has been extended to the use of curses, which are believed to have magical powers. Thus hell and damn are changed to heck and darn, perhaps with the belief or hope that this will fool the "powers that be." In England the word bloody is a taboo word, perhaps because it originally referred to the blood of Christ. In the Oxford English Dictionary it states that it has been in general colloquial use from the Restoration and is "now constantly in the mouths of the lowest classes, but by respectable people considered 'a horrid word' on a par with obscene or profane language, and usually printed in the newspapers      'b ---- Y.,

It further states that its origin is not quite certain. This itself gives us a clue about "dirty" words; people who use these words often do not know why they are taboo, only that they are, and, to some extent, this is whv they re­main in the language, to give vent to strong emotional feelings.


11 Peter Farb. 1975. Word Play (Bantam Books. New York.), p. 85.


Words relating to sex, sex organs, and natural bodily functions make up a large part of the set of taboo words of many cultures. Some languages have no native words to mean "sexual intercourse" but do borrow such words from neighboring people. Other languages have many words for this com­mon and universal act, most of which are considered taboo.

What is rather surprising is that two words or expressions can have the identical linguistic meaning and one can be acceptable for use and the other strictly forbidden or the cause of embarrassment or horror. In English, words which we have borrowed from Latin and French seem to carry with them a "scientific" connotation and thus appear to be technical terms and "clean," while good old native Auglo-Saxon words are taboo. This seems to reflect the view that the vocabulary used by the upper classes was clearly superior to that used by the lower classes, a view that was, of course, held and propagated by the upper classes. Peter Farb points out that this distinc­tion must go back at least as far as the Norman conquest in 1066, when "a duchess perspired and expectorated and menstruated—while a kitchen maid sweated and spat and bled.""'

There doesn't seem to be any good reason why the word vagina is "clean'*'- while cunt is "dirty"; or wh,, prick or cock is taboo, but penis is acknowledged as referring to part of the male anatomy; or why everyone clearly defecates, but only vulgar people shit. For many people, of course, even words like breast, intercourse, testicles, and so on are avoided as much as are words like tits, fuck, and balls. But this is because of nonlinguistic attitudes, not because of the words or language.


Banish the use of the four letter words
whose meaning is never obscure

The Anglos, the Saxons, those bawdy old birds

Were vulgar, obscene, and impure.

But cherish the use of the weasling phrase

That never quite says what it means,

You'd better be known for your hypocrite ways

Than vulgar, impure, and obscene.

Ogden Nash, "Ode to the Four Letter Words"


The existence of taboo words or taboo ideas stimulates the creation of eu­phemisms.  A euphemism is a word or phrase that replaces a taboo word, or  that is used in the attempt to avoid either fearful or unpleasant subjects. Probably, because in so many societies, including our own death is so thing feared, there are a number of euphemisms that have been created to deal with this subject. People are less apt to die and more apt to pass on or pass away. And those who take care of your loved ones who have passed away are more likely to be funeral directors than morticians or undertakers these days.

Ogden Nash's poem, quoted above, exhorts against such euphemisms, as another verse of this poem clearly demonstrates:

When in calling, plain speaking is out;

When the ladies (God bless 'em) are milling about,

" Ibid., p. 89.

You may wet, make water, or empty the glass;

You can powder your nose, or the "Johnny" will pass.

It's a drain for the lily, or man about dog

When everyone's drunk, it's condensing the fog;

But sure as the devil, that word with a hiss

It's only in Shakespeare that characters         

There are scholars who are as upset as Ogden Nash with the attitudes re­vealed by the use of euphemisms in society, A journal, Afaledicta, subtitled "The International Journal of Verbal Aggression" and edited by glossaries                                    hold

Aman, "specializes in uncensored glossariese3 and studies of all offensive and-negatively valued words and expressions, in all languages and from all cul­tures, past and present." A review of this journal by Bill Katz in the Library Journal (November 1977) points out, "The history of the duty word or phrase is the focus of this substantial . . . journal [whose articles] are written in a scholarly yet entertaining fashion by professors as well as by a few outsiders."

One such scholarly study of euphemisms used by Australian speakers of English was conducted by the linguist Jay Powell." The expressions which revolve around the idea "toilet" or the functf6ns connected with it show that there is more than "prudery" involved, as is illustrated by the Australian euphemisms which repla-._- the verb urinate:

drain the dragon

syphon the python

water the horse

squeeze the, lemon

drain the scuds

see if the horse has kicked off his blanket

wring the rattlesnake

shake hands with wife's best friend

point Percy at the porcelain

train Terence on the terracotta

Similar "metaphors" exist for have intercourse:



crack a fat

dip the wick

play hospital

hide the ferret

play cars and garages

hide the egg roll (sausage, salami)

boil bangers

slip a length

go off like a beltfed motor

go like a rat up a rhododendron

go like a rat up a drain pipe

have gin on the rocks

have a northwest cocktail

19 Paper delivered at the Western Conference of Linguistics, University of Oregon, 1972.

These euphemisms, as well as the differences between the accepted Latin­ate "genteel" terms and the "dirty" Anglo-Saxon terms, show that a,word or phrase not only has a linguistic denotative meaning, but also has what some linguists call a connotative meaniniz, an implication representing a feelling, an emotion, or a value judgment. In learning a language, children learn which words are "taboo," and these taboo words differ from one child to another, depending on the value system accepted in the family or group in which the child grows up.

Thus, while we maintain that words or phrases or language cannot be bad or dirty in themselves, they can be used to express particular values of the speaker. The taboo words reflect society's  values, or the opinions of part of society.

The use of epithets for people of different religions, nationalities, or color tell us something about the users of these words. The word when used generally, but when a 20-year-old white man tails a 40-year­old black man "boy," the word takes on an additional meaning; it reflects the racist attitude of the speaker. So also words like kite, wop, ni,—er, and so forth express racist and chauvinist views of society. If racial and national and religious bigotry and oppression did not exist, then in time these words would -either die out or lose their racist connotations.

Language and Sexism

doctor, rL . . . a man of great learning.

The American College Dictionary, 1947

A businessman is aggressive, a businesswoman is pushy. A businessman is good on details, she's picky. . . . He follows through, she doesn't know when to quit. He stands firm, she's hard. . . . His judgments are her prejudices. He is a man of the world, she's been around. . . . He isn't afraid to say what is on his mind; she's mouthy. He exercises cuthority diligently; she's power mad. He's closemouthed; she's secretive. He climbed the ladder of success; she slept her way to the top.

From "How to Tell a Businessman from a Businesswoman," Graduate School of Management, UCLA, The Balloon, voL.AXII, no. 6

In the discussion of obscenities, blasphemies, taboo 1, words, and euphemisms, we have seen that the language used, and the words introduced into a language, reflect the views and values of society. We also suggested that a language or words of a language cannot be intrinsi­cally either good or bad but can only be viewed as such by the people who use it. One word may have positive connotations, while another word with the identical linguistic meaning may have negative connotations. Thus we find the same individual referred to as a terrorist by one group and as a free­dom fighter by another. A woman may be referred to as a castrating female" (or balisy women's libber) or as a courageous feminist advocate.




The question as to whether the language we use affects the culture and views of society is still being debated. But there is pretty much a unanimous opinion that the language we use is affected by the views and values of so­ciety. This is very apparent when we look at how the sexism_. in society is our Janguage. Language cannot be sexist in itself, just as it can't be.',dirty,- but it c;an_ reflect sexist attitudes just as iLi can reflect attitudes as to what is or is not considered taboo.




Q 1977 United Feature Syndicate, Inc.


The fact that on hearing someone say My cousir. Zs a professor (or a doc­tor, or a lawyer, or a CPA, or the Chancellor of the University, or the Presi­dent of the country, or the delegate to the U.N.) most people would con­clude that the cousin was a man has nothing to do with the English language but a great deal to do wl,,h the fact that, historically, women have not been prominent in these professions. Similarly, if you heard someone say My cousin is a nurse (elementary school teacher, model, whore, prostitute), you would no doubt conclude that the cousin was a woman. The linguist Sol Sa­porta pointed out that it is less easy to understand why the sentence My neighbor is a blond brings the response that the speaker is referring to a woman.10 This could be due to the fact that the physical characteristics of women in our society assume greater importance than those of men because women are constantly exploited as sex objects. This is further borne out by studies analyzing the language used by men in reference to women, which often has derogatory or sexual connotations. Such terms go very far back into history and sometimes enter the language with no pejorative implica­tions but gradually gain them. Thus, from Old English hus")if, "housewife," the word hussy was derived. Muriel Schulz points out, for example, "'Int

20 Sol Saporta, "Language in a Sexist Society." Paper delivered at a meeting of the Modern '-anguage Association, Ne", York, December 1974.

“In their original employment, a laundress made beds, a needlewoman came to  Sew, a `tended the spir-ling wheel, and a nurse cared for the sick. But all apparently acquired secondary duties in some households, because all became euphemisms for a mistress or a prostitute at some time during their existence.

Words for women—all with abusive or sexual overtones—abound: dish, tomato, piece, piece of ass, chick, piece of tail, bunny, pussy, pussycat, bitch, doll, slut, cow, to name just a few. Many fewer such pejorative terms exist for men.

One striking fact about the asymmetry between male and female terms in many languages is that when there are male/female pairs it is the male form
which for the most part is unmarked and the female term which is created by  adding a bound morpheme or by compounding. We have many such exam-1.1_ ples in English:

   MALE       FEMALE

  prince       princess

   count       countess

      host       hostess

       heir       heiress

     hero       heroine

      Paul       Pauline

One talks of a male nurse because it is expected that a nurse will be fe­male, and for parallel reasons we have the compounds lady doctor, career woman, and woman athlete.

The unmarked, or male, nouns also serve as the general terms, as do the male pronouns. The brotherhood of manudes lxomen,but sisterhood does not include men.

Changes in the language are taking place, however, and reflect the grow­ing consctoustiess of sexism in society.Thus today at the University of California at Santa Cruz not only are there chairpersons of departments but a freshperson class as well as sophomore, junior, and senior classes. Changes in the language follow changes in society; hopefully, they may also affect male attitudes toward women. But the language is not responsible for the sexism; it merely reflects it.

It is, however, unfortunate that the asymmetries mentioned above do exist. The fact that the woman adopts the man's name in marriage can be traced back to early (and to a great extent, current) legal practices. Thus we often refer to a woman as Mrs. Jack Fromkin but seldom refer to a man as Mr. Vicki Fromkin.`We talk of Professor and Mrs. John Smith but seldom,  if ever, of Mr.                 and Dr. Mary Jones. Furthermore, it is insulting to be called
spinster and even more so an old maid but certainly not to be called a bachelor. There is nothing inherently pejorative about the word spinster. The connotations reflect the different views society has about an unmarried woman as opposed to an unmarried man. It isn't the language that is sexist; it is society.

" Muriel R. Schulz, "The Semantic Derogatioi-, of Woman," in B. Thorne and N. Henley, eds. Language and Sex. 1975. (Newbury House Publishers. Rowley, Mass.), pp. 66-67.

2 77 2 Social Aspects of Language

An increasing number of researchers have been investigating language and sex and language and sexism. One area of research concerns the differences between male and female speech styles. In Japanese, male and female speech comprise two distinct dialects of the language. So different are these two styles that "seeing eye" guide dogs in Japan are trained in English be­cause the sex of the owner is not known in advance and it is easier and more socially acceptable for a blind person to use English than the "wrong" sex's language style.

There is nothing inherently wrong in the development of different styles, which may include intonation, phonology, syntax, and lexicon. What has been stressed throughout this chapter is that the language is neither good nor bad but its use may be for good or bad. If one views women as inferior, then special speech characteristics will be viewed as inferior. When everyone in society is indeed created equal, and treated as such, there will be little con­cern for the sexual asymmetries which exist in language.

Arfificial Languages

La inteligenta persono lerncks la intelinguon Esperanton rapide ka,i facile. (Esperanto for: "'he intelligent person learns the international language Esperanto rapidly and easily.")

Since the scattering at Babel, many people nave hoped for a return to the blissful state when everyone would speak a universal lan­guage. Lingua francas are a step in that direction, but none has gone far enough. Since the seventeenth century, scholars have been inventing artifi­cial languages with the hope that they would achieve universal acceptance and tha t universal language would bring uiaiyeLsAtrn                                                       -

peace. With stubborn reg

clarity the world has rejected every attempt. Per hips the world has seen too many civil   to accept this idea.

—The obituary column of artificial languages indicates the constant attempts and regular failures: Bopal, Kosmos, Novial, Parla, Spokil, Universals, and VolapCik are but a f"w artificial the deceased hundreds. Most artficial languages never get beyond their inventors, because they are abstruse and difficult and

1 uninteresting to learn.

One artificial language has enjoyed some success. Esperanto was invented by the Polish scholar Zamenhof, who wrote under the pseudonym of Dr. Esperanto ("one who hopes"). He gave his "language" the advantages of extreme grammatical regularity, ease of pronunciation, and a vocabulary based mainly on Latin-Romance, Germanic, and Greek. Esperanto is spo­ken, it is claimed, by several million speakers throughout the world, includ­ing some who learned it as one of their native languages. Thera, is a literature written in it, a number of institutions teach it, and it is officially recognized by some international organizations.

Esperantists claim that their language can be learned easily by any intelli­gent person. But despite the claims of its proponents, it is not maximally simple. There is an obligatory accusative case (Ni lernas Esperanto -~111e're learning Esperanto"), and adjectives and nouns must agree in number (ut:e­li-lenta persono "intelligent person," but iweligentaj personoj "intelligent persons"). Speakers of Chinese or Malaysian (and even English) would find this very different from the rules of their grammars. Esperanto is regular in­sofar as all nouns end in -o, with plural -oj; all adjectives end in -u, with plu ral -aj; the present tense of all verbs ends in -as, the future in -os, and the past i . n -is; aiid ~ht article is arways la. But to speakers -`f Thai, a language that does not have a definite article at all, Esperanto is far from ,,simple," and speakers of the many languages that indicate tenses without verb endings (as English indicates the future tense with s;-tall or will) may find that aspect of Esperanto difficult to learn.

A modification of Esperanto, called Ido ("offspring" in Esperanto), has further simplified the language by eliminating the accusative case and abol­ishing adjective and noun agreement, but the basic problem remains. Esperanto is essentially a Romance-based pidgin with Greek and Germanic influence, albeit a highly developed one with an immense vocabulary. It therefore remains "foreign" to speakers of most languages; a Russian or a Hungarian or a Nigerian or a Hindu would find Esperanto as unfamiliar as French or Spanish.

The problems besetting the world community are basically nonlinguistic, despite the linguistic problems that do exist. Language problems may inten­sify social and economic probl--ms, but they do not generally cause wars, unemployment, poverty, pollution, disease.



Every person has his or her own way of speaking. The unique and often idiosyncratic features of an individual's language are called an idiolect. The language used by a group of speakers may show, in addition, systematic dif­ferences called a dialect. The dialects of a language are the mutually intelligi­ble forms of that language which differ in systematic ways from each other. Dialects develop and are reinforced because languages change, and the changes that occur in one group or area may differ from those that occur in another. Regional dialects and social_ dialects develop for this reason. Some of the differences in the regional dialects of America may be traced to the changes-that took place historically in British English after the American colonization. The colonists who maintained close contact with England re­flected the changes occurring in British English while earlier forms were pre­served among Americans who spread westward and broke communication contact with England.

Dialect differences include pronunciation differences (often called "ac­cents"), vocabulary distinctions, and syntactic rule differences. The gram­mar differences between dialects are not as great as the parts that are shared, thus permitting speakers of different dialects to communicate with each other.

In most countries one dialect assumes the role of being the standard. While this particular dialect is not linguistically superior, it may be consid­ered by some to be the only "correct" form of the language. Such a view has unfortunately led to the idea that some nonstandard dialects are "deficient," as is erroneously suggested regarding Black English (BE as distinguished from Standard American English—SAE), the dialect used by large numbers, but by no means all, black Americans. A study of Black English shows it to be as logical, complete, rule-governed, and expressive as any other dialect.

In areas where many languages are spoken, the people often use one lan­guage as a lingua franca to communicate with each other. In other cases, the languages spoken by two or more groups may be simplified lexically, phonologically, and syntactically to become a pidgin. When a pidgin becomes the language learned natively, it is creolized. Such creole languages exist in many parts of the world.

Besides regional and social dialects, speakers may use different styles of their dialect depending on the particular context. Slang is used infrequently in formal papers or situations, but is widely used in speech; argot and jargon are words used to describe the special terms of a professional or trade group.

In all societies certain acts or behaviors are frowned on, forbidden, or considered taboo. The words or expressions referring to these taboo acts are then also avoided, or considered "dirty." Language itself cannot be clean or dirty; the views toward parts of the language reflect the views of society toward the acts or behaviors referred to by the language. Taboo words and acts give rise to euphemisms, which are words or phrases that replace the expressions to be avoided. Thus, powder room is a euphemism for toile!, which itself is a euphemism for lavatory.

Just as the use of some words may reflect society's views toward sex or natural bodily functions, so also some words may reflect racist, chauvinist, and sexist attitudes in society. The languag4itself is not racist or sexist but reflects these views of various sectors of a society.

The communication barriers that exist because of the thousand- of lan­guages used in the world have led to the invention of artificial languages, which,- the inventors hope, could be used universally. All such attempts have failed. Most such languages, including the most widely known, Esperanto, are not "universal" in any sense but are pidgins based on a small number of languages from one language family, and may still be difficult to learn.







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