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Sociolinguistics 2 Everyday knowledge and language.

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1 Sociolinguistics 2 Everyday knowledge and language

2 The story so far Our knowledge of language is an inheritance network Our knowledge of society is an inheritance network

3 Inheritance networks An inheritance network includes inheritance hierarchies which allow –Classification –Default inheritance, allowing exceptions (New) Networks in the mind are active –Thinking of a concept activates it –This activation spreads to neighbouring nodes This causes speech errors

4 Speech errors The target word is active But spreading activation affects closely related words too Sometimes we use a word which is closely related to the target word in: –Meaning: tomorrow for yesterday –Pronunciation: orgasm for organism

5 Speech errors by spreading activation

6 Everyday knowledge This includes everything we know about the world. It consists of related specific and general concepts Concepts are defined for typical cases (prototypes) but allow exceptions –E.g. a typical bird flies, but penguins dont fly. I.e. its an inheritance network, just like language



9 Why general knowledge must be an inheritance network Concepts are interrelated in a network Concepts are classified by is-a links Concepts are prototypes which allow exceptions (by default inheritance) Concepts activate each other – one thing reminds us of other things – through spreading activation

10 Language and general knowledge Theyre very similar in structure: default networks. Language is not special. –VERY controversial!! Meanings are just concepts from general knowledge, e.g. Bird, Flying We learn some concepts via language –e.g. Sociolinguistics, Riding, Fun So maybe language influences general knowledge?

11 The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Edward Sapir (1884-1939) Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941) We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. … a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar …

12 Relativity in Riding and Fun Languages express very different meanings, e.g. –English Fun = German Spass –French: ?? –English: Riding covers horses and bicycles, but not cars –German: Fahren covers bicycles and cars, but not horses

13 Riding or Fahren?

14 Relativity in grammar grammar of nouns: –English: countability, number (1 or many?) shingle – pebble(s) –French: sex voisin – voisine (= neighbour M – F) –Chinese, Japanese: shape (etc) Chinese: yi-ge (1 person, book) – yi-tiao (1 fish, river) Japanese: go-hon (5 pencils, bottles, ropes) – go- mai (5 tickets, dishes, cloths)

15 Relativity in space Spatial relations: –English: North - South; left - right Edinburgh is north of London. The screen is to the left of Dick. –Guugu Yimithir (Australia): North - South Brisbane is north of Sydney. The screen is north (??) of Dick. –Like Guugu Yimithir: Tzeltal (Mexico) and many other languages

16 Left/right or North/South? Do you classify local spatial relations in absolute (North/South) or relative (Left/Right) terms? This can be tested by the 180º test. NB This test does not involve language. Dutch and Tzeltal speakers differed – guess how? Theres a correlation across languages between: –language: favouring absolute or relative –behaviour: applying absolute or relative analyses

17 Left/right or North/South?


19 Linguistic determinism Languages certainly express different analyses of the world. Therefore when speaking, different languages make us analyse the world differently. But do different languages make us think differently when we are not speaking?

20 Shape or colour?

21 Navajo (USA) Verb morphology shows the shape of the object. Card-sorting task with children on a reservation: –The children had the same environment but different languages. –English speakers favoured colour (like babies) –Navajo speakers paid more attention to shape –So language does influence non-linguistic thought. But toy-rich children in Boston favoured shape. So language is just one influence.

22 So, does language influence thought? Yes, it certainly influences thinking for speaking. Yes, it has some influence on non- linguistic thinking. It would be very surprising if our rich experience of language had no influence! Education is all about using language to influence thought!!

23 So what? Shared thought-patterns are the culture of our society. We learn our language from our society. So language teaches us our societys culture. The structure of our language is closely linked to the structure of our culture. This is a sociolinguistic fact.

24 Coming shortly Week 3: How we classify people and language varieties in terms of languages and dialects. Week 4: How we look after each others faces.

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