Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of communication and language in the everyday. It is an observation of the expressions and uses of language in contemporary society, removed from judgement of improper use and cynicism.
It focuses on the ways language both superficially, and at learning level evolves, whilst maintaining similar patterns that can reveal much about the individuals speaking, the cultures they exist within and the forces of our environments and experiences, and the effect they have on the direction and immersion of our communication; that is at the heart of our being and the shaping of our reality.
The basic premise of sociolinguistics is that language is variable and ever-changing. As a result, language is not uniform or constant. Rather, it is varied and inconsistent for both the individual user and within and among groups of speakers who use the same language. – ThoughtCo
The Dialects of English
Depending on if English is your mother-tongue, second language, perhaps even third; this will change the interaction you have had with the language.
There are many different dialects of English depending on the region and country you were raised in, and depending on the uses of English you possess in your everyday life and the environments and people you communicate with when speaking it.
A dialect of English can change overtime as well, with meaning of words becoming transitive to the generation selecting and applying particular vernaculars.
For example what colloquial language is chosen by younger generations, and how does it differ to the language of their parents, when they were the age their children are now?
Sweet or swell?
A more traditional use of the word sweet would be describe a certain kind of food, determined by its sugary taste. Over time, the meaning of this word has developed and is more commonly used among younger generations as a stand in for the word ‘good’.
Sweet is still being used as an adjective to describe something, though the context in which it is applied differs.
Stereotypically a popular word previously to describe something as good or fun, in previous generations was the word swell.
Why when there was already a perfectly good word in use, did this change come about? What does this evolution and shift in meaning tell us about the evolution of language in the past ten years and what can it tell us about the speakers using it?
Change is afoot….
There has been a shift in the connotation of the word sweet, a semantic change, that seems more than anything dependant on the age of the individual employing its use.
One factor that has implemented this shift, is the pressure younger generations feel to detach themselves from their parents. To be perceived as cool, they wish to use words that appear new, or to be their own invention.
Social pressures to conform drive language use towards a pattern of recycling where we see young speakers engaging with language creatively and forming new associations to commonly used words to start current trends and appear cool and in the know.
It is a way young speakers have of making older generations feel more insecure and obsolete, it is a way of excluding certain people from conversations and beginning a new club of their own.
And we all wish to be on board when it comes…
We can observe this as a common pattern in language, though the lexis used changes and the meanings associated with words develop; it is a set pattern that young speakers have throughout history being at the forefront of new introductions into contemporary language.
While there are deeper observations to be made in the exact words they select, the psychological influences behind this change are also interesting.
It could be suggested that adolescents feel the need to exert this control over their language use, as they are in the precipice of transforming their identities. By subverting the language their parents, it is an act of rebellion, and a step taking towards them leaving the dependency of their childhood, and the beginnings of forming their own independent identities.
Apart, yet still a part of the whole
At the same time, it shows the fragility of teens to conform and fit in with their peers, as the reason they wish to develop their vernacular and their consternation with keeping up to date with on trend words, is that they wish to belong and to be accepted into this group.
As communications sits at the forefront of all we do, humans have developed a keen sense of adapting their speech to match those they wish to impress. It is instinctual for us to wish to adapt our language to fit with the ever-changing world around us as we do not wish to be excluded and left behind.
Language and convergence is an essential part of gaining access to parts of the world our ideologies have influenced us to aspire towards.
It is the same principle observed in the usage of ‘like’ explored in the video above.
This is why sociolinguistics is an ever-expanding and evolving study, that is important amid our fast-paced world and ever proliferating technological advances, that at this very moment are defining and shaping the way language and our society will look in the near future and years to come.