Social class and language

Julia Snell
Table of contents

The relationship between language and social class has been a major concern in applied linguistics and in sociolinguistics (see Block 2014 for a review), in the ethnography of communication (Hymes 1996), in language attitudes research (e.g. Chakrani & Huang 2012; Huygens & Vaughan 1983; Lai 2010), in research on public debates about language (e.g. Bex & Watts 1999; Crowley 1989; Mugglestone 2003), and in education (see Collins 2009 for a review). It would be impossible to do justice to this range of research within a single article. Instead, this article follows one particular narrative in the development of class analysis within sociolinguistics. Focusing on language variation, it charts the progression from early survey studies, which assumed that class hierarchies determine linguistic behaviour, to more recent approaches, which emphasise social practice and speaker agency. This narrative is relevant to scholars interested in pragmatics because it demonstrates that an adequate sociolinguistic theory of language and social class has to engage with language in use, and thus with ‘a pragmatic perspective’ (Verschueren 1994, 2009).

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