Tema 53- Variantes sociolingüísticas de la lengua inglesa. Registros y ambitos de uso

Tema 53- Variantes sociolingüísticas de la lengua inglesa. Registros y ambitos de uso

Types of variation:

There are numerous varieties of English, but we shall recognize five major types of variation. Any use of language necessarily involves variation within all 5 types:

  1. Region
  2. Social group
  3. Filed of discourse
  4. Medium
  5. Attitude

The first 2 types of variation relate primarily to the language user. People use a regional variety because they live in a region or have once lived in that region. Similarly, people use a social variety because of their affiliation with a social group. These varieties are relatively permanent for the language user.

At the same time many people can communicate in more than one regional or social variety and can therefore (consciously or unconsciously) switch varieties according to the situation. And of course people move to other regions or change their social affiliations and may then adopt a new regional or social variety.

The last 3 types of variation relate to the language use. People select the varieties according to the situation and the purpose of the communication. The field of discourse relates to the activity in which they are engaged, the medium may be spoken or written, generally depending on the proximity of the participants in the communication; and the attitude expressed through language is conditioned by the relationship of the participants in the particular situation.

A common core is present in all varieties so that it has running through it a set of grammatical and other characteristics that are present in all the others. It is this fact that justifies the application of the name ”English” to all the varieties.

  1. Regional variation:

Varieties according to region have a well-established label: dialects. Geographical dispersion is in fact the classic basis for linguistic variation, and in the course of time such dispersion results in dialects becoming so distinct that we regard them as different languages.

It is pointless to ask how many English dialects there are: there are indefinitely many, depending on how detailed we wish to be in our observations.

They are of course more numerous in long-settled Britain than in areas more recently settled by English speakers such as North America or still more recently Australia and New Zealand.

  1. Social variation:

Within each of the dialects there is considerable variation in speech according to education, socio-economic group and ethnic group. Some differences correlate with age and sex. They are called sociolects.

There is a frequency of certain linguistic features which are found in the groups.

Educated English tends to be given additional prestige of government agencies, the professions, the political parties, the press, the law court and the pulpit, any institution which must attempt to address itself to a public beyond the smallest dialect community. It is codified in dictionaries, grammars, and guides to usage, and it is taught in the school system at all levels. It is almost exclusively the language of printed matter.

As educated English is accorded implicit social and political sanction, it comes to be referred as standard English. In contrast with standard English, forms that are specially associated with uneducated use are generally called non-standard.

Standard English:

The degree of acceptance of a single standard of English throughout the world, across a multiplicity of political and social systems, is a truly remarkable phenomenon. The more so since the extent of the uniformity involved has increased in the present century.

Uniformity is greatest in orthography which is from most viewpoints the least important type of linguistic organization.

There is basically a single spelling and punctuation system throughout with 2 minor subsystems:

a) The subsystem with British orientation (used in most English-speaking countries other than the United States) with distinctive forms such as colour, centre, levelled.

b) The American subsystem with color, center, leveled.

In grammar and vocabulary, standard English presents somewhat less of a monolithic character, but even so the world-wide agreement is extraordinary.

  1. Varieties according to field of discourse:

The field of discourse is the type of activity engaged in through language. A speaker has a repertoire of varieties according to filed and switches to use the appropriate one as occasion demands.

The switch involves nothing more than turning to the particular set of lexical items habitually used for handling the filed in question: law, football, engineering, business, medicine, science etc.

  1. Varieties according to medium:

The differences between spoken and written English derive from 2 sources. One is situational: since the use of a written medium normally presupposes the absence of the person(s) addressed, writers must be far more explicit to ensure that they understood. The second source of difference is that many of the devices we use to transmit language by speech (stress, rhythm, intonation, tempo) are impossible to represent with the relatively limited repertoire of conventional orthography. In consequence, writers often have to reformulate their sentences to convey fully and successfully what they want to express within the orthographic system.

  1. Varieties according to attitude:

They are often called stylistic. We are concerned here with choice that depends on our attitude to the hearer or reader, to the topic and to the purpose of communication. We recognize a gradient in attitude between formal (cold, polite, impersonal) and informal (relaxed, casual, friendly). There is also a neutral English with no attitudinal colouring.

English dialects:

There are local forms of the language known as regional dialects.

In the newer countries where English has spread in modern times, these are not so numerous or so pronounced in their individuality as they are in the British isles.

There are 6 dialectal regions in England:

  1. Northern
  2. North-Midland
  3. West-Midland
  4. Southern
  5. South- Eastern
  6. South- Western

English in Northern England differs considerably from that of the South.

  1. Pronunciation:

a) In words such as butter, cut, gull and some, the Southern vowel /Λ/ occurs in the North as /u/

b) In words such as chaff, grass and path, the Southern retracted vowel /a:/ occurs as short /a/ in Northern dialects.

c) French borrowings which consist of a + nasal are /a:/ in the South and /o:/ in the North: grant, dance, aunt.

d) Final l is in the South a dark l, and in the North a clear l: cool, oil, school.

e) –ng- in medial position is /ŋ/ in the North and / ŋg/ in the South: finger, hungry

f) The spelling ound is pronounced /au/ in the South and /u/ in the North: ground, pound.

g) I is pronounced /ai/ in the South and /i/ in the North: blind, climb, find.

h) In the south-western dialect they do not pronounce the semi-vowels /w/ and /j/ in initial position. /w/ before /u/: woman, wool, /w/ before /i/ and /e/: yes, year, yesterday.

  1. Some grammatical differences are:

a) In the north we have plurals ending in –(e)n: een for eyes, shoon for shoes

b) In the north we have the possessive form without ´s: cow legs.

c) The 2nd person singular pronoun is thou in the North and thee in the South

d) The 3rd person singular does is do in the Southwest and also in the South of Northern and Southern. Does in the rest of the dialects.

e) The past participle of put is in the North putten and in the rest put.

The dialect of Southern Scotland has claims to special consideration on historical and literary grounds. In origin it is a variety of Northern English but it began to be strongly influenced by Southern English in the time of Shakespeare. For instance ai (own), auld (old), lang (long), bairn (child), bonnie (beautiful), braw (handsome), dinna (do not).

The dialect of Ireland (Gaelic) is distinct from the Standard English of England. The English language in Ireland has not preserved so many old words as have survived in Scotland. But the Anglo- Irish of the Southern part of the island has an exuberance of vocabulary that recalls the lexical inventiveness of Elizabethan times, the period during which English began to spread rapidly in Ireland. It has also been influenced by the native speech of he Celts (galore, blarney). Although different varieties of the Irish dialect are distinguished, especially in the North and the South, certain peculiarities of pronunciation are fairly general. In dialect stories we find spellings such as projuce (produce), fisht, (fist), butther, thrue. They write sh for s before a long u.


The line between colloquial and slang words is not at all clear and many words considered colloquial by some people, would be considered slang by others. A slang expression has a short life because what is slang today may have been in good use yesterday and may be accepted in the standard speech of tomorrow.

Slang is a peculiar kind of language which is always hanging on the outskirts of legitimate speech but continually forcing its way into it.

The word row /rau/ in the sense of disturbance or commotion was slang in the 18th century but today we find it in the works of reputable writers.

Slang results from an instinctive desire for freshness and novelty is a quality which soon wears off, slang has to be constantly renewed.

Some instances of slang are: buzz off, beat it, clout, rip-off, antsy, laid-back, knee-jerk, trendy, hassle, vibes, vamoose, skedaddle, scram, quid (pounds), smashing (wonderful), ta (thank you), come off it (be serious), guts (courage), a do 8 (a celebration), jifft (moment), plastered (drunk), pinch (steal), brolly (umbrella), tear-jerker (sentimental film), corny (unoriginal), banger (dilapidated car), clapped out (worn out), classy (high-class), packet (lot of money), daft (stupid), bonkers (mad), dead loss ( useless person), cat´ s wiskers (something very special), to give someone the push (to dismiss).