Speech Communities

2972 Words Jun 13th, 2013 12 Pages
Speech Communities

Language is both an individual possession and a social possession. We would expect, therefore, that certain individuals would behave linguistically like other individuals: they might be said to speak the same language or the same dialect or the same variety, i.e., to employ the same code, and in that respect to be members of the same speech community, a term probably derived from the German Sprachgemeinschaft. Indeed, much work in sociolinguistics is based on the assumption that it is possible to use the concept of ‘speech community’ without much difficulty. Hudson (1996, p. 29) rejects that view: ‘our sociolinguistic world is not organized in terms of objective “speech communities,” even though we like to think
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326) offers a definition of what he calls a ‘real’ speech community: ‘all the people who use a given language (or dialect).’ However, that really shifts the issue to making the definition of a language (or of a dialect) also the definition of a speech community. If, as we saw in chapter 2, it proves virtually impossible to define language and dialect clearly and unambiguously, then we have achieved nothing. It is really quite easy to demonstrate that a speech community is not coterminous with a language: while the English language is spoken in many places throughout the world, we must certainly recognize that it is also spoken in a wide variety of ways, in speech communities that are almost entirely isolated from one another, e.g., in South Africa, in New Zealand, and among expatriates in China. Alternatively, a recognizably single speech community can employ more than one language: Switzerland, Canada, Papua New Guinea, many African states, and New York City.
Furthermore, if speech communities are defined solely by their linguistic characteristics, we must acknowledge the inherent circularity of any such definition in that language itself is a communal possession. We must also acknowledge that using linguistic characteristics alone to determine what is or is not a speech community has proved so far to be quite impossible because people do not necessarily feel any such direct relationship between linguistic characteristics A, B, C, and so on, and speech community X.
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