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Social Sci LibreTexts

5.5: Summary

  • Page ID
    38670
  • Language is a mental capacity that allows members of a speech community to produce and understand countless number of utterances which include grammatical elements like words, phrases and sentences.

    Language as a means of communication makes use of different communicative acts (orders, questions, apologies, suggestions) performed during conversational situations across varied social contexts. Language is a symbol of social identity and serves to express ideas, beliefs and attitudes shared by a cultural group. It is reflected in cultural stereotypes, notions about different languages, and behaviors during speech situations which presuppose the use of cultural schemata and cultural scripts.

    Languages are commonly classified according to membership in a language family such as Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, Indo-Pacific, Mayan, Niger-Congo. Members within a family are further subdivided into branches (Germanic, Slavic, Finno-Ugric, Indo-Iranian) and the branches into subgroups (English in the Germanic branch; Spanish in the Romance branch).

    The distribution of languages around the world is influenced by numerous factors: settlement history, demographic strength, ways of living and contact with other ethnolinguistic groups. Some languages become more dominant and as a result displace others that may eventually become extinct, leading to language death. The world’s ten most widespread languages include Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, Japanese, and Javanese.

    The number of dialects or varieties of American English have changed over time due to settlement histories, political changes (Louisiana Purchase, Mexican American War, Spanish-American War, territory annexation). Language diversity and multilingualism continue to be prevalent in the United States. Recent 2015 Census data reveal extensive language diversity in states like California, Texas, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois and Massachusetts.

    Place names provide us with cultural insights about the significance of geographic locations, important features of the landscape, the recognition of famous personalities, and local reference to distant places and times. Diverse forms of advertisement are used to inform and convince customers that the products and services offered are the worthiest in the marketplace.

    The use of different social media technologies (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, among others) allows for online interaction between many senders and receivers. Users can create and share information, ideas, photos, career interests, and other concerns via virtual communities and networks.

    Geographic mapping of the use and users of web-based technologies (desktop computers, smart phones and tablet computers) is unattainable at this time. Research methods from the social science (questionnaires, oral interviews, focus group sessions) may reveal some insights about the pervasive ways individuals, communities and organizations communicate in the virtual world.

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