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Language: Linguistics · Semiotics · Speech

In linguistics, a sociolect is a variety of language associated with a particular social group. The term derives from the morphemes “socio-,” meaning social and “-lect,” meaning a variety of language. Examples of social groups that might be said to have their own distinctive styles of language use include those based on socio-economic status, age, occupation and gender.

Socio-economic status

The relationship between language and social class has been the subject of many investigations. There is much evidence to confirm that members of different social classes use language in different ways. In Britain for example, there is a higher incidence of regional features in the speech of people from a lower social class. In other words, speakers from higher social classes are more likely to use Standard English, and their speech will tend to be closer to Received Pronunciation.


Probably the most notable difference here is between the speech of teenagers and the speech of older members of the same community. Teenagers have a large and ever-changing lexicon of slang words and expressions. This vocabulary serves to strengthen their identity as a social group and separates them from older generations. Speakers from previous generations have been found to use archaic or old-fashioned lexis which may not be commonly used in the English language today. There will often be a marked difference between the vocabulary of young and old speakers from within a markedly similar community.


Any trade or profession - second-hand car dealers, lawyers, accountants, doctors, builders, estate agents, etc. - will have its own specialist semantic field and vocabulary. In part, this will be made up of technical terms associated with the pragmatics of a particular occupation (jargon), but it will probably also include some slang - informal vocabulary developed and used between members of the same occupation, either because it is humorous or because it is shorter and more economical than its Standard English equivalent. As with the language of teenagers, the effect of having such a distinctive sociolect is to reinforce the exclusivity of the group.


This refers to the possibility that men and women use language in different ways. Research suggests that women tend to use more prosodic features - backchannelling, emphatic stress, etc. - and men tend to be more direct in their speech, using very few non-fluency features - fillers, non-fluent pauses, etc. Research also suggests that women interrupt each other far less frequently than men, with the occasional overlap instead. This suggests that women are more receptive and supportive as listeners, and can sense when it is socially acceptable to take the floor and begin their turn to speak. It also indicated that men tended to be more competitive and assertive in their speech and more likely to interrupt.

See also

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