Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton February 12, 2009

The socio-symbolic function of language

Ernest W. B. Hess-Lüttich
From the journal


The article starts from the premise known since antiquity that speech indicates something of the speaker. Language as action is regarded not only as a medium to convey lexical or semantic information but also of social meaning. This raises the question: How can we get access to the social meaning of linguistic structures? This is the main question dealt with throughout the paper, which sets out with carefully defining the notion of symbolic meaning on the grounds of social semiotics. It then develops the sociological concept of group (or community) as a cultural sub-system of society, in order to understand better the relationship between language variation as options of linguistic choice and ‘sociolect’ as a group specific linguistic variety. Within this conceptual framework, the contours of a socio-grammar are outlined, which describes the socio-symbolic functions of phonetic, prosodic, morphological, lexical, syntactical, textual, and pragmatic elements of linguistic structure. The perspective then broadens to the level of discourse on which the relationship of language and prestige or language and power is dealt with, notabene with a side view on Pierre Bourdieu's notion of the symbolic order of significant difference (in his opus magnum La distinction).

Published Online: 2009-02-12
Published in Print: 2009-February

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