Identifying patterns in linguistic behaviour



Publication Details

Cloran, C. B. (2009). Identifying patterns in linguistic behaviour. In J. J. Webster (Eds.), Semantic Variation: Meaning in Society and in Sociolinguistics (p. CD5). London: Equinox Publishing Ltd.


The patterning oflinguistic behaviour has long been noted. Whorf, for example, pointed to patterns or 'fashions of speaking' that distinguish language families - Standard Average European (SAE) and American Indian languages such as Hopi (Whorf 1956). Through his analysis of the way in which the linguistic categories of Hopi by comparison with those of Standard Average European languages analyse reality, Whorf concluded that concepts such as those of 'time' and 'matter'

are not given in substantially the same form by experience to all men but depend upon the nature of the language or languages through the use of which they have been developed. They do not depend so much upon any one system (e.g. tense or nouns) within the grammar as upon the ways of analysing and reporting experience which have become fixed in the language as integrated 'fashions of speaking' ... (Whorf 1956:158).

Whorf's conclusions that 'language fashions society' resulted from his study of the grammatical systems of these two contrasting language families (SAE and Hopi). The investigation of the occurrence of patterns in language use - of language instance as opposed to language potential - reported here (and as theorised by Bernstein e.g. 1971) has revealed the apparently irreconcilable fact that 'society fashions language'. How these two positions may be reconciled will be addressed presently. First, however, the way in which some patterns of actual linguistic behaviours have been investigated using multi-variate statistical procedures will be outlined. The starting point of such an

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