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Diastratic Varieties in English Focusing on Social Class

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First of all, it is commonly known that there are varieties in the use of any language depending on diverse factors such as, the place, the context, the social group and the time. Nevertheless, I am going to focus on the diastratic varieties of the language, which refers to social class. Alameda and Fernández (2016: 64) stated, “even if it is commonly assumed that modern societies are classless and egalitarian, people can generally be grouped into social classes according to their status, education, wealth and power”.

Having claimed that and bearing in mind there are many studies regarding the different social classes, I believe that the use of the language can tell a lot about a person’s background. From my point of view, it is a way of identifying someone’s social class when meeting them for the first time because it gives you an idea regarding their education and behaviour. For example, Alameda and Fernández, (2016: 64) said “the Australian English form “youse” (plural of you) is confined to working classes and the form “whom” is mostly associated with high sociolects”

In regards to my own feeling on the subject, this way to differentiate people between classes can bring out issues as prejudices and discrimination. Some people could be discriminated for not being part of a specific social class. However, the origin of the issue is not due to the varieties of the language themselves; it is more about the prejudices that remain within society. As Bourdieu (1987:16) claimed, “Words can make things and by joining in the objectivized symbolization of the group they designate, they can, if only for a time, make exist as groups collectives which already existed, but only in a potential state.” Keeping this in mind, I believe that language expresses reality but does not create it. Moreover, I think that there are still feelings and thoughts that cannot be expressed with words and sometimes the words that describe them are not accurate enough.

In addition, social classes already existed before. Social classes were named because of the different levels of income and education people had received. That said, the diastratic varieties of the language could help to perceive the education someone has received. In my humble opinion, they reinforce the concept of segregation between classes. For instance, the fact that some people have been more lucky to receive an education while others are illiterate, make educated people have more job opportunities than others which relates to their future integration in certain circles of society. In fact, your speech will be influenced by the way your social circle of people speak. Being born in a lower social class does not mean that you cannot increase your vocabulary or use better expressions but will definitely determine your use of the language at some point. The theory that our environment influences us in many aspects also implies the way we speak.

To support my opinion, Sapir (1912: 3) claimed, “According to this classification of environmental influences, we may expect to find two sets of environmental factors reflected in language, assuming for the moment that language is materially influenced by the environmental background of its speakers”. To paraphrase him, he said that the vocabulary of a language is the factor that best reflects the physical and social environment of its speakers. In addition, he explained that the language is influenced by either the subject matter or content, the vocabulary and the phonetic system.

Coming back to this thought regarding the varieties of the language depending on the social class, it has been proved to be assumed in our society. For instance, in TV shows such as The Crown, My Fair Lady, and Shameless we appreciate the lexical and grammar structure variations depending on the social class they represent.

As an example of the upper class, “The crown” reflects the characteristics of the English language when spoken by the highest social status, using the Received Pronunciation that is generally considered the most correct, since it is used by the Queen of England and also using long and formal sentences.

In order to reinforce this idea, I am exemplifying these theories to support my opinion within the subject. The formal English used in the dialogues of “The crown” say: “It is better to be patient and get what you desire at the right time, than have high office thrust upon you when you are not ready.” — King George VI, The Crown, Season 1, Hyde Park Corner

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As I see it, after having compared the usual dialogues and talks between people from the upper class and the lower class, the first group tend to use more frequently a more complex lexical.

As far as I am concerned, people’s use of language is strongly influenced by social class. However, the education the person receives is more related to the person’s use of language rather than the social class to which he or she belongs. It is possible for a person to be rich and illiterate and another who does not have a lot of money but takes advantage of the opportunities they might have regarding education. The more financial resources a person possesses, the more possibilities the person has to study. Overall, it is more common for a person from an upper class to have received a higher educational level.

Another reason is that in their daily lives, they might need to use posh languages because they have to attend important congresses or give speeches. On the other hand, people who belong to a lower class might not go through those situations as much and in consequence, they tend to use a more colloquial vocabulary. In an informal context, this same idea could be expressed differently, for example saying “take things easy” or “do what you want as long as you can handle the situation”. In fact, I would use these expressions to explain the same idea since I come from the middle class and it is more congruent with the way I speak. Moreover, I would like to point out that the reason why I would normally use these expressions is that in my daily life, I don’t need to use posh language because I only study and spend time with my friends and family. However, I believe that if a person from any class has to attend an important event because of business or is in the public eye, will make an effort to adapt the speech to the context.

Another example of different ways of speaking according to different contexts and degree of formality, we can say: “You and I no longer engage in verbal confabulations” a very elegant way of saying “we don’t talk anymore”. The first expression is more likely to be used by a member of the Royal family than another citizen in their daily lives. Besides, other expressions like “Observe what course of action you compelled me to commit to” and “Look what you made me do” they both express the same idea but they vary in lexical.

In regards to the use of the language that is used by the middle class, the most highlighted characteristic is hypercorrection. In fact, this is the class to which people belong and it is mainly composed by average income an education. Consequently, they try to be extremely correct and by making changes in their pronunciation, they make mistakes in the process. As an example, Heinrich, H and Joseph, B. (2009: 182) claimed that:

‘English at a certain stage had two competing forms of the gerund form in -ing and a form in -en. Standard English leveled out the form in -ing, and many nonstandard dialects generalized -en, instead. This difference has since become one of the major features distinguishing standard from nonstandard English, and the use of the form in -en is often referred to as ‘dropping one’s gs.’ As speakers who ‘drop their gs’ try to speak the prestige dialect, they replace their -en by -ing”.

Finally, the cockney accent is an example of the lower class use of the language. It started in the East part of London and due to a lack of education; the working class and homeless have used it since the 19th century. Some examples of the cockney lexicon are the “Kosher” and “Stumm” meaning legitimate and quiet, respectively. The most common features of cockney accent are the dropping of the H sound, the dropping of the letter R and the glottal stop. As an example of cockney dialogue, retrieved from Varieties of English Accents Cockney English English Language Essay, I find it in “My Fair Lady” when Eliza Doolittle calls Henry Higgins “Enry Iggins”. Besides, the speaker still uses the double negative, for instance, “I haven’t found my keys nowhere”.

Fortunately, nowadays people no longer look down upon the Cockney accent and its historical meaning has helped to make it become part of the English culture.

Taking all these points into account, being aware of the variations in the use of the language and the factors that have led to this dissimilarity, I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to receive a high quality education regardless of the social class they belong to. My conviction is that in today’s society we are working to reach equality between the working and upper class with the purpose of becoming a more well-rounded and inclusive society.

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Diastratic Varieties in English Focusing on Social Class. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from
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