Relationship Hypotheses: Language and Society

By: Fatina Sarwar

Posing the argument "our definitions of language and society are not independent: the definition of language includes in it a reference to society"(1), Ronald Wardhaugh (1986)in his book "An Introduction to Sociolonguistics" presents quadruple hypotheses proposed by different scholars involved in "the study of the relationship between language and society"(1) and "the various functions of language in society"(1) .The hypotheses are:

&bullSociety influences the linguistic phenomenon.
&bullLinguistic phenomenon influences the society
&bullSociety and language together dialectically influence the linguistic phenomenon.
&bullSociety and language do not influence the linguistic phenomenon at all.

According to Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe (2003) a society is the "web of relationship and interactions among human beings" when a group of people stick together
bearing in their minds some common definite objectives of their survival. Hence, the fact
that society influences the linguistic phenomenon can not be thrown away. In a Bangla
novel "Kalpurush" (1985) by a famous Indian Bangla novelist Shamaresh Majumder
such influence of society over the linguistic behaviour of it is realistically pictured.
Getting mixed up with the rowdy and uncouth companies of the city-slum he had been
grown up in ,Arko, the central character of the novel shocks his cultured and educated
parents when he easily and non-hesitantly uses the Bangla slang like "nakrabaji",
"shala", "maal" etc. Again, when this Arko comes across with a member of the high class
of Calcutta's urban society who said "fuck the time", an objectionable slang in English,
he finds out that his educated parents know its meaning but are strongly unwilling to
explain it to him for its semantic extremity. Another woman belonging to Calcutta's
upper class expresses amusing surprise in discovering Arko's vocabulary of slang which
are semantically incomprehensible and thus intriguing to her but have a natural pragmatic
and semantic necessity to Arko. Therefore, it can be proved through many instances that
society shapes the pragmatic and semantic aspects of distinct linguistic emissions of the
The second prevalent hypothesis expresses that linguistic behaviour shapes the
society. Sapir and Whorf, the two American anthropological linguists' hypothesis
strongly advocates this view. This Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or Whorfian hypothesis asserts that a native language forms the society. Had there been no word like "prottutpannamatitto" in Bangla or "wit" in English the common semantic and pragmatic entity of both would be duly absent. The words and phrases like 'fatafati', 'kachal',
'chera-bera', 'pechki', 'gutaguti' etc. determine a definite society of young generation of
Bangla speakers.
The third hypothesis of the relationship between language and society proposes that
both the linguistic phenomenon and the social phenomenon influence the linguistic
behaviour in a "bi-directional" way. For the Bangla speakers the word "lungi" has a
socially semantic and pragmatic value in Bangla which would not have so for the
English speakers, as it is a linguistic identity of specific socio-cultural attire of the
context of Bangla speakers not of the English speakers.
The forth hypothesis reflects Noam Chomsky' s asocial Universal Grammar
hypothesis .It proposes that language is an innate system of expression completely free
from the influence of either social or any other external linguistic factors. This is a
structural pre-composition of universal human language in the human minds that he
names as 'competence' which needs no external social influence to mature and to spread.
Society has no involvement with the springing up of the distinct basic Bangla syntactic
structure featuring subject-object-verb or SOV (ami bhat khai) which is, in a way,
reversed from the English one, subject-verb-object or SVO (I eat rice).
It is really arduous to determine which of the hypotheses is most acceptable to me
being an amateur sociolinguistics practitioner. However, as I find it unnatural to exclude
the influence of the society while singularly assenting the influence of language over the
linguistic phenomenon or the vice versa, I profess the third one to be most feasible
in the sociolingustic study of the relationship of language and society. Had there not been
any institute as society as the context of the linguistic interchange of the human race the
forth hypothesis could have been accountable. As the de facto is not so, I adhere to the
third hypothesis out of my own due discernment.


1.Majumder, Shamaresh.Kalpurush.Calcatta: Anando, 1985.

2.Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe.Microsoft Corporation, 2003 ed.

3.Richards, J.Platt, J. and Weber, H.Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics.
UK: Longman, 1985.
4.Wardhaugh, Ronald.An Introduction to Sociolinguisctis.Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

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