Factors That Account for the Formation of Prototype from the Perspective of Sociolinguistics

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Abstract

The study of prototype has been an interesting subject for the scholars in psycholinguistics. But some sociolinguistic scholars also advocated that the study of prototype theory can not be separated from the perspective of sociolinguistics, for the prototype affects the way people talk in different situations and the social differences play an significant role in the formation of prototype. These social factors are the deep social structure that ultimately influences our linguistic behaviors. Using the theories related to categorization to analyze the these social differences, we can find out the reasons for the differences, which mainly contain culture, living environment, scientific development, living experience and age.

Key words: Prototype; Category; Social factors

INTRODUCTION

As sociolinguistic researchers, we should be prepared to probe into various aspects of the possible relationships between language and society. It will be quite obviously from doing so that correlational studies must form a important part of sociolinguistic work. Gumperz (1971, p.223) has viewed that sociolinguistics is an attempt to find correlations between social existence and linguistic forms and to study any changes that occur. However, as Gumperz had indicated, these correlational studies do not exhaust sociolinguistic studies nor do they always proves to be as enlightening as one might hope. According to Ronald (2008, p.10), a correlation shows only a relationship between two variables; it does not show ultimate causation. To find that X and Y are related is not necessarily to discover that X causes Y, for it is also quite possible that some third factor, Z, may cause both X and Y. This paper shows the corelations in the same way, prototype theory may affects the way people use language, the social factors influence the formation of prototype, it is also possible that the social factors determines both the prototype and the use of language. This paper intends to probe in to the deep social structures that determines the formation of prototype and the way of using language.

1. PROTOTYPE THEORY

There are so many different things in the boundless universe and they have different characteristics. But how do human beings distinguish and perceive them, it is a topic which is relevant to the issue of categorization. People can take the features of these objective things as the start point, then analyze it further and classify them, later, they will get the perceptual knowledge of these things, this process is called categorization. Concepts are based on this process, so does the languages make sense of themselves. The most important theory of categorization is the Prototype Theory was proposed by Rosch (1978, pp.83-103), which is an alternative to the former view that concepts come from sets of clear? cut features which necessarily and sufficiently shared by all the members within the category. She suggests that some category members are learned as as a kind of prototype. By the prototype of a category, she means the clear examples of a category which has the goodness and typicality as the representative judged by people. To confirm this, Rosch and Mervis (1975) did research and concluded that the meaning of a word could be represented by a prototype, and other instances within a category can be categorized according to their similarity to the ideal example. For example, the word "bird" is not best represented by a set of features like wings, feathers or flying characteristics, but by the best examples, so the prototype in category of bird is something more like robin rather than penguin or ostrich.

2. RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PROTOTYPE THEORY AND SOCIOLINGUISTICS

At first glance, prototype theory is a term in cognitive linguistics, it has nothing to do with sociolinguistics. But indeed, according to Ronald (2008) if we look back at the history of linguistics, it is rare to find investigations of any language which are entirely cut off from current investigations of the history of that language, or its regional and social distributions, or its relationship to objects, ideas, events, and actual speakers and listeners in the "real" world. …