Continuities/Discontinuities in the Function and Use of Language as Related to Situation and Social Class
William S. Hall University of Maryland
William E. Nagy University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
There is a long tradition in cognitive social science linking language and thought. A more recent tradition in social science research links language functioning and use to schooling. Differences in patterns of language use may reflect or embody differences in how communicative or cognitive strategies are brought to bear on specific types of tasks in specific situations. The purpose of the present chapter is to describe socioeconomic status differences in one aspect of communication: the use of words of internal state. These are words that when used literally refer primarily to internal states, processes, or experiences. This includes words about cognition (think,remember,know), emotions (happy,afraid,love), perception (see,smell,pain), and intentions and desires (intend,want,wish) (See Hall & Nagy, 1986). Internal state words have both cognitive and educational significance; they play an important role in certain types of classroom discussion, and their use is linked to cognitive strategies and skills involved in metacognition (cf. Baker & Brown, 1980; Flavell, 1978).
Concurrent with increaseing interest in language differences between individuals of various social groups has come a growing focus on differences in the speech of the same individual in different situations. An early study by Labov ( 1964) illustrates very well some important aspects of the interaction between situational and social variation. Figure 14.1 represents differences in the pronunciation of r by speakers from different socioeconomic levels, at different levels of formality.