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Factors That Influence Choice of Language Variation

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  • 0:04 Definition
  • 1:04 Context
  • 1:52 Speaker's Age
  • 2:34 Gender & Culture
  • 3:43 Education, Class, Vocation
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Do you wonder why each of your students chooses a particular style for their oral or written discourse? There are a few factors that can determine the language variation a student adopts. This lesson explores those factors through practical examples.

Definition

Diego is an English learner from Mexico. Very often, Diego chooses to say things like, ''He don't know'' or ''I didn't do nothing!''. When Diego's English language learning teacher corrects these mistakes, Diego says he knows what he is saying is wrong. However, Diego says that is how his friends speak. This example illustrates the definition of language variation. This is the choice of language a speaker or writer makes in order to express ideas. Language variation happens mostly because there is not a single way to say things in a language. However, the way in which a speaker or writer expresses ideas has to do with specific factors. Let's explore them.

Language variation is the choice of language a person makes in order to express ideas. Factors that influence it include gender, age, social class, etc.
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The factors that influence a speaker's or writer's choice of language vary, and they include the context that surrounds the speaker or writer, the age, gender, culture, etc. Very often, the choice of language is conscious, and the speaker can switch the language choice depending on such factors. Let's look at them through some examples.

Context

The context in which a speaker or writer expresses ideas has an influence on the language variation or choice of words and expressions. Thus, it's no surprise that English learners choose different language variations depending on where they are or who they speak or write for.

When Diego is with his friends who speak English in the neighborhood, he uses words like ''cool, awesome, and buddy''. However, when Diego speaks to his teachers in school, he consciously makes an effort to use words that sound appropriate to his teachers such as ''nice, sir, and madam''. Something similar happens when Diego has to write. If he writes a text message to a friend, he knows he can use abbreviations like ''lol''. Conversely, if Diego writes an email to a teacher, he knows that ''lol'' is not right for the context of the relationship.

Speaker's Age

Age can determine how English learners express themselves and you, as a teacher, can easily see the difference in language variation if you teach a class of children as opposed to a class of adult learners.

As Diego leaves behind his teenage years and becomes an adult, he slowly leaves behind the old ways of expression he used to have for both oral and written discourse. For example, as Diego joins college, he gets used to more formal ways of expressions with people. When he greets people, he no longer feels comfortable saying ''Hey... what's up?'' Instead, he prefers ''Hi, good morning.'' This is not just because Diego is in college. This is also because Diego is now more mature, and he spontaneously feels more comfortable using more formal language.

Gender & Culture

Gender also influences the expressions, word choice, intonation, and tone in the language. As a guy, Diego feels comfortable using certain words with his male buddies. However, when he speaks to girls, Diego chooses words he would not use with his male friends. Partly, Diego does this because his behavior around the opposite sex is different than among his friends of the same sex. Also, partly Diego does this because he unconsciously knows that females themselves use different language than males.

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