What is language for sociolinguists? The variationist, ethnographic, and conversation-analytic ontologies of language

Ariel Vázquez Carranza


The present investigation explores the language definitions (i. e. the language ontologies) that have emerged in the field of sociolinguistics. In general, it examines three types of sociolin-guistic studies: Labovian sociolinguistics (Labov 1972), the Ethnography of Communication (Gumperz/Hymes 1964) and Conversation Analysis (Sacks 1992). Firstly, it offers an account on the ontology of language developed by Chomskyian linguistics (1986) which is used as a starting point to contrast the three sociolinguistics’ language ontologies. Then, the paper pre-sents Labov’s ontology of language (Labov 1977), the criticism that it has faced and examines proposals that aim to integrate social facts and linguistic structure. With regard to the Ethnog-raphy of Communication, accounts about its ontology of language (Hymes 1974, 1986) and its ontology of culture (Sapir 1921; Hymes 1972) are presented and a possible explanation about the relationship between language and culture is offered. With respect to Conversation Analysis, its ontology of language is presented (Ochs et al. 1996) as well as its analytic in-sight and an account about grammar as an interactional resource is given. The final section proposes that, for these three types of sociolinguistics, ‘language’ is a social, functional and behavioural entity which is socially and behaviourally structured. ‘Language’ transmits social meanings, reflects the social order and expresses the identity of its speakers.



DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13092/lo.83.3788