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Bourdieus Linguistic Communism

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 7 months ago

Bourdieu begins his chapter by criticizing linguistic theorists for assuming "linguistic communism," and proceeds to discuss the "linguistic market" and "linguistic capital." What on earth is he talking about?

emma roberts

I found this reading very interesting. He broke down the linguistic aspects of a society in terms of societal institutions, rather than by ethnic/racial distinctions (which is, I feel, what I’m used to hearing people talk about). I thought his analysis of the educational system was particularly interesting because of how obvious it was. I took him as being very critical of the power that the political structures (education systems included) have over the accepted linguistic “skills” or knowledge within a nation. Because of this, I thought it was very interesting that he criticized those who spoke of linguistic communism and yet he used capitalist terms like “market” to develop his argument. I think what he meant by "linguistic market" was just the general setting in which different dialects, accents, languages converge and gain support, followers, dominance etc. "Linguistic capital", I'm not so sure. Bourdieu wasn’t necessarily taking a side, but just noting that this process of stigmatization occurs within this market. He was essentially making an argument for cultural relativism applied to linguistics, pointing out that an official form of the language is backed by the institutional powers and that all other linguistic practices (“slang” – and even the connotation that word carries proves his point) are then compared to the official form. I thought his statement about how women are better able to absorb the official form was…interesting and perhaps too limited to his era, and I would like to know what others thought.


Lauren Deal

Essential, Bordieu's article deals with the theme of ideology. The first thing he does through his discussion of Chomsky and Saussure is establish the existence of different patterns of linguistic production. Both Chomsky and Saussure argue for the existence of a root system of language ("competence" and "langue" respectively) that include the rules of tha language. For Chomsky this is the language proper, as he said on page 403, the language of an ideal speaker. However, they both also posit a different system of language in use ("performance" and "parole"). As there is no perfect speaker, performance varies significantly by linguistic community. However, as language is the means by which we participate in social life, the political regulation of it is a common strategy in nation building and other political movements. The version of a language, often that of the elite, becomes insitutionalized (think of the Real Academia Española which is a government sponosored organization for the regularization of the spanish language) comes to be perceived as the natural and correct way to speak. This ideology maps onto social divisions and as a result the language used by the non-elites becomes classified as degraded or less developed (Bernstein's elaborated and restrcited codes). This is reinforced through corrections and above all through the school system. Linguistic capitol is the idea that language, like money, can be used to negotiate the social world. The assumption that Bordieu is criticising is that all people have equal access to this capitol. This assumption hangs on the same ideology that there is a right way to speak and a wrong way and that, through education, the right way can be learned. Bordieu criticizes this line of thinking, arguing that the "officialization" of one form of parole disempowers other linguistic communites and forces them to adopt, like binlinguals, what is essentially a second language in order to survive in society. This is essential the argument Rickford and Rickford make in Spoken Soul and their discussion of ebonics. One of Bordieu's major contributions to linguistic anthropology is his discussion of linguistic hegemony and linguistic ideology and I think that it is clear in this article where his arguments are rooted.


Dave Schatz

Linguistic communism is Bordieu's classification of idealistic language prescriptions. In this he means that several linguists, like Saussere and Chomsky, have presented language as divided into two forms, in Sausserian terms, langue and parole. These are essentially the a) perfected and b) actually-spoken types of language. Bordieu is alarmed by such distinctions, so concrete that they almost describe language as existing as its own ideology, separate from the context utilized. The langue is accepted by the general population as the blueprint of proper grammar and usage, and every deviation of this language thereafter is parole, what is actually said, implied imperfect. It reminds one of communist ideology, where the perfect state is interconnected, accepted across the board as backbone ideology. Bordieu says that these strict interpretations pay no attention to the political and economic structures that may be connected to these differences. He thus offers a hierarchical interpretation of language usage, which takes socioeconomic conditions into account, as well as applications of taught, blueprint language. The official language is imposed by the aristocracy as a social distinction of class. It is at the top level of the language market, frequently accessible to select people. This is a different attitude toward the language structure, where this "perfect" language is not perfect, just limited in accessibility. Those who have this access will automatically have monopoly on language usage, thus promoting their own position in society, a self-perpetuation of distinction. Lower classes are not inherently privy to this form of language, and so use a derivation of official language, which is implied as less official. Education can serve to teach the official, top tier tongue, "correcting" lower class language. This is a change is mental processes, giving one entrance into political ideology of higher socioeconomic positions. Thus language can be seen as capital. Those with more acceptable language usage, set forth by the aristocracy, can be said to have more linguistic currency, giving them access to higher rungs of society. Those with language usages below these preset lines have lower linguistic capital and consequent limited access to higher society. There is no process of accepting a norm, Bordieu says, rather there is no norm, just unification of social differences with linguistic differences, yielding the capital-hierarchy system. Ideology plays a central role to the function of language in society, and this is the primary purpose of this interpretation.


Chelsey Megli

I think that what Bordieu is doing by making this allusion to capitalism is putting pragmatics into play with linguistic theory. Linguistics, for a long time, had been seen as a supersociety organism. Sure actual people used language everyday, but what linguists like Saussure and Chomsky really cared about was how the language itself was created. But Bordieu rightly points out that languages do not exist separately of humankind - their very existence is dependent on the people who use them.  Doesn't it make sense, therefore, that the political and hierarchical powers that govern human relations would also be reflected if not created in the language itself? Even the idea that there is, in some form, a "perfect" state of language implies that such a state of a language must be taught to be understood, and is therefore only privvy to those who can afford the costs of such education. People rarely talk about language in economic or political terms, but I think Bordieu is right on here. People do, in a sense, "own" languages. They identify with the language most associated with them, and use the distinctions within language to supplement differentiating between the other groups of society. Furthermore languages are traded and/or imposed on people, much like commodities in the modern world, and when they are distributed among large populations they are anything but uniform. The use of language by striated societies means that language itself cannot be neutral or separated from that striation. Bordieu is simply pointing out that since language is created by human forces which also shape modes of political, intellectual, social and economic capital, it only makes sense, especially when looking at how language is used, that languages are also composed of capital elements and intrinsic value judgments.


Savannah Fetterolf

In accordance with Dave, I would argue that Bordieu viewed language as a type of class stratification tool.  In a sense, a government or controlling group can choose an official language in an attempt to further assert hegemony over a powerless group.  As Lauren mentioned, the official version of the language would resemble something like Chomsky's concept of language proper.  The group in power, often the aristocracy who have access to the majority of the wealth, choose the official language and begin to codify laws and educate their children using this language.  Therefore, the aristocracy monopolizes the language by institutionalizing it and gains an even tighter grasp upon the economic market, securing their social dominance.  Dialects, then, grow to have a negative reputation as the languages of the uneducated and can, often, reproduce the illiteracy of the lower class.  


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