Language, Dialect, and Power: The Effect of Language on Social Status
My thesis consists of two parts: a critical essay on language and power in social relations and an original short story which shows the power relations between social classes. It is easy for a person to assume that language is a value-neutral aspect of human culture since it serves most basically as a means of communication between human beings. The principles of language are ingrained so deeply into the foundations of society that such an assumption seems only logical. But to view language in such a way is to overlook the ideologies from which it is manufactured. My thesis seeks to reveal those ideologies. I propose that instead of a value-neutral tool for communication, language is in fact a tool for oppression. Drawing on theorists such as Norman Fairclough and James W. Tollefson, I show that language and language learning are controlled by an elite ruling class in society and used as a defining element of social and economic class. The minority elite use the “standard” dialect, the language of power, as a requirement for high status jobs and political positions and deliberately keep the majority from a thorough knowledge of this language, which preserves socioeconomic inequality. Using this Marxist approach to language, I develop my own dialect in a short story, “Counterpoint.” The story is set in the future where the upper and lower classes speak different dialects, and it is the poor who are stuck in perpetual cycle of subjugation reinforced by the language differences.