The Scope of Sociolinguistics

  • Dell Hymes
Part of the Modern Linguistics Series book series


Chomsky’s (1965) work is a decisive step, not only in extending the scope of linguistic theory, but also in redefining the nature of its object. For ‘language’ Chomsky substitutes ‘competence,’ defined as a fluent native speaker’s knowledge (largely tacit) of grammaticality — of whether or not putative sentences are part of his language, and according to what structural relationships. The goal of linguistic description is thus changed, from an object independent of men, to a human capacity. Both changes (deep structure, human capacity) are felt to be so great as to lead transformational grammarians to reject ‘structural linguistics’ as a name for their work, and to use it solely to describe other schools as predecessors. From a social standpoint, transformational grammar might equally well be seen as the culmination of the leading theme of structural linguistics. To center analysis in a deep structure, one grounded in human nature, is to fulfill an impulse of structural linguistics to treat language as a sphere of wholly autonomous form. Such a theory perfects and gives the ultimate justification to a study of language at once of human significance and abstracted from actual human beings.


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  • Dell Hymes

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