Speech Community - Practice Theory

Practice Theory

Practice theory, as developed by social thinkers such as Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens and Michel de Certeau, and especially the notion of the community of practice as developed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger has been influentially applied to the study of the language community by linguists such as William Hanks and Penelope Eckert

Eckert's primary interest was in finding an approach to sociolinguistic variation that didn't presuppose any social variable as a given (e.g. class, gender, locality). Instead she aimed to build a model which was able to discover which variables are in fact the ones that matter to the group of individuals in question, the common purposes around which communities organize themselves. For Eckert the crucial defining characteristics of the community is a persistence of over time and commitment to shared understanding.

Eckert wished to focus on the subgroups and how tension between the goals and practices of subgroups that coexisting within a macro-community dynamically interrelate and generate social change. She acknowledges that Gumperz' definition of the speech community is not incompatible with the practice approach, but rather complimentary to it, and she suggests to study the two simultaneously as they mutually affect each other. Eckert's perspective on the community of practice privileges the study of how social identity is produced, and as such it studies language primarily as it relates to questions of identity.

Hanks' concept of the linguistic community as defined by linguistic practices is different from that of Eckert and Gumperz, in that rather than studying the dynamics of identity production, it studies the ways in which shared practices relate to the production of linguistic meaning. Where Eckert primarily studies how communities of practice employ linguistic practices informed by shared ideologies to demarcate themselves from other such communities, Hanks studies how linguistic practices are related to a variety of inhabitable positions within the different social fields that are constructed through shared practices.

Read more about this topic:  Speech Community

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