I'm an English teacher, and I'm looking for a theoretical model that suggests language is used differently by different classes. I am aware of Bernstein's Elaborated code, which refers to an elite using an exclusive sociolect, but I think this just refers to spoken language. Is there anything similar?

  • 'Sociolects involve both passive acquisition of particular communicative practices through association with a local community, as well as active learning and choice among speech or writing forms to demonstrate identification with particular groups.' – Edwin Ashworth Dec 2 '13 at 22:47
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    All theoretical models refer to spoken language. Spoken language is the real language, whereas writing is merely a technology for recording spoken language. – John Lawler Dec 3 '13 at 0:34
  • @John Lawler :-) – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '13 at 11:12
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    @JohnLawler I suggest on the contrary that the written and spoken languages are distinct linguistic media, dialects as distinct as jazz and classical music, each bound to distinct pragmatic principles, each capable of distinctive effects the other cannot achieve--and each enriched from time to time with innovations arising in the other. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 3 '13 at 11:15
  • @StoneyB I like it. But, of course, the whole thing is largely driven by the spoken language, as that is far more commonly used, and writing forms do tend to play catch-up. Where they can. But non-verbal language is also an important factor in face-to-face communications. Also, new philosophical and mathematical etc theories may need new language, which is probably first committed to paper or disk. There's the overall -life-informs-language-informs-life- spiral. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 3 '13 at 11:28

You might want to look at the concept of prestige in sociolinguistics:

In sociolinguistics, prestige describes the level of respect accorded to a language or dialect as compared to that of other languages or dialects in a speech community. The concept of prestige in sociolinguistics is closely related to that of prestige or class within a society. Generally, there is positive prestige associated with the language or dialect of the upper classes, and negative prestige with the language or dialect of the lower classes. The concept of prestige is also closely tied to the idea of the standard language, in that the most prestigious dialect is likely to be considered the standard language, though there are some notable exceptions to this rule, such as Arabic

compare the prestige of two languages in diglossia:

refers to a situation in which two dialects or usually closely related languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety (labelled "L" or "low" variety), a second, highly codified variety (labelled "H" or "high") is used in certain situations such as literature, formal education, or other specific settings, but not used for ordinary conversation.

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