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Language, context, and Identity

Discuss About The Knower Structures Intellectual Educational.

An analysis of the interrelation between the language and the community is deep-rooted in the linguistic frameworks of social context and the identities discoursal construction. These are the frameworks such as discourse community, speech community, social networks, disciplinary community, language as a social sign system, language functioning in context, language genre or language etc. This paper will be explaining the relation of language and community by looking at some of these frameworks.

A relationship between language and community can be analyzed by looking at the interaction between the person’s identity, the language of that person, and the context(Alshammari, 2018). In a simplified explanation, members of a community, find their identity in that community, in the way they understand and use that community's vocabulary of the language. This explanation first points to a simple relation between an individual, their community, and its language. The work of (M. A. K. Halliday & Hasan, 1985) narrows this relationship by analyzing the functional foundation of language, its relationship with linguistic contexts, and the society in which it occurs. In other words, people understand each other due to the relationship that largely depends on the understanding of the diverse linguistic backgrounds that everyone is in. In this manner, the languages afford to develop various mechanisms of managing social relationships hence bringing different people together as a community.

The work (M. A. K. Halliday & Hasan, 1985) sees language as structured signs that create a meaning, and this meaning its only understood by the community that is using it. Therefore, language serves a communicative purpose which is very specific to the participants of that culture. Similar to the language pattern, the community has its speaking pattern the same way it has other patterns in social behaviors like kinships, religion, or celebrations. By looking at this perspective, it is possible to see language has context-based structure constituting of the setting which is the community, its users who are the people or social groups who add texts, topics, vocabulary, The language also has the purpose which signifies the social identity as the use of appropriate language demonstrates the discourse conventions. In this agreement, (Holliday, Hyde, & Kullman, 2010) states that understanding others people's cultural constructs and the way they interact with their identities available in the context forms the basis of intercultural communication.

One influential explanation of a discourse community was given by (Swales, 1990). The explanation was grounded on the conception of the analysis of English academic texts. According to (Swales, 1990), there are six features that define a discourse community. These are established common goals, mechanisms that the members use for intercommunication, mechanisms of participatory for providing information and feedbacks, shared lexis, shared genres, and the members’ threshold level with an appropriate degree of applicable contents and discoursal expertise. Thus, for the purpose of identity, emphasis on lexis and genres is considered as the fundamentals that empower a discourse community’s participants to focus on their goals, affiliation normalization, and efficacy of communications among themselves.  

Discourse community

Another explanation is provided by (Wenger, 2008) by looking at the community of practice (COFP) as another term within discourse community that incorporates the structure of social identities via language. Regarding the notion of COFP, the term refers more to the various values and practices that unite communities or detach them from each other.

The COFP involves individuals who are brought together by a common area of expertise ideas or resources (Bamford & Bondi, 2011). Also, it relies on the purposes of the language to work against conformity or works accurately to demonstrate the interplay relationship and identity. The work of (Malinowski, 1966) explains this concept using an example of a cooperative work. The author states that co-operative work involves people coming together to execute a small task. The accomplishment of the task relies on their talks and coordinate movements which stimulate them.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines speech communities as socially dissimilar groups that develop a dialect or varieties of languages that deviate from a national language in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. The SpCom originates from the general foundations of sociolinguistics which are the historical linguistics, dialectology, philosophy of language, early structuralism, and anthropology. However, there is much disagreement among researchers on the some facets of a SpCom such as the  boundaries, membership, and group homogeneity vs group heterogeneity (Patrick, 2001). Additionally, there is uncertainty whether a SpCom is a largely social or more of a linguistic unit.

The multitude of conceptualizations and re-evaluations done on SpCom highlights much divergence and disparity among scholars, which also contributes to some extent in the concept’s ambiguity and deficiency. Nevertheless, authors have been considering SpCom a basic essential factor of language and considered it as a socially-grounded component in the analysis of linguistic (Patrick, 2001). In (Bernstein, 2000), the author brings the notion of cultural reproduction-production where the author states that language must bring to the light the processes of interaction and the possibility for a change. The work of (Bernstein, 2000) tries to explain the concept of recontextualisation by analyzing how practices of pedagogic communication when directly or indirectly regulate aspects of change and cultural reproduction.

According to (Li, 2009), identities are about boundaries which makes someone different from others. Similarly,  academic disciplines have disciplinary territories in their social-historical contexts which helps to filter some people through inclusion and exclusion(Li, 2009). And according to (Hyland, 2015), this interdisciplinary diversity are the outcomes of the homogeneity of the disciplinary communities and their practices. In his discussion, Hyland finds that disciplinary communities are like academic tribes with their particular norms, bodies of knowledge, nomenclature, conventions, language, and styles of inquiry which constitutes cultures.  

Community of Practice

A socialization with disciplinary communities involves acquiring the specific discourse competence that allows individual to fit and participate in the new community. This concept is well articulated by (Maton, 2007)  that the main explanation for the shifting power between scientific and humanistic cultures was the humanist's intellectuals ‘speak different languages,’ and the nature of science being portrayed as specific to language than the speakers. This explanation was also held by Saussure in (Harris & Taylor, 2005) that a language is not for its speakers in its continuous journey of  evolution, but for its stability in a structured system. That is, the speaker is less important than the context. These are some of the disciplines sanctioned rhetorical conventions which are the results of shared values norms and beliefs which and individuals would have to comply with each disciplines language in order to gain and retain the membership.

In linguistic analysis, language is seen as a pattern of signs, and it may differ from one community to the other. The concept of language as a social sign of system was explained by Saussure using an analogy of the chess game  (Saussure, 1959). Saussure explains that, as the way each piece in chess has its semiotic value depending on the position it is placed, the game has laws that govern it, and these principles do not change. Whoever wants to play the game must understand its current state but does not need to understand its history.  In any language, the pattern of signs constitutes principles of its synchronic linguistic approach.

In explaining the Saussure’s conception, (Culler, 1986) states that studying language as a system requires one to identify the essential feature, the elements that make up the language. Members of a community have the understanding of this systems because through time they have adapted to the predetermined structure of that language. For instance, the structure of every “natural” language is the result of a sequence of sedimented social acts in which communication took place. A speech community is a `complex and adaptive language of sign system that through time it has been created and structured as a set of sound patterns for the coordination of activities. A new member to such a community would be need to adapt to these patterns and emulate them.

Language is usually regarded as a symbolic system and it relies on a set of rules which any speaker who needs to use it must master in to give a coherent speech. The concept of linguistic analysis complex syntactic structure is an approach that emanates from an intrapsychological viewpoint and language is seen as a system functioning from inside someone’s brain, and then its application is seen in social purposes. As an interpsychological, language is seen as fashioned by social purpose where the context and social frameworks become part if of the system (Jakobson, 1990).

Speech community

According to (Holliday et al., 2010) when members of a language community oriented to a particular language structure and conceptualize their context-sensitive language usage, they do so by using terms that are only recognized or have meaning in that community. For instance, legal experts would have a different way of saying their things from experts from other fields. Different contexts use different expressions and different types of vocabularies that suit their context. This concept is explained by (Jakobson, 1990) that “every language encompasses several concurrent patterns, each characterized by different functions.”

 Membership in such communities would require someone to understand their expositions, procedures, protocols, explanations etc. Members in the community are recognized in the way they construe their identities and authorities in choosing to align or not to alight with other partners by the choice of their words (Whorf, 1940). In addition, members can also adjust their language style depending on the participants. For example, a conversation between a student and a teacher would be different between a teacher and other teachers.

Language genre determines someone identity in a community in that an individual’s membership will be determined by the competence in the usage of the community’s recognized genres and the way a person complies the community’s e norms. Therefore, competence with community genre is important in a person’s initiation to any other discourse community as one may need to be competent with language abstraction.

In (Swales, 1990) the work has encouraged people to analyze genres according to the communities which use them. The work also demonstrates that genres schemas developed through shared experiences to construct specific contexts. Swales demonstrates how members of academic communities utilize genres regularities for developing relationships, create and dispute ideas and accomplish things.  In other words, genres are community assets which help the users when creating and reading texts giving them an assurance that they understand the context. They enable the new situation to form connections with wider practices and norms. Also, it is not members who rationally choose that the norms are practical, but the constant exposure to the discourse enables them to align with the norms for the interest of the group.  The work of (M. A. Halliday, 1978) explains this concept by demonstrating how a child learns to speak. The work states that people interprets learning to speak as the someone’s mastery of a behavior potential. Aligning with (Swales, 1990) interpretations, both authors agree that learning requires interactions which is a community’s asset that they transmit from one generation to the other.

Disciplinary Community

The notion of complex adaptive system signifies a community which is made up of language users who collectively solves the problems of their developing communication system and even go ahead to come up with novel blending of meanings(Lee, Mikesell, Joaquin, Mates, & Schumann, 2009). As language solves a community’s fundamental social function, the process in which users interact along with domain-general perceptive processes influences the knowledge and structure of a language. Recent studies in cognitive science have demonstrated that there is a pattern use affect language acquisition, use, and changes (Shweder & LeVine, 1984). The processes are also not independent of each other, but they are facets of the similar (CAS).

Therefore, language as a CAS follows some key features. The CAS comprises of multiple speakers (agents) of a speech community who interact with each other.  The systems are adaptive, the agents’ behaviors are based on their past and present interactions together as they change to future behaviors. Also, the speakers’ behaviors are caused by the competing factors that can range from perceptive restraints to social incentives. In addition, the language structure emerges from the interconnected patterns of user’s social collaboration, cognitive ability, and experience.


The aim of this essay was to analyze how language relates to the community by looking at the roles it plays in the individual identities and the community in general. In this attempt the paper went through the various linguistic frameworks of social context and the identities discoursal construction. Those that were discussed were the discourse community which simply denotes a group of people sharing similar views, principles, beliefs etc. The speech community was also discussed. The others that were discussed were disciplinary community, language as a social sign system,  language was also discussed as serving a communicative purpose also discusses as a complex adaptive system.


Alshammari, S. H. (2018). The Relationship Between Language, Identity and Cultural Differences: A Critical Review, 8(4).

Bamford, J., & Bondi, M. (2011). Dialogue within Discourse Communities: Metadiscursive Perspectives on Academic Genres. Walter de Gruyter.

Bernstein, B. B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control, and identity: Theory, research, critique. Rowman & Littlefield.

Culler, J. D. (1986). Ferdinand de Saussure. Cornell University Press.

Halliday, M. A. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London.

Halliday, M. A. K., & Hasan, R. (1985). Language Context and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social Semiotic Perspective. Deakin University Press.

Harris, R., & Taylor, T. (2005). Landmarks In Linguistic Thought Volume I: The Western Tradition From Socrates To Saussure. Routledge.

Holliday, A., Hyde, M., & Kullman, J. (2010). Intercultural communication: an advanced resource book for students (2nd ed). London?; New York, NY: Routledge.

Hyland, K. (2015). Genre, discipline and identity. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 19, 32–43.

Jakobson, R. (1990). The speech event and the functions of language. On Language, 69–79.

Lee, N., Mikesell, L., Joaquin, A. D. L., Mates, A. W., & Schumann, J. H. (2009). The interactional instinct: The evolution and acquisition of language. Oxford University Press.

Li, C. (2009). The study of disciplinary identity—some theoretical underpinnings. HKBU Papers in Applied Language Studies, 13(1), 80–119.

Malinowski, B. (1966). The language of magic and gardening.

Maton, K. (2007). Knowledge-knower structures in intellectual and educational fields (pp. 87–108).

Patrick, P. L. (2001). The speech community.

Saussure, F. de. (1959). Course in general linguistics. New York: Philosophical Library.

Shweder, R. A., & LeVine, R. A. (1984). Culture theory: Essays on mind, self and emotion. Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings (13. printing). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Wenger, E. (2008). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Whorf, B. L. (1940). Science and linguistics. Bobbs-Merrill Indianapolis, IN.

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