Bet you’re wondering what Shakespeare has to do with communication. The answer???
But these words are the first words I thought of when dealing with the socio-cultural tradition. Why? Because under this tradition, communication is viewed as the creation and enactment of social reality. We use language, and hence communication, to shape the world in which we exist. (Sounds kinda like a play of our lives, right?)
Since our culture is a large part of our reality and what shapes us as beings, socio-cultural scholars believe that culture is created and recreated through language. We pass the stories down through the ages and they manifest according to each person’s interpretation of them.
This culture then goes on to form the context for communication in which interpretation takes place. As a result of all of that, we begin to form and work out our understandings, meanings and norms.
When it comes to communication specifically, language is viewed as a vessel for communication. Words do not reflect what actually exist, but rather the ways in which we communicate and that which we communicate about are what shape our understanding of the world in which we live.
You know, when I was younger I always wondered what made a cat a cat rather than anything else. Turns out I had to wait nearly 20 years to find out the answer to that question. Not a single thing…I mean other than the fact that we call it a cat, of course.
The socio-cultural theory focuses on how identities are established and discovered through communication events, or interaction with others.
Within this tradition, as in most of the ones we’ve dealt with already, there are a number of variations. Symbolic interaction, for example, deals with the notion that how people act towards things is based on the meaning the things have to them.
So as cute as this little guy is, my mother will still always see him as a little ball of death. No kidding, that’s exactly what she calls it. She’s not mean, just…very very allergic.
The next variation, social constructionism, opines that human knowledge is constructed through social interaction. In this instance, the language we use to describe and explain what is going on around us takes precedence over how the world actually is.
Thirdly, sociolinguistics highlights the notion that people use language differently in different social and cultural groups, and thus language influences who we are as social and cultural beings. I went to an international youth conference a couple years ago and I was the only Barbadian there, but I meant a whole bunch of people from all over the world and for the most part we used ‘standard’ English as the lingua franca.
My linguistics lecturers are probably sensing a disturbance in the force from me saying ‘standard English’.
But, when I spoke to people from Trinidad, I was able to slip back into the more Caribbean version of English we used. In the same vein, I tend to speak in simpler terms with my friends than I do with my teachers. I get told to ‘dumb it down’ a lot.
The fourth variation is the philosophy of language, which is that the meaning of language depends on its actual use. Therefore in interpreting language, we have to consider the context in which that language is used, who used it and all that jazz to assess its meaning.
The last are ethnography and ethnomethodology. Big word and bigger word. The former looks at how social groups build meaning via verbal and nonverbal communication behaviours. The latter carefully observes micro-behaviours in real-life, real-time situations.
Variations and derivations aside, the socio-cultural theory is meant to how communication helps us all to form an understanding of the word. The main idea is that the perception of reality is crafted through the human ability to use language to express that reality.
Cyndi, the Traditionalist
(who creates her own reality)