Citizen Sociolinguistics: What is it?

People often understand the way they speak by what other people tell them about it. Even the most eloquent speakers may hear those censorious voices behind their own: That is not proper. That sounds non-native. That’s not a word.

Why should this be? Why would we let others define the way we speak when we are the ones closest to our own communication? When, often, what other people tell us about our own language is no more informed than our own intuitions? And, when what other people tell us is less informed about the fabric of our own living?   Why do we let other people tell us how to talk when we are the ones trying to communicate?

For some reason we want standardized depictions of our own communicative ventures. Of course, this might seem logical—we need a shared language, after all. And yet, often these standardized depictions are limited in scope, vision, or utility. These standardized versions don’t seem to capture what really matters—they’re “not what I really meant.” So, when given the opportunity, people speak up about what they know, uniquely, about the language they use.

I call such speaking up about one’s own language, Citizen Sociolinguistics. And that is what this blog is about. In this blog, I explore what people say when they speak about language from a perspective of someone who knows their own context, who uses language there, and who cares about communicating.

Because, while censorious voices lurk behind each individual’s unique voice–“That’s not proper” or “That’s not a word” or “That sounds non-native”– people speaking out loud usually have inner retorts: “I do not want to sound proper right now.” “I like the unique flavor of my own “non-native” diction.” “It’s a word now—because I’m using it!”

Today, in large part because of the medium of the Internet, we can bear witness to those inner retorts. Paradoxically, the Internet does not limit us to standardized versions of communication; Rather, it provides a medium to talk back to those inner censorious standardizers.

While, as we shall see, sometimes people broadcast internalized censoriousness, (“I know I sound funny”) people also broadcast pride in their own sense of who they are and have taken to the Internet to spread the knowledge of their own unique voice (“People say I sound funny, but let me show you something…”).

In general, the Internet provides a medium for everyday perspectives on language and communication and this blog will be a place to explore those understandings. So, what are your experiences as a citizen sociolinguist? Have you experienced inner (or outer!) censoriousness? Share your experiences and speak out here! I invite your comments.


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