Varieties of Language

By Fatchul Mu’in


All languages exhibit a great deal of internal variation. That is to say each language exists in a number of varieties. Nevertheless, what is meant by a variety of a language?. Wardhaugh define it as “a specific set of linguistic items” or “human speech patterns (sounds, words, grammatical features) which can be associated with some external factor (geographical area or a social group) (Wardhaugh, 1986: 22). A language itself can be viewed as a variety of the human languages.

A member of a speech community need not have communicative competence in just one speech variety. He could be competent in a number of them. This claim does not seem so hard to accept when we consider that speech varieties, after all, need not mean what is generally interpreted as ‘language’. A speech variety could be a national language but it could also refer to a geographical or a social dialect (sociolect) or specialized varieties such as register, style, and speech levels, etc). The range of linguistic varieties which the speaker has at his disposal is referred to as a speech repertoire (John T. Plat and H.K. Plat, 1975: 33).

In the discussion of speech varieties the concept of domain is of importance as it signifies the class of situation within which a certain speech variety is used. A domain is also referred to as ‘ a social situation’ as the implementation of the rights and duties of a particular role relationship in the place most appropriate or most typical for that relationship, and at the time societally defined as appropriate for that relationship (John T. Plat and H.K. Plat, 1975 : 36). The domains may refer to those of home, school, employment, mosque, etc)

Such terms as language, standard language, dialect, style, speech level, register, pidgin, Creole are referred to as varieties of the language. In this relation, Fishman states that each language variety can be identified its sound systems, vocabularies, grammatical features, and meaning (Fishman, 1972:5).

Language and Dialect

Every language is a composite of dialects. Banjarese language comprises, at least, two dialects: Banjar Hulu and Banjar Kuala dialects. Although we may not say that one dialect is better than that of another, there is an assumption that one of the dialects is regarded as a prestigious one. It seems that Banjar Kuala dialect is viewed as the prestigious dialect. This assumption is based on the fact that a speaker of Banjar Hulu dialect feels ashamed when using his dialect in the environment of Banjar Kuala speech community. Moreover, the speakers of Banjar Kuala dialect often laugh at those who speak in Banjar Hulua dialect. Furthermore, Javanese language is often divided into some dialects: Surabaya, Solo-Yogya, Banyumas dialects. Solo-Yogya dialect is viewed as the prestigious pne.

The prestigious dialect is often referred to as one that is used by political leaders and the upper socioeconomic classes; it is the dialect used for literature or printed documents; it is taught in the schools; it is used by the military; and it is propagated by the mass media. When a dialect is regarded as a pretigious one, it is often identified as a dominant dialect. This type of dialect is often called the standard dialect. London dialect is the most dominant one in English speech community ( Fromkin and Rodman, 1978 : 258).

In a speech community, there must be, what we call, standard dialect, namely, a dialect that is used by many speakers of the speech community. In Indonesia, we recognize, what is called by, Bahasa Indonesia Baku. In England, British English speech communities determine, what they call, Received Pronunciation (RP). In States Sates, English American speech communities introduce, what we know as, Standard American English (SAE). A dialect taught to nonnative speakers is a standard one.

Geographical Dialect and Sociolect

Language variety can be in the form of dialect that is divided again into geographical, social, age, gender, belief, ethnic, race dialects. (Poedjosoedarmo, 1975). Geographical or regional dialects are usually speech varieties pertaining to a particular local region (Pratt). Wardhaugh (1986) states: “Geographical or regional variation in the way a language is spoken is likely to be one of the most noticeable ways in which we observe variety in language. When we travel throughout a wide geographical area in which a language is spoken, and particularly if that language has been spoken in that area for many hundreds of years, we are almost certain to notice differences in pronunciation, in the choices and forms of words, and in syntax. There may even be very distinctive local colorings in the language that we notice as we move from one location to another. Such distinctive varieties are usually called regional or geographical dialects of the language.”

These develop as different norms arise in the usage of groups who are separated by some kind of geographic boundary. This is commonly in vocabulary (Troike and Blackwell, 82-83); whereas sociolects are speech varieties that signal social status and educational background (Pratt).

With reference to dialect, Trudgill have a notion that in Language, there are two dialects: regional (geographical) and social dialects (14). The former refers to one which is determined by the area from which the speakers come from. In Banjarese Language, for example, we have known the dialects of Banjar Hulu and Banjar Kuala; in Javanese, for example, we have known the dialects of Javanese language of Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Banyumas, and the others.

Social dialect refers to the dialect that is formed based on social levels from which they come from: high, middle, and lower social classes.


The term style refers to a language variety that is divided based on speech or speaking situation into formal and informal styles. We can speak very formally or very informally; our choice of the styles is governed by circumstances. Ceremonial occasions almost require very formal speech; public lectures are somewhat less formal; casual conversation is quite informal; and conversation between intimates on matters of little importance may be extremely informal and casual. We may try to relate the level of formality chosen to a number of factors: (1) the kind of occasion, (2) the various social, age, and other differences that exist between the participants, (3) the particular task that is involved, e.g., writing or speaking, and (4) the emotional involvement of one or more of the participants (Wardhaugh, 48).

In relation to formality in a speech act, Trudgill states:”Formality is not, in fact, something which is easy to define with any degree of precision, largely because it subsumes very many factors including familiarity, kinship-relationship, politeness, seriousness, and so on, but most people have a good idea of the relative formality of particular linguistic variants in their own language” (1974:110)


Varieties of language which are more closely associated with setting or scene in which they are used that with the people who are using them are usually included in the concept of register, and distinguished from one another primarily on the dimension of relative formality (Troike and Blackwell).

The physical setting of an event may call for the use a different variety of language even when the same general purpose is being served, and when the same participants are involved. English greeting forms may differ inside a building versus outside and between participants at differing distances from one another.

This kind of language variety is based on specialty of language use. Register is one complicating factor in any study of language varieties. Registers are sets of vocabulary items associated with discrete occupational or social groups. Surgeons, airline pilots, bank managers, sales clerk, jazz fans, and pimps use different vocabularies. One person may control a number of registers.

Trudgill explains that the occupational situation will produce a distinct linguistic variety. Occupational linguistic varieties of this sort have been termed registers, and are likely to occur in any situation involving members of a particular profession or occupation. The language of law, for example, is different from the language of medicine, which in turn is different from the language of engineering- and so on. Registers are usually characterized solely by vocabulary differences; neither by the use of particular words, or by the use of words in a particular sense (1974:104).

Speech levels

Speech levels (of Javanese language) which are divided into: honorific speech levels (krama madya and krama inggil) and non-respective speech levels (ngoko). In this relation, Soepomo Poedjosoedarmo explains that speech levels (of Javanese language) are also referred to as codes. The speech levels have special characteristics according to the speakers’ social background, the relationship to their listeners, and the speech situation (1975:30). In this relation, Clifford Geertz discusses in the frame of linguistic etiquette. As stated before, in Javanese language we recognize the complicated speech levels. By speech levels are language varieties in which the differences from one to another are determined by the differences of etiquette existing in a speaker and his listener. Those speech levels are ngoko, krama madya, and krama inggil (Geertz, 1960). Each speech level has its own vocabulary, morpho-syntactic rules, and phonology (Poedjosoedarmo, 1979:3-8).

Elaborated Code and Restricted Code

The codes that are used based on the sake of communication can be divided into elaborated code and restricted code. The elaborated code contents complete sentences and fulfils grammatical rules. The speeches are stated clearly; and the change of one sentence to another seems to be logic. Whereas, the restricted code contents short and incomplete sentences; they are only understood by the participants. The other persons sometimes cannot capture the meaning of speeches. This is because the speeches are often influenced by non-linguistic factors at the time and place where the speech events happen. The language used in the informal situation among close friends, the same members of the family, is represented in the short forms.

Bacillus Bernstein, a professor of Educational Sociology at University of London, conducted a research on the codes used in the two different kinds of family: positional-oriented family and person-oriented family. The elaborated code, according to the professor, is generally used in formal situation such as a formal debate or an academic discussion. While the restricted code is generally used in an informal situation (Trudgill, 1974:51-52).

Lingua Franca : Pidgin and Creole

A lingua franca is defined as ‘a language which is used habitually by people whose mother tongues are different in order to facilitate communication between.’ A variety of other terms can be found which describe much the same phenomenon. That is to say that a lingua franca may refer to a trade language, a contact language, an international language (Wardhaugh, 55-56).

A lingua franca is needed in many areas of the world populated by people speaking divergent languages. In such areas, where groups desire social or commercial communication, one language is often used by common agreement (Fromkin and Rodman, 1978 : 267).

The lingua francas may be spoken in the various ways. They are not only spoken differently in different places, but individual speakers varied widely in their ability to use the languages. English serves today as a lingua franca in many parts of the world: for some speakers it is a native language, for others a second language, and for still other a foreign language (Wardhaugh, 56). In the past time, Bahasa Melayu was used as a lingua franca in Indonesian archipelago. Banjarese language may be used as a lingua franca by its nonnative speakers in South Kalimantan; it may be used by Wong Jowo (Javenese people) when communicating with Oreng Madure (Madurese people) in one of the markets in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan.

A pidgin is a language with no native speakers: it is no one’s first language but it is a contact language. That is, it is the product of a multilingual situation in which those who wish to communicate must find or improvise a simple code to enable them to do so. A pidgin is sometimes regarded as a ‘reduced’ variety of a ‘normal’ language, with simplification of the grammar and vocabulary of that language, considerable phonological variation, and an admixture of local vocabulary to meet the special needs of the contact groups (Wardhaugh, 1986 : 56).

Although a pidgin is reduced variety of a normal language, it is not devoid of grammar. The phonological system is rule-governed. The inventory of phonemes is generally small, and each phoneme may have many allophonic pronunciations (Fromkin and Rodman, 1978 : 269).

When a pidgin comes to be adopted by a community as its native tongue, and children learn it as a first language, that language is called a creole. That is to say that the pidgin has been creolized. Creoles are more fully developed than pidgins, generally having more lexical items and a broader array of grammatical distinctions. In time, they becomes languages as complete in every way as other languages. In this relation, we may say that first of all, Bahasa Melayu had been regarded as a pidgin, namely, a variety of language with no native speakers in Indonesian archipelago; it was, then, adopted as Bahasa Persatuan (unifying language) called Bahasa Indonesia. After being adopted as Indonesian community, it has been learnt by Indonesian people as native language. At present, there are native speakers of the language.


In a monolingual speech community, varieties of a given language may be dialects, speech levels, styles, or other varieties of the language. A monolingual speaker having only one language may use his language with some varieties of the language: dialects, styles, or speech levels.

In multilingual speech community, some languages together with their variations become parts of language varieties in the community. Therefore, we can say that varieties of language may refer to a single language and its varieties such as dialect, register, style, speech levels, etc.

In the next chapter, the language varieties are discussed in relation to codes and code switching.


1. What do you know about varieties of language?

2. Referring to Clifford Geertz’s Linguistic Etiquette, explain how Javanese people use their language speech levels!

3. What is meant by register?. Give some examples of registers in different fields of sciences !


  • sabrina

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  • sabrina

    from wardhaugh …what the title of that book

  • beasiswa master

    Genuinely when someone doesn’t know after that
    its up to other viewers that they will help, so here it occurs.

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