The effects of language on social class

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A person's social class is reflected in his speech. People who have lower educational levels or who are new to English-speaking countries often speak different forms or dialects of English than their middle- or upper-class counterparts.

The inability to speak standard business English can interfere with a person's ability to find a high-paying job, obtain an education or become upwardly mobile in society. The lack of language skills are often passed from parents to their children.

Language Structure

Children who come from lower-class homes often use restricted code, which is a form of speech that is commonly used in informal situations. Middle- and upper-class children are more familiar with elaborated code, a form of language that is associated with formal situations. Elaborated code uses a large vocabulary, standard syntax and a high percentage of complete sentences. Restricted code, however, uses fewer words, abbreviated sentences and limited vocabulary. As a result, lower-class children who use restricted code often score lower on IQ tests and have difficulty with abstract concepts. Their lack of language skills interferes with their learning and contributes to the cycle of poverty.


USA Today indicates that children who come from lower-income homes, whose mothers have low vocabulary skills, are at a permanent disadvantage in the classroom. Since they learn to speak at home, they are affected by their mother's lack of vocabulary. They do not read as quickly as their peers, and they often use non-standard English. This can lead to lifelong academic difficulties. These academic learning problems often result in low-paying, minimal-skill jobs when the child reaches adulthood.

Second Language Acquisition

Immigrants who are lacking in English language skills are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to social class and economic advancement. According to the Julian Samora Research Institute, an Urban Institute survey found that insufficient language skills are more directly correlated with food insecurity and economic poverty than how long a person has been in the United States or whether or not he is a legal resident. Although immigrants are well-represented within the labour force, they hold a large percentage of underpaid and low-skill jobs.

Non-Standard Dialects

Regional dialects are often associated with low socio-economic status. Businesses, government agencies, the mass media and educational facilities conduct operations in Standard American English, or SAE. Although all languages and dialects are used to communicate with other members of society and many reflect the speaker's ethnic heritage, people who speak African-American, Appalachian, Southern or other regional dialects are at a societal disadvantage if they are not also fluent in standard English.