The Linguistic Marketplace

The concept of the economic market where goods are traded achieving a certain price has been transferred to the application of language in society. Accordingly, the concept of the linguistic marketplace (or talk market) denotes that there is a marketplace for the application of language and that language – a speaker’s linguistic capital – is consequently applied on a linguistic market where different linguistic varieties have different market values and therefore achieve different prices. That is, the varieties (and their use on the linguistic market) are either valued positively or negatively and they are thus ascribed with differing levels of prestige/non-prestige. In order to succeed on the linguistic market it is necessary to apply the linguistic variety which has the highest market value.

If society as a whole is viewed as a macro-market for language application, we find that there are also diverse micro-markets (e.g. families, peer-groups etc.) where the value of a linguistic variety may principally differ from the value this variety has on the wider macro-market. For example, at a certain stage in their life adolescents are usually part of social networks characterized by the use of a high frequency of non-standard variants, i.e. specific youth language which has a high market value on the micro-market of the peer group. However, this value is characteristically lower outside this micro-market.

The concept of the linguistic marketplace can be used to explain the occurrence of age-graded variation (-> Age Pattern: Language and Age). We find that the entrance into working life constitutes a developmental step in the life of the individual with which the use of non-standard variants generally decreases. There is a job market that also exerts linguistic pressure on individuals leading them to sound less non-standard. As soon as they start to work, the use of the standard variety becomes a necessary requirement for the (linguistic) success in working life. Conversely, as soon as withdrawal from working life is the case, there is no longer any pressure exerted in the direction of using the standard variety thus paving the way for increasing use of non-standard variants again.

The concept of the linguistic marketplace (‘marché linguistique’) goes back to the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu presents a formula for linguistic variation which shows the influence of the linguistic marketplace as a relevant factor governing language use.

sprachlicher Habitus + sprachlicher Markt = sprachlicher Ausdruck, Diskurs

Source: Bourdieu, P. (1993). Der Sprachliche Markt. In P. Bourdieu, Soziologische Fragen (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp), p. 115.

The concept of the linguistic marketplace has been applied in Canadian sociolinguistic research by David Sankoff and Suzanne Laberge who argue that linguistic variation in society is also dependent on the degree to which an individual’s economic activity, i.e. his or her occupation, requires knowledge of the standard variety. This may be a significant factor for an explanation of linguistic variation between speakers with similar socio-economic status. For example, due to the need to communicate with diverse guests, a hotel receptionist with lower social status may use standard speech to an extent that is usually regarded as untypical of speakers with lower social status.

Read More:

Sankoff, D. and Laberge, S. (1978). The Linguistic Market and the Statistical Explanation of Variability. In: David Sankoff (ed.). Linguistic Variation: Models and Methods (New York: Academic Press), 239 – 250.

The concept of the linguistic marketplace is of importance for the explanation of linguistic variation in so far as it can illustrate the impact of the following factors on language use:

(1) social context (as constituted by the linguistic market),
(2) power (social pressure, i.e. ‘market pressure’: social control that is executed by the linguistic market),
(3) knowledge (a speaker’s linguistic capital (communicative competence) that enables him/her to use the linguistic variety with the highest market value).