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Social Context

Language and Society are closely related, there is no language without society and there is no
society without language. So, language is forms in the society. They are inter-deterministic or
interdependent in the sense that they are mutually inducted or affected; this is to say that at one
time the society or social context determines or depend on language and at another time in its
turn language determines or depends on the society or social context.

Elements of Social Context

In the perspective of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) the social context is constituted by
three elements they are;

1. Ideology ; is considered as the abstract factor, the nearest element to language which is
directly related to language -
2. Situation ; is co
nsidered as the concrete factor and the element which is in between the two factors-
3. Culture; is considered as the moderate factor of social context.

In other word, Language induces Social Perceptions. This is to say that once the social context
has determined and shaped language, the realization become the property of society.
Consequently, speakers of language use language as a means or guide to perceive and interpret
the realities either natural or social realities. Metaphorically language is regarded as a pair of
glass through which the speakers perceive the world. If one is wearing a yellow-color glass s/he
wears a black glass s/he will see the scenery in black or dark color. It can also be metaphorically
said that language is a prison of thought. If one speaks in English, s/he will be looking into the
world through the ‘glass’ of English Language. Similarly one who speaks in BI will perceive the
world through the ‘glass’ of BI. Meanings deeply underlying the Lexicogrammatical system of
English are the Notions of time, number and person. The underlying meanings of time, number
and person are respectively realized in the Lexicogrammatical of English as tense,
singular/plural and concord or agreement between the subject of the sentence and the verb.
Thus if one speak in English, s/he will be constrained, ‘imprisoned’ or ‘jailed’ by the three
notions. No one can speak English grammatically accurate or correct if s/he violates the three
underlying meanings. For example, in the clause she has bought a car the tense is indicate by
has+bought (*has buy, *has buys, *has buying, *having buying, *having buy are all
grammatically incorrect), the singular or plural notion is coded by a car (*car is grammatically
incorrect) and the notion of agreement is realized by she +has (*she have, *she to have, *she
having are all grammatically incorrect).

Linguistics perception has been deeply rooted in the perception of human beings. Because
language ‘imprisons’ or affect the social context (specifically tenor), language users may avoid
expressing words (in foreign language or second language learning situation). For example,
speaker of the Bahasa Batak declaim to say bujangfor what normally means ‘young men’ in BI
as the word bujangis a taboo word referring to female genital. Similarly, in a geography class the
Karo Batak students avoid saying natu in the naming Natuna Islands as the word natuin the Karo
Batak language refers to a man genital.

There is no direct relation between the nature and environment where people live and the
language they speak. This is to say that the reality in the natural setting or in the environment is
not directly represented or realized in language. The relation goes through an intermediary or
intermediate factor between the nature of the environment and language, namely the society or
social context. A reality or natural phenomenon is realized in language if the reality or the
natural phenomenon is motivated by the society or the social context to be coded in language. It
should be noted that the natural phenomenon is only motivated if it is needed by the society or it
is related to human needs. Thus, the social perception is a very crucial factor in determining the
realization in language. The implication is that a natural object in the environment will not be
automatically realized in language if the object has no relation to the needs or aspirations of the
society or the social needs.

In other words, natural and environmental phenomena are realized in language if the phenomena
are related to culture of the speakers. For example, in English there is no word for what is called
terasin BI although the natural object or thing is available in Britain, USA or Australia and
clearly seen by the people. The word terasrefers to the hardest wood in the inner part of the tree.
Indonesian are used to building house from wood and bamboos. Thus the hardest part of a palm
tree is needed for the main poles of the houses. The speaker of English do not need the terasin
their life and it not socially perceived and therefore it is not realize in English. By the same
analogy speakers of Simalungun, which is a sub-ethnic groups of the Bataks perceived a natural
phenomenon as galunggung, which is a piece of land or field left uncultivated to let grasses and
bushes grow for a certain period of time in order to regain the land fertility after having been
grown for a long period of time. Language or dialects of other sub-ethnic groups of the Batak
such as the Toba, Karo, Angkola/Mandailing and PakpakDairi do not lexicalize the natural

Further the same reality or natural phenomenon maybe differently perceived by speakers of two
different languages or dialects. To exemplify, the Malays in eastern parts of Sumatera call a
species of bird as tempuaand the Javanese name the bird as manyar.The Malays have deeper or
even philosophical perception on the tempuaas they have proverb saying kalua tidakadaberada,
tidaktempuabersarangrendah ‘there must be reason if tempuras live in low nets’. The proverb
indicates a philosophical view which implies that if a person suddenly turs up to be kind of
generous to you, you should be alert that s/he must have a certain hidden (usually bad) plot, plan
or intention. In the natural setting the tempuasalways build their nets high above the ground.

Normally the bird builds their nets at the tops of tall tree such as the coconut, palm, teak or juhar
trees which are approximately 40 meters above the ground. However , once in a while the
tempuasmay build their nets in bush, is approximately 1.5 meters above the ground. Predator
often try to intrude their nets to prey on their young babies or eggs. However, their attempt or
rarely successful because the intruders will be met with by poisonous dragon wasps, bees or
snakes. The tempuaswill be low nets only and only if the bumpers such as the poisonous bees,
snake or other wild animals are around. Thus, the tempuasare very wise birds. The Javanese
perception is not as deep as the Malay’s. In other words, the Javanese just view the
manyarphysically as very skillful birds at building their beautiful nets and very good singing

Language is a social phenomenon. The implication is that language is a resource for doing things
or making meanings to others rather than for thinking for or about one self. In other words,
language is an inter-organism rather than intra-organism phenomena. In addition to the
implication is that the society is reflected in language or language is analogous to the society. As
the society is stratified, i.e there are strata in the society with reference to certain criteria,
language is correspondingly stratified. For example, the society can be stratified in terms of
socio-economic status (SES) as those belonging to the working class, middle class and higher
class. In line with the stratification, language also has variations, such as the variation belonging
to the language of the working class, middle class and higher class people. The variation of
language like this is known as dialect.

The social may also vary in terms of functions done by members of the society. In other words,
members of the society vary with respect to their activities, i.e what they do in the society. Thus,
the society may be categorized in terms of their profession such as Doctor, Teachers, Engineers,
Lawyers, Farmers, etc. variety of language used by Doctor is different from that used by farmers.
Similarly the variety of language used in seminars is different from that used in gossips. The
variety of language based on the functions done by members of the society is known as register,
diatypic or functional variety of language.