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Context is a notion used in the language sciences (linguistics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, pragmatics, semiotics, etc.) in two different ways, namely as

  • verbal context
  • social context

Verbal context refers to surrounding text or talk of an expression (word, sentence, conversational turn, speech act, etc.). The idea is that verbal context influences the way we understand the expression. Hence the norm not to cite people 'out of context'. Since much contemporary linguistics takes texts, discourses or conversations as its object of analysis, the modern study of 'verbal context' takes place in terms of the analysis of discourse structures and their mutual relationships, for instance the coherence relation between sentences.

Traditionally, in sociolinguistics, social contexts were defined in terms of objective social 'variables', such as those of class, gender or race. More recently, social contexts tend to be defined in terms of the social identity being construed and displayed in text and talk by language users.

In his new multidisciplinary theory of context, Teun A. van Dijk rejects objectivist concepts of social context and shows that relevant properties of social situations can only influence language use as subjective definitions of the situation by the participants, as represented and ongoingly updated in specific mental models of language users: context models.

The influence of context parameters on language use or discourse is usually studied in terms of language variation, style or register (see Stylistics). The basic assumption here is that language users adapt the properties of their language use (such as intonation, lexical choice, syntax, and other aspects of formulation) to the current communicative situation. In this sense, language use or discourse may be called more or less 'appropriate' in a given context. It is the language or derigitave terms surrounding set paragraph, novel or article.

References

  • De Fina, A., Schiffrin, D., & Bamberg, M. (Eds.). (2006). Discourse and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Duranti, A., & Goodwin, C. (Eds.). (1992). Rethinking context. Language as an interactive phenomenon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Eckert, P., & Rickford, J. R. (2001). Style and sociolinguistic variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Fetzer, A. (2004). Recontextualizing context. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Ghadessy, M. (Ed.). (1999). Text and context in functional linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Givón, Talmy. (2005). Context as Other Minds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • William Labov (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Leckie-Tarry, H. (1995). Language & context. A functional linguistic theory of register. London: Pinter Publishers.
  • Stalnaker, Robert Culp (1999). Context and content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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