The particular set of features, which identifies a language variety, does not represent the features of the language as a whole. Variety features depend on the presence of certain factors in a social situation. Classifications of these factors vary, but we may group them into two types according to most general dimensions: sociolinguistic and stylistic factors.
Sociolinguistic factors are connected with very broad situational constraints on language use. They chiefly identify the regional and social varieties of the language. They are relatively permanent features of the spoken and written language, over which we have comparatively little conscious control. We tend not to change our regional or social
group way of speaking in every-day communication and usually we are not aware of using it.
Stylistic factors relate to restrictions on language use that are much more narrowly constrained, and identify individual preferences in usage (phraseology, special vocabulary, language of literature) or the varieties that are associated with occupational groups (lawyers, journalists, scholars). These are features, over which we are able to exercise some degree of conscious control.
As David Crystal, a famous British linguist puts it, regional language variation of English provides a geographical answer to the question 'Where are you from, in the English-speaking world?'
Social language variation provides an answer to a somewhat different question 'Who are you?' or 'What are you in the eyes of the English-speaking society to which you belong?' (33, p. 393). Actually social variation provides several possible answers, because people may acquire several identities as they participate in the social structure. One and the same person may belong to different social groups and perform different social roles. A person may at the same time be described as 'a parent', 'a wife', 'an architect', 'a feminist', 'a senior citizen', 'a member of Parliament', 'an amateur sculptor', 'a theatre-goer'; the possibffities may be endless.
Any of these identities can have consequences for the kind of language we use. Language more than anything else will testify to our permanent and temporary roles in social life.
Some features of social variation lead to particular linguistic consequences. In many ways our pronunciation, choice of words and constructions, general strategy of communication are defined by the
age, sex and socio-economic aspects. Choice of occupation has a less predictable influence, though in some contexts, e. g. medicine or law it can be highly distinctive.
Adopting a specific social role, such as making a congratulatory speech or conducting a panel talk, invariably entails a choice of appropriate linguistic forms.
Across the world attitudes to social variation differ a lot. All countries display social stratification, though some have more clearly defined boundaries than others and therefore more distinct features of class dialect. Britain is usually said to be linguistically more class-conscious than other English-speaking countries.
For example, in England one accent has traditionally dominated over all others and the notion of respectable social standing is usually associated with Received Pronunciation (RP), considered to be the 'prestige accent'.
However today with the breakdown of rigid divisions between social classes and the development of mass media RP is no longer the prerogative of social elite. Today it is best described as an 'educated' accent which actually has several varieties. Most educated people have developed an accent, which is a mixture of RP and various regional features that sometimes is called 'modified RP'.
This is one example that shows a general trend in modern English-regionally modified speech is no longer stigmatised as 'low', it can even be an advantage, expressing such social values as solidarity and democracy. A pure RP accent, by contrast can even evoke hostility, especially in those parts of Britain that have their own regional norms, e. g. Scotland and Wales.
Occupational varieties of the national language are normally associated with a particular way of earning a living. They belong to the group of stylistically determined varieties and differ from both regional and social sublanguages.
Features of language that identify people's geographical or social origins, once established can hardly change over a short period of time. It would be very difficult to change your accent if you move from one part of the country to another with a different regional norm; it is equally difficult to transform the linguistic indicators of our social background (vocabulary and structural expression).
Occupational varieties are not like that. Their linguistic features may be just as distinctive as regional or social features, but they are only in temporary use. They 'go with the territory' - adopted as we begin work and given up as we finish it. People who cannot stop 'talking shop' even when they are not at work are rather an exception to the rule.
Any professional field could serve as an illustration of occupational linguistic identity. There are no class distinctions here. Factory workers have to master a special glossary of technical terms and administrative vocabulary (seniority labels, term of service, severance pay, fringe benefits, safety regulation) in order to carry out professional communication. To fulfil their tasks they develop jargon and professional slang, which set them apart from outsiders. The more specialised the occupation and the more senior or professional the position the more technical the language. Also, if an occupation has a long-lasting and firmly established tradition it is likely to have its own linguistic rituals which its members accept as a criterion of proficiency. The highly distinctive languages of law, government and religion provide the clearest cases, with their unique grammar,
vocabulary, and patterns of discourse. Of course, all occupations are linguistically distinctive to a certain degree. In some cases it involves only special terms; in others it may be a combination of linguistic features on different levels as will be shown in the last section of this chapter.