Speech Code Theory refers to a framework for communication in a given speech community. As an academic discipline, it explores the manner in which groups communicate based on societal, cultural, gender, occupational or other factors.

A basic definition of speech code by sociologist Basil Bernstein is, "...a coding principle is a rule governing what to say and how to say it in a particular context" (Miller, 2005).

According to communication professor and author Katherine Miller (2005), speech code theory has a background in anthropology, linguistics and communication.

History and Important WorksEdit

Work by Gerry Philipsen has been influential in the development of speech codes theory. Work in the 1960’s influences the theory as it stands today in the field of communication.

Works by Basil Bernstein heavily influenced Philipsen. Bernstein used the term speech codes in sociology and further elaborated on speech codes and their contexts. He also contributed his concise definition, "a coding principle is a rule governing what to say and how to say it in a particular context" (Miller, 2005). Lisa Coutu, an ethnographer, helped to formulate the second proposition of Speech Codes Theory. This proposition states that within any given speech community, there are multiple speech codes. Her evidence comes from a large body of research surrounding Robert McNamara's book, "In Retrospect."

Another important influence is the work of anthropologist and linguist Del Hymes (Miller,2005). His focus was on local speech practices in various cultural and social situations.

The SPEAKING Model Edit

Hymes constructed the SPEAKING model to aid in the search for speech codes in specific speech communities and the letters stand for the following (as reported by Miller):

Situation (setting or scene) Participants (analysis of personalities and social positions or relationships) Ends (goals and outcomes) Acts (message form, content, etc.) Key (tone or mode) Instrumentalities (channels or modalities used) Norms (framework for producing and processing messages) Genre (interaction type)

Teamsterville and Naricema Edit

An often cited study, the “Teamsterville” study, was conducted by Philipsen in Chicago. The study took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. According to Miller, the “Teamsterville” nickname was given to the area of Chicago studied because truck driving was a primary job in that area for men. He studied the speech codes of the men and was able to pinpoint the style of interaction and highlighted important aspects such as styles of child discipline and talk among coworkers. As a followup, another study, the “Nacirema” (American spelled backwards) study was conducted that contrasted the speech of Teamsterville with that of the average American (Miller,2005).

Using these two studies, Philipsen outlined statements that summarize the work within speech code theory. The statements are reported by M. Griffin as follows:

  • The distinctiveness of speech codes (In any given culture, there is a speech code.)
  • The multiplicity of speech codes (Multiple speech codes exist in any given speech community.)
  • The substance of speech codes (A speech code has a distinctive psychology and sociology.)
  • The meaning of speech codes (The speech community assesses the meanings of speech.)
  • The site of speech codes (The terms, premises, and rules of a speech code are inextricably woven into the speech itself).
  • The discursive force of speech codes (Speech Codes impact life.) (Griffin, 2008).

Examples of Places and Situations With Speech Codes Edit

  • Within cultures
  • In workplaces (note that workplaces often also have official speech codes in the legal sense)
  • Within social groups such as special-interest clubs and organizations.

Citations Edit

  • Griffin, M. (2008). "Speech Codes Theory." Introduction to Communication II. New York: McGraw-Hill Primis.
  • Downs, Donald (1993). Codes say darnedest things. Quill; Vol. 81 Issue 8, p19, October.
  • Miller, Katherine. (2005). Communication Theories. New York: McGraw Hill
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