As has been emphasized many times in earlier posts the supposed dichotomy between language and society is non-existent in two respects. For one thing, language is an entirely social phenomenon and cannot be separated from its social functions. For another, when linguistic rules make reference to social categories such as age, gender, or class, these categories are also themselves linguistic categories. They can and should be strictly distinguished from such parameters as chronological age, biological sex, or socioeconomic status, which can be defined prior to––and without regard to––the investigation of any language. What linguistic expressions index are culture-specific categories such as ‘youthfulness’, ‘femininity’, or ‘upper class’, not as defined in universal, naturalistic terms, but as conventionally encoded and understood by speakers of the language in question at the given time. Far from being “sociological factors” or “social factors bear[ing] upon linguistic features” these are in fact linguistic features. They are language-particular categories of content, indexed by linguistic elements of expression, that are selected for expression in discourse by speakers in accordance with their communicative intentions and with the same degree of freedom (and responsibility) as other categories of linguistic content. While it is a commonplace that language is totally embedded in society (linguistic facts are social facts), what is important to understand is that through the sociolinguistic categories of content indexed by linguistic expressions, the categories of a society are embedded in its language “unevenly”.
When a language changes, it is not only the strictly phonic features that undergo change. In contemporary American English, the paralinguistic features betokening emotional content have changed most radically to encompass bodily and facial movements accompanying speech that were kept to a minimum in the past. Speakers––especially women, but not only––typically use gestures of all kinds to express the emotions animating them, and these gestures extend to facial expressions such as twists of the mouth, eyebrow raising, etc. Whereas British speakers of an earlier era were particularly noted for their “stiff upper lip” as a linguistic characteristic extending beyond character traits, this is only rarely to be witnessed today, the American format having taken over in language as in so many other expressions of social values. This development in the general history of English is probably to be understood as owing its impetus to the rampant dissolution of community solidarity, which then eventuates in a greater need to exhibit one’s emotional state through the use of paralinguistic features beyond words.