Language ideology is a theory whereby people are defined or judged by the language they speak. This involves different aspects of language including intonation, dialect, accent, grammar and vocabulary. The interaction of people from different backgrounds in a social setting invariably leads to the assignment of people to different categories. One of the methods of categorizing people is through the language they speak. Language ideology also applies to written forms of communication. An example of this can be seen in the distinct language used for sending text messages and for writing on social networking sites.
The application of language ideology has served as the basis of profiling people. This is a basis for social discrimination based on a person’s manner of speaking. For instance, certain sections of the inhabitants of a society may have become associated with a certain manner of speaking. The theory of language ideology states that when any member of that sector speaks in that manner, all of the assumptions and prejudices harbored against the group as a whole will automatically be transferred to that person. Such a person does not need to be physically seen for the assumption to apply. He or she may simply be talking on the phone to another member of the general society and the manner of speaking will lead to the association.
Another example of the application of language ideology is in the assumption of class through manner of speech. Hearing someone speak with an upper-class British accent may lead to favorable conclusions about the person even without seeing him or her. This assumption is not based on the person; rather, it is based on the attributes that have been associated with that manner of speech. The same applies to grammar. Someone who cannot speak English well may be thought of as uneducated.
Dialects also play a role in the application of language ideologies. If two tribes within a country that speak different dialects are fighting each other, both sides may harbor feelings of hatred for the other. When any member of either side of the conflict hears anyone speak in the language of the other side, the feelings of hatred and suspicion will automatically be transferred to that person. It would not matter if the person was born in another country and had only come to visit for the first time. The mere fact that the person spoke the other dialect would mean that such a person was the enemy by the transference of ideas about the tribe as a whole.