In western society it is typical for males to be forward and direct, and for women to use more polite, and reserved language. In many far eastern cultures it is impolite for men to speak directly at all and in fact difficult topics are often handled, although still very reserved, by women or wives. The language acceptable for use by men with women, and women with men is also different in many cultures. Also what words are used can differ between the genders as well. In Japanese a woman would use ‘ohiya’ to refer to water where as a man would use ‘mizu’.
Politeness theory is what governs what is acceptable or not acceptable to say to another person in certain situations. For instance the US Congress actually has a list of what is and is not acceptable for one member to say of another member, or another branch of government. In sociolinguistics it comes down to face value; specifically certain words which are bold enough to damage the reputation or self image of the speaker or hearer.
Another aspect of sociolinguistics is diglossia which in Greek means two languages. Diglossia describes when two distinct dialects are used within one community. For instance in Greece, old-Greek, which is much more formal is typically used in situations like university discussions and is distinct from the language you would hear, for instance, discussing the price or an item with a street vendor. This is similar to how some churches use different languages as well; Greek Churches use Koine Greek, Old Catholic Churches use Latin, Slavic Churches use Old Slavonic, etc.
As the name would imply sociolinguistics has a social factor. In fact, the language we use is dependant not only on regional or national location, or ethnic differences, but also how well we know each other. In many culture for instance, when speaking on the street one is very reserved and conservative both in terms of the number of words spoken as well as the use of enthusiastic or descriptive words, yet at home much casual. In almost all culture friends are treated differently in speech but many cultures formalize this into language as well.
It is also possible to examine how people manage their language in relation to their cultural backgrounds and their goals of interaction. Sociolinguists might investigate questions such as how mixed-gender conversations differ from single-gender conversations, how differential power relations manifest themselves in language forms, how caregivers let children know the ways in which language should be used, or how language change occurs and spreads to communities. To answer these questions related to language as social activity, sociolinguists often use ethnographic methods. That is, they attempt to gain an understanding of the values and viewpoints of a community in order to explain the behaviors and attitudes of its members.
The study of language in its social context tells us quite a bit about how we organize our social relationships within a particular community. Addressing a person as 'Mrs.', 'Ms.', or by a first name is not really about simple vocabulary choice but about the relationship and social position of the speaker and addressee. Similarly, the use of sentence alternatives such as Pass the salt, Would you mind passing the salt, or I think this food could use a little salt is not a matter of simple sentence structure; the choice involves cultural values and norms of politeness, deference, and status
The basic notion underlying sociolinguistics is quite simple: Language use symbolically represents fundamental dimensions of social behavior and human interaction. The notion is simple, but the ways in which language reflects behavior can often be complex and subtle. Furthermore, the relationship between language and society affects a wide range of encounters--from broadly based international relations to narrowly defined interpersonal relationships.
Language is one of the most powerful emblems of social behavior. In the normal transfer of information through language, we use language to send vital social messages about who we are, where we come from, and who we associate with. It is often shocking to realize how extensively we may judge a person's background, character, and intentions based simply upon the person's language, dialect, or, in some instances, even the choice of a single word.
Sociolinguistics examines the interplay of language and society, with language as the starting point. Variation is the key concept, applied to language itself and to its use. The basic premise of sociolinguistics is that language is variable and changing. As a result, language is not homogeneous — not for the individual user and not within or among groups of speakers who use the same language.
Sociolinguistics is the study of how language serves and is shaped by the social nature of human beings. In its broadest conception, sociolinguistics analyzes the many and diverse ways in which language and society entwine. This vast field of inquiry requires and combines insights from a number of disciplines, including linguistics, sociology, psychology and anthropology.