Elaborate + Restricted code

summary of Bernstein's theory

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In 1971 Basil Bernstein suggested two categories that are used in language according to
the situation in which we find ourselves.
These are restricted and elaborated codes.
Restricted code
Is mostly used in group situations when we are speaking to people who are likely to
share our interests and experiences.
It is characterised by a limited vocabulary and a basic use of syntax.
They are likely to have a high level of redundancy (predictability) in the words that
are used to encode a message.
Bernstein argues that restricted codes reinforce the sameness of people
communicating in a group.
One way to identify if you are in the company of people using restricted codes is
that you feel excluded by the way in which they are talking.
E.g. lawyers and doctors are likely to use restricted codes, which would include lots
of technical terms and abbreviations.
Elaborated code
Use a wider range of vocabulary, more complex syntax and are much harder to
predict (they are more entropic).
Elaborated codes are less concerned with group relationships and are more
appropriate to the expression of individual ideas.
Using an elaborated code is in many ways an assertion of a person's individuality by
identifying differences between speaker and listener.
Just as the restricted code assumes a background of shared interests, assumption,
or common view of the world, so the elaborated code is about uniqueness and
An individual is not limited to the use of just one of these codes.
E.g. a surgeon may spend much of the day speaking in a restricted code, but spend
her day at the pub talking in elaborated codes.
Bernstein's original research was focussed on the language of children and he
identified how social class directly affected the use of these codes.
In general workingclass children were found to use restricted codes mainly because
working class communities are characterised by closeknit relationships that are
inward looking.
Middleclass children use elaborated codes because their social relations are more
mobile and outward looking.
A characteristic of middleclass language is the capacity to move between restricted
and elaborated codes depending on the situation.


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