Gerry Philipsen constructed the Speech Codes Theory while doing social work in a Chicago community where he worked, called "Teamsterville". He got interested originally in communication practices after reading an article entitled "The Ethnography of Speaking." 


He talked to people on the street corner, women on porches and men at corner bars so he could describe the speech codes of residents in Teamsterville. By speech codes, Philipsen means "a system of socially constructed symbols and meanings, premises, and rules, pertaining to communicative conduct." His ultimate goal was to develop a general theory that would capture the relationship between communication and culture. Such a theory would aid cultural researchers in knowing what to look for, and offer clues on how to interpret the way people speak.


Philipsen labeled his work the Speech Code Theory, which specifically seeks to answer questions about existence of speech codes, their substance, the way they can be discovered, and their force on people within a culture. Philipsen outlines the core of Speech Codes Theory in five general prepositions:

  • The Distinctiveness of Speech Codes
  • The Substance of Speech Codes
  • Meanings of Speaking
  • The Site of Speech Codes
  • The Discursive Force of Speech Codes

An example of this that I came up with was how many African Americans tend to use "ebonics" in their vocabulary. Where I work back home, I tend to work in a lot of neighborhoods that are predominanlty black. When black people say the word "ask", it often comes out sounding like "ax". Another word that is pronounced differenly is the word "breath". When black people say this word, it sounds like they are saying "bref". Also, Latino people often say "wuz up", which means "what is up". These are just of few example of the Speech Codes Theory are present in our everyday life.

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