Language variation

Social class and it's impact on Language (variation)

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Malcolm Petyt and social climbing in Bradford, Wes

Petyt studied the useage of common linguistic variables in many northern English accents and the omission of the initial /h/ in their speech in words like 'hat' in which they say 'at' instead. The omission of the /h/ sound is known as H-dropping.

Petyt's study shows that the greater regional accent use in the working class, diminishes as you move up the social class scale. In the case of Bradford H-dropping was shown to be highly varied in usage at the 2 extremes of the social scale. The results from the study shows that the upper middle class rarely used H-dropping (12%) compare to the lower end of the social class scale, the lower-working class that had a very frequent use of it (93%). Petyt also concluded that:

  • When individuals may move up the social class scale (social mobility), they would modify their speech a bit further towards RP aswell as making less use of non-standard features like H-dropping.
  • Speakers who moved up in the social class scale made a conscious effort (which appeared exaggerated), to change their pronunciation of vowel sounds, known as hypercorrection. For example, using both /u/ and /uh/ forms that often result in the use of the wrong form e.g. /uh/ in the first vowel sound of the word 'cushion'.
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Peter Trudgill and Vernacular in different registe

Trudgills' research (1974) into class-based use of regional accent forms (vernacular) in Norwhich is similar to that of Petyt but is more in-depth and looks into the differeneces between males and females in each social class. Trudgill gathered his findings by getting participants to: read a wordlist and a passage as well as looking at formal and casual convo. Trudgill found people were highly conscious of their pronunciation in highly formalised activity e.g. reading aloud word lists. These findings illustrate the influence of observer's paradox.

The focus of the research was into the frequency of pronunciation words ending with the velar nasal /ng/ sound, being pronounced as the non-standard, regional variant /n/ e.g. saying 'walkin' rather than 'walking'. Overall findings of Trudgill:

The lower social classes used more examples of /n/ pronunciation rather than /ng/, particularly in informal contexts. Men also used more /n/ rather than /ng/ than women.

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Jennifer Cheshire and peer groups in Reading

Cheshire's study in the 1980s, in Reading, is different from Trudgill's and Petyt's as it focused on more linguistic analysis and focused on grammatical variants. Cheshire made her own concept of social class by creating 2 groups of girls. Group A (represent middle class cohort) expressed disapproval of crime, weapons etc whereas the girls in Group B(represent working class cohort), approved.

Cheshire looked at linguistic features such as use of non-standard '-s' e.g 'they calls me names' and 'ain't' as a verb used to 'couple' a subject to a compliment (known as copula verb) e.g. 'you ain't no boss'.

Cheshire's results were less clear-cut in their distinction between the two social groups than Trudgill's and Petyt's findings. Although we can state that, Group B shows clear instances of using more non-standard forms, in 5 out of 8 of the grammatical variants. In 2 of the grammatical variants both Groups used an equal ammount and in one Group B used a lower ammount of the non-standard use of 'what' e.g. 'are you the ones what hit him'. Therefore it is clear that both groups of girls used a significant amount of non-standard language. Her findings are also similar in groups of boys and found that for all of the children, patterns of non-standard usage were an important part of the groups identity to which members conformed.

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Ethnicity- Pidgins and Creoles

When language contact occurs between 2 or more languages, new language forms appear by the exchange of grammatical, lexical and phonological elements. Such as, Chinese Pidgin English (CPE) which began in the 17th century as a lang. used between English and Chinese speakers in trade. The results are know as pidgin and creole forms:

Pidgin: Defined as a simplified lang form created through lang contact to support an activity such as trade. Pidgin is only spoken by people placed in particular social contexts, rather than having any native speakers. Non-pidgin speakers who do speak one of the source languages that have contributed to it are unlikely to be able to understand the pidgin without experience of it.

Creoles:Defined as a lang variety created by previous lang contact and then developed over successive generations of users. It develops from a Pidgin, as it becomes more established and starts to be used by second generation, native speakers. The grammar is a simplified form, derived from the source languages.

As time changes, fully mixed langs can appear, which are as grammatically complex as the individual source langs that have contributed to them- as English itself has done over many centuries.

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Mark Sebba and London Jamaican

London Jamaican has evolved as a result of the lang needs of immigrant communities in England and produced 2nd and 3rd or further-generation speakers. Mark Sebba identified the main choice of young, new-generation speakers born into London's Caribbean communities as effectively being between Caribbean creole forms; cockney forms that he summed up as 'London English; and standard English/RP forms. Sebba defines London Jamaican as a lang with a combo of phonolgical. lexical and grammatical elements from all 3 sources. Sebba's work in 1990s shows the possible range of pronunciation variables available to a London Jamaican speaker. The table below illustrates this:

Much of Sebba's research involved interviewing and recording the speech of young, British-born teens, who had Jamaican parentage.

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Sue Fox and 'multi-ethnic youth dialect'

Sue Fox's research is focused on dialect of youths from many different ethnic backgrounds throughout London, at the start of the 21st century. Fox's findings suggest a variety of MEYD , which she has termed 'Multicultural London English' (MLE) with obvious characteristics drawn from influences of several other such as Creole and cultural sources.

MLE is identified with by adolescent users in the wider city environment of greater London - although evidence suggests it is gaining ground in other large cities like Bristol and Birmingham. Fox found that speakers of the multicultural dialect are drawn from White, Black and Asian communities alike.

MLE is a rapidly changing dialect. Words, phrases and even pronunciation features only remain current for a short time unti replaced by new trend.

'Jafaican'- term which implies an in-authentic mimicking of black-origin lang forms by white speakers such as Ali G.

However the research by Fox and linguists such as Kerswill, suggests MLE is a genuine and evolving dialect for both white and black speakers.

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Cheers Jaz, how's Wes by the way? Send him my love. 

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