English Language AS: Part 3 - Social Groups

As Level English Language Revision Document, AQA – Paper 2 Revision: Social Groups

Social Groups

Key terms Labov’s New York study Trudgill in Norwich Cheshire’s Reading Teens Social Network Theory Giles: CAT

Key terms:

Social group: a collection of people that form a community over something that is shared throughout the members

Social class: divisions in society based on socio-economics

Sociolect: a style of language used within a particular social group

Familect: a style of language used within a family

Ethnolect: a style of language used within a particular ethnic group

Idiolect: an individual’s personal language use

Social groups include:

  • Gender

  • Religion

  • Occupation

  • Social class (working, middle, upper)

  • Region

  • Sexuality

  • Age

  • Family

  • Friends

  • Interest/hobby

  • Academic

Labov’s New York Department Stores

Aim: Test if class affected the way people spoke.

Hypothesis: The higher the social class the more people would pronounce the /r/ sound as it had considerable social prestige in New York than those in the lower classes.

Method: Labov tested the speech of sales assistants in three Manhattan departments stores – Saks, Macy’s and Kleins – which were considered upper, middle and working class respectively. Each worker of the shops were approached and asked a question by the experimenter to elicit the answer ‘fourth floor’ allowing them to test the usage of /r/ sounds in two places the preconsonantal position in ‘fourth’ and final position in ‘floor’. The interviewer pretended not to hear the answer and leant forward and asked them to repeat the answer – this allows for testing when the sales assistant is more aware of their speech and when speaking casually.

Findings: Labov found that sales assistants from Saks (upper class) used the /r/ sound the most as he predicted, followed my Macy’s (middle class) and Kleins (lower). He also found that those from Macy’s (middle class) showed the most upwards convergence as when they were asked to repeat the used the /r/ sound even if they hadn’t the first time.

Trudgill in Norwich

Aim: Test distinctions in speech due to class.

Hypothesis: People from a lower class would pronounce words ending -ng with an /n/ rather than the velar nasal sound.

Method: Collected a sample of 50 people from Norwich as well as 10 children from 2 different schools. Using a questionnaire he established each participant’s social class. He used 4 methods of testing the participant’s usage of the velar nasal sound in words ending -ng. The four testing methods had ranging formality; reading a word list, reading a passage, formal conversation, casual conversation (from the most to least formal).

Findings: For every class people were more likely to use the velar nasal in more formal speech. Those of a lower class were much less likely to use the velar nasal sound. In all cases women had a proportional higher usage of the velar nasal sound.

When questioned women thought they were speaking closer to received pronunciation than they actually were and men claimed to be speaking with more non-standard


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