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Sociolinguistics 7

Sociolinguistics 7. Acts of identity. The story so far. We classify people in terms of general ‘person-types’ E.g. Man, Brit, Londoner, Educated We apply the same classification to ourselves as we search for a social identity . Our identity varies according to:

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Sociolinguistics 7

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  1. Sociolinguistics 7 Acts of identity

  2. The story so far • We classify people in terms of general ‘person-types’ • E.g. Man, Brit, Londoner, Educated • We apply the same classification to ourselves as we search for a social identity. • Our identity varies according to: • Who we are interacting with • The situation (e.g. formal/casual)

  3. Who am I?

  4. Variable isa • Membership of a category is usually a matter of degree, • E.g. a chair is a ‘better’ item of furniture than an ash-tray. • Similarly for our social self-classification, • E.g. my daughters are ‘better’ Londoners than I am. • Degrees of membership can be shown as percentages.

  5. Language • We signal our social identity in various ways, e.g. clothing, behaviour. • Perhaps the most important signal is language because: • It’s learned socially. • It allows many distinctions (e.g. one per phoneme). • Each token (instance) can be chosen independently, which allows fine-tuning.

  6. Acts of identity • Every word is an “act of identity in a multi-dimensional social space” (Le Page). • This is different from (simple) accommodation because we’re following • Abstract social prototypes (‘person-types’) • Not the people in front of us. • Acts of identity fine-tune our face (= ‘public self-image’)

  7. Liverpool

  8. How do they talk in Liverpool? • LUCK = LOOK = [lk], LOVES = [lvz] • POT ≠ PART, LOST = [lst] • But:

  9. Who are they?

  10. New York • How do you study “the language” of a complex city such as New York? • William Labov’s answer (PhD, 1962-66): study sociolinguistic variables. • E.g. (r): [r] ~ Ø (e.g. car = [kɑ:r] ~ [kɑ:]) • He tested this idea with a brilliant pilot study.

  11. Background • Labov (a New Yorker) observed that (r) was variable. • The old standard in NYC was (r):Ø. • The new educated standard seemed to be (r):[r] • For example,

  12. Hypotheses • Use of (r) varies with social class and age. • Maybe sex matters too. • And ‘style’ (attention to language). • And phonological context (before C or word-final).

  13. Method: speaker selection • Select an easy measure of “education”: • wealth. • Select places which cater for people of differing wealth: • department stores. • Three stores qualified: • Saks: for the very rich • Macy’s: for the comfortably off • Klein: for the poor

  14. Klein • By 1986, when a student replicated the experiment, Klein had gone out of business.

  15. Method: choice of words • Select some words containing (r), e.g. fourth, floor. • Get assistants in those places to say those words: • Ask where to find some item known to be on the fourth floor. • Then pretend not to have heard the answer. • Record their answers out of sight.

  16. Results • In this way he collected data from 264 subjects in just over six hours. • He counted (r):[r] as % of all (r). • He distinguished: • Saks, Macy’s, Klein • First and second utterance • Fourth and floor

  17. (r) by store, word and utterance

  18. So … Use of (r) does indeed vary with: • Education/wealth/social class • Evidence: differences among stores • Style/attention to language • Evidence: first versus second utterance • But less so in Saks • Phonological context • Evidence: fourth versus floor

  19. Other data-collection methods • Interview (e.g. Trudgill in Norwich) • Speakers selected for class, age, etc. • Interviews arranged in advance. • Structured interviews (including reading and ‘danger-of-death’ or ‘funny-incident’ question) • Spontaneous casual speech • Many projects in many countries.

  20. Analysis method • Decide: • Which sociolinguistic variables to study • What kinds of speaker to study • Find relevant speakers • Record them speaking • Listen for all tokens of each variable • Use a coding sheet. • Listen for one variable at a time.

  21. A coding sheet for (t)

  22. Analysis (2) • For each variable: • Count all the variants for each speaker. • Record them in a table. • Show each variant as a percentage of the total for each speaker. • If possible, calculate statistical significance for any differences between speakers. • See the course web site, lecture 6, on how to write the quantitative analysis for your final assessment.

  23. For example

  24. Main findings • Different sociolinguistic variables are sensitive to different social variables. • Variable scores show variable allegiance to alternative person-types. • Education is always important: • education/social class is always relevant (in America as much as in UK). • Women are always more ‘standard’ than men (provided they have access to education). • Formal speech (e.g. reading lists) is always more ‘standard’ (as defined by education) than casual.

  25. Coming shortly • 8. Inequality – and why education is important.

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