i love english language

4.5 – Language Variation Theorists – Cheshire, Evans, Algeo, Esling, Trudgill, Milroy, Eckert

 

“Spoken Standard English” – Jenny Cheshire

  • Central Point: The introduction of the National Curriculum for English in England and Wales has highlighted for linguists at least, that we know very little about the syntactic structure of spoken English.
  • For: It is not only spoken English that is misunderstood but also the grammatical structure of spoken English.
  • Against: The conventional descriptions we use to try and describe spoken English.
  • As these descriptions fit written English and perhaps the speech produced by educated speakers in formal situations. They do not represent the speech that most people make in informal situations.

Examples:

  1. “Our frameworks of analysis conform to the views of language that we have acquired during our education rather than to the variety of language that we produce during face to face interaction.”

Linguists need to pay attention to the fact that the way in which they analyse language- particularly spoken language may be affected by their own beliefs about language. This may affect the way that they understand the syntax of spoken language.

  • Brown and Yule point out that the people who typically write upon language are “middle aged academics” – individuals who have spent numerous years immersed in written language and therefore whose speech is more likely to represent written forms. This supports Cheshire’s contention that the current descriptions of spoken language are not representative.
  • A further issue is the extent to which such researchers can escape from “the ethos of linguistic correctness” which they have been exposed to during their education.
  • This was highlighted by Lakoff in 1977; she stated that the distinction between description and prescription was still blurrier than we might like: “particularly in areas where we have been brought up to make value judgements before we learned to be disinterested academic observers”.
  • Meechan and Foley further this point in 1994 by saying that: “even the most careful introspection can fail to filter out the effects of prescriptive grammar.”

  1. “Conventional approaches to linguistic analysis, then, predispose us to look for a “one form, one meaning relationship” and we risk overlooking the features typical of spoken language, whose meaning is pragmatically determined.”

Through following traditional research methods the insight we gain into spoken language is one which is very limited and omits key features of language which correspond to context etc.

  • Due to this “one form, one meaning relationship” – variation in Standard English is very rare, so therefore the places where variation does exist attracts much attention and research. This means that the features of spoken language which vary depending on the linguistic contexts in which they occur (i.e. features which are more typical of spontaneous speech than of writing and that are less open to perception as different ways of saying the same thing) are more likely to be less suitable for variation researchers and less noticeable.
  • For example this is displayed by the example: “never” functioning as a negative marker. As a quantifier its meaning is determined by the linguistic context in which it appears and the syntactic and semantic relationship which it enters can only be understood by considering it in context.

But these relationships do not seem to be accessible to our intuitions. Therefore “conventional analyses” see “never” as an indeterminate equivalent to “not ever” like “none” is to “not any”.

However….

In cases such as “I never went out last night”, where the time reference is to a restricted period of time “never” cannot be seen to be equivalent to “not ever” and this is something which analyses miss. In missing this distinction they frequently mislabel the use of “never” in such situations as “non standard”, despite the fact that the context occurs in educated speech and in writing.

  1. Lack of frequency of spoken English is a reason why some spoken English features have been overlooked in the past.

“There are other constructions which occur less frequently and which it is all too easy therefore to discount as performance errors.”

  • Montgomery calls these “fused constructions”.
  • He mentions more than 50 examples of “fused constructions” beginning with “that”.
  • Speakers use this construction to cohere foregoing and following discourse- it also occurs when speakers are summing up what they have been saying and “creates order out of chaos”.
  • His example pulls out and condenses the most important information from what had been a long and rambling answer to the fieldworker’s question: “what do you do for a good time?”- “that’s the best way I ever found to think is just to walk back up through the woods or something”.
  • “Fused Constructions” are multifunctional; they can help speakers to seize the floor, express emphasis, ensure coherence and as summary constructions impose a hierarchic organisation on the necessarily linear development of discourse.

 

  1. Other types of syntactic structure that may not be accessible to our intuitions are those that occur more frequently in certain genres than in others.
  • Carter and McCarthy – point out that grammatical features are not always distributed equally across different genres.
  • For example: they found that “left dislocation” occurs more frequently in narratives.
  • In extracts of recordings of a group of four 12-14 year olds speakers who were discussing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, it was found that the determiner in “wh- descriptive clauses” is almost always “that” rather than “the”. “That” is a way of foregrounding a referent putting it into high focus. Frequently occurs in a cluster of features expressing interpersonal involvement. The “wh- descriptive clauses” can be seen as an involvement strategy – necessary for the joint construction of shared remembering.

Cheshire states that all of the above factors: “affect the models and frameworks that we have developed to analyse language, and they constitute an important reason for our ignorance about the structure of the syntax of spoken English.”

I agree with Cheshire contentions as spoken discourse varies a lot more than written discourse, however much research does not reflect or portray these differences effectively since such would require countless recordings of numerous contexts with numerous speakers.

Honey would disagree with Cheshire’s contention that spoken Standard English differs from written Standard English as he says that: “English is the most powerful language in the modern world. It seems equally clear that of all the dialects of English currently extant, Standard English is far and away the most dominant.” He sees no distinction between written English and spoken English – he even goes to the extent of saying that the: “two genres (spoken and written English) have in recent years been growing closer together”.

However the work of Carter and McCarthy like Cheshire affirms suggests that the grammar of spoken English is significantly different from that of written English.

Aborigines Speak a Primitive Language?

Nicolas Evans

Evans’ job as a linguist means he spends much of his time researching Australian Aboriginal languages, and he is often faced with people declaring, “That must be an easy job- it’s such a primitive language!” which he believes is the main myth. Stemming from this are various other sub-myths:

i) There is just one Aboriginal (A.) language

ii) A. languages have no grammar

iii) Vocab of A. languages are simple & lack detail / cluttered with details and unable to deal with abstractions

iv) A. languages are not fit to deal with the 21st century.

 

Unfolding myth i):

“Aboriginal Australia displays striking linguistic diversities and, traditionally, around 250 languages, further subdivisable into many dialects, spoken over the continent. Many Aboriginal communities would prefer to count these dialects as distinct languages”

If these dialects were counted as languages, this elevates the figure up to about 600!

 

With so many languages for the whole Aboriginal population, one can uncover that each language would have only a few thousand speakers.

However, by adulthood, it is normal to be multilingual. Many Aboriginal people marry spouses with a different language to their own meaning their children will grow up speaking both the mother’s and the father’s language, as well as other languages from their grandparents.

It is quite interesting to compare this to the majority of English speakers who have only their own nature tongue.

Therefore, is it fair to say these Aboriginal people are more primitive?

vs

Unfolding myth ii): They have no grammar.

When studying the Kayardild language, Evans had some trouble in mastering its format. His teacher would repeat each sentence, going through all the possible orderings of its words.

In this example, the case was “the man sees a turtle”. However, Evans couldn’t get his head around the concept that, if you were rearranging the sentence, why didn’t it turn into “the turtle sees the man”?

Speakers of this language have this freedom of rearranging the sentence but retaining the original meaning by using “case markers” on the end of words, specifying which are subjects (ie. The thing seen = turtle) and which are objects (ie. The seer = man).

 

So, whilst these words can be put in any words, it doesn’t indicate a lack of grammar. In fact, this system of case endings is so specific that it allows parts of sentences to be specific in ways that aren’t always clear in English.

Eg. The man saw the turtle on the beach.

Was the man on the beach? Was the turtle? Were they both?

However, this detail would have been made specific in the Aboriginal language.

Also, Australian Aboriginal pronoun systems are in some ways more explicit than English, as well.

Unfolding myth iii): their vocab consists of just a few hundred words

Some people could assume such a thing because they obviously don’t have words for such things as :

  • Neurons
  • Virus
  • Terra nullius

And there’s many more where they came from.

However, this myth is wildly wrong. In fact, along with many words regarding the natural world, there are many more for emotions, smells, fragrances and ways of moving.

Also, many plant and animal species had distinct names in the Aboriginal language long before they had been recognised as species by Western taxonomic biology.

Does this reflect the idea of a primitive society???

There is an obvious degree of consciousness and detail in the biological vocabulary in the typical Aboriginal language.

Eg/ One particular language holds different verbs to describe the different manners of hopping of various macropads (kangaroos and wallabies). This is extremely interesting in light of recent work on computer vision programs designed to identify wallaby species, which had far more success doing this on the basis of their movement than their static appearance.

 

Unfolding myth iv): Aboriginal languages aren’t able to deal with the modern world

It has long been believed that “LANGUAGES TEND TO HAVE THE RICHEST VOCABULARY IN THOSE AREAS IN WHICH THEIR SPEAKERS HAVE BEEN INTERESTED LONG ENOUGH TO DEVELOP SPECIALISED TERMS”

This was why in the Middles Ages it was believed only Latin had a sufficiently sophisticated vocab to discuss law, theology, medicine and science. However, when speakers began to use their mother tongues more widely, each modern European language soon developed their own terms. This is the same point that Aboriginal languages are finding themselves at.

It is usual to find terms covering areas such as geography, kinship etc, although not covering financial transactions, nautical terminology or nuclear psychics.

However, by coming into more and more contact with Europeans, new terms have been developed to cover novel concepts.

Usually, three methods are used when coining these terms:

  1. COMPOUNDING/AFFIXATION
  2. BORROWING WORDS FROM OTHER LANGUAGES
  3. EXTENDING MEANING OF EXISITNG WORDS

An example of compounding is…

Kayardild created the word for tobacco as “wadubayiinda” by compounding their existing words for “smoke” and “be bitten”. Literally- “that by means of which the smoke is bitten

 

In fact, new words in the Warlpiri have been made to cover issues regarding nuclear physics.

This is a clear testimony to the adaptability of Aboriginal languages.

 

America is ruining the English Language – John Algeo

1.      What is the central contention?

The author does not believe that American forms are ruining the English Language but rather they are expanding it.

He states that the American English and English are both different form of Old English that went on two completely different routes of change over time and he believes that American English is actually more like Old English in the verb forms that are used.

He is clearly arguing against all those people that think that America is making the English Language worse with their different words, including the Prince of Wales who said the American English was “very corrupting”.

2.      What examples are used?

He tries to show that American English is more like Old English with examples such as…

·         American generally retain the ‘r’ in words like “more” and “mother”

·         The flat ‘a’ is generally retained in words such as “cat” “path” and “class”

·         The past participle “gotten” is used as well as “got”

He tries to show that the English Language could be deemed as more conservative with examples like…

·         English can clearly distinguish between a ‘t’ and ‘d’ sound

·         British has retained words like “fortnight”

·         In English “corn” still means “grain”

He says English changes more with the examples of all the different types of tag questions used which are mainly features of only English speech

3.       What other theorists are referred to?

Francis Moore and Edwin Newman are referred to and their opinion is tossed aside by the author as they do believe that America is ruing the English Language. The author clearly does not agree with these linguists as he has the complete opposite view.

4.       Important quotations…

“But judgements are…highly personal and idiosyncratic ones” This shows that the author knows that not everyone will have the same view as no person is the same. By mentioning this, he is also showing that he believes all the different judgements are important but that he still thinks he is correct.

 

“During its roughly 13 centuries of recorded history, English has diversified in many ways” This shows that English is a very old language so he can see why people want to preserve it but it has changed so much and has expanded suggesting its getting better.

 

“Both Americans and the British innovate in English pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.” This clearly demonstrates that the author thinks that America is not ruing the English language but is in fact expanding it and making it better along with the English forms.

 

“The difference between American and British are not due to Americans changing from British Standard” this shows that the author does not think that American is worse as it is not changed to be different from British standards but it is in fact different as the 2 language rarely communicate to share their language.

 

 

 

STANDARD ENGLISH: WHAT IT ISN’T – Peter Trudgill.

What is the central contention of the essay?

Trudgill is arguing against the idea that Standard English is a language, style, accent or register.

He later argues that Standard English is a dialect.

 

What examples does the author use?

Trudgill argues that language cannot be defined, only characterised. He uses the example of the chinese language. I.e. How can chinese be defined, we can only describe what the language is.

When arguing that Standard English is not a style he uses the following example.

“The old man was bloody knackered after his long trip”.  This is clearly Standard English. Does a Standard English speaker suddenly switch from Standard English as soon as they start swearing. He argues that Standard English is no different from any other variety of language and therefore speakers of Standard English have a full range of styles open to them, just as speakers of other varieties do and can swear and use sland like anybody else.

Trudgill looks outside the English Speaking world. In Luxembourg, Limburg and the Netherlands, a visit to a respective town hall to discuss political problems with the mayor will not elicit a switch to Standard German or Dutch etc. but produce styles of greater formality. Stylistic switching appears within dialects and not between them.

What other theorists does the author use?

Chambers and Trudgill (1997) – English can be described as consisting of an autonomous standardised variety together with all the non standard varieties which are heteronomous with respect to it.

Trudgill and Cheshire (1989) – Only 9%-12% of the population of Britain speak Standard English with some form of regional accent.

Giles (1973) – Formal styles are employed in situations which are formal, and informal styles are employed in social situations which are informal. Which is not to say, however, that speakers are ‘sociolinguistic automata’ who respond blindly to the particular degree of formality of a particular social situation.

Labov (1972) – There is no such thing as a single style speaker although it is obviously also the case that the repertoire of styles available to individual speakers will be a reflection of their social experiences, and in many cases, also their education.

Stein and Quirk (1995) – Argue that Standard English is not a social class dialect because the Sun, a British newspaper with a largely working class readership, is written in Standard English..

Quotationss from the text

“The answer is, at least most British sociolinguists are agreed” – Referring to more than one sociolinguists supports his own view that Standard English is a dialect.

“Standard English is thus not the English Language but simply one variety of it”.

“It should be noted that this is indeed a characterisation rather than a strict definition – Language varieties do not readily lend themselves to definition as such”.

Bad Grammar is Slovenly – Lesley Milroy

 

What is the central contention of the essay?

 

The central contention of the essay is that Milroy feels that bad grammar is not slovenly but non standard grammatical patterns are used by people all over as a result of different contexts and social situations. He argues that constructions which may appear to be ungrammatical are in fact perfectly grammatical and follow rules which are unconscious to the native speaker. He argues against the idea that bad grammar is slovenly as he gives examples of less standard uses of grammar by educated speakers, as you would expect more educated individuals to speak using ‘good’ grammar then it cannot be said that bad grammar is slovenly as more educated speakers would actively try to use good grammar.

 

What examples does the author use?

 

‘Who am I speaking to?’ / ‘To whom am I speaking?’

 

This example was spoken by an educated speaker, the incorrect use of the preposition at the end of the sentence and the nominative form of the relative pronoun ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’ demonstrates what would appear like ‘bad’ grammar however, these two errors are commonly made which demonstrates that perhaps it is not clear what rules apply to what situations.

 

‘Martha’s two children are completely different to each other’ / ‘Martha’s children are completely different from each other’

 

This example was again spoken by an educated speaker and shows the expression ‘different to’ used instead of the prescribed ‘different from’, it is seen as more appropriate to use ‘different from’ in the English language but importantly, Milroy goes on to describe these two differences as ‘options’ which highlights the idea that it is not a case of good or bad grammar or slovenliness but simply which form the speaker wishes to utilise.

 

What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?

Milroy refers to ‘one linguist’ which contends that ‘described linguistic prescriptivism as the last open door to discrimination’ we can tell that the author disagrees with this contention as he goes on to state that example (14) shows the speaker make a systematic distinction between ‘you’ and ‘yous’ which shows he disagrees with the linguist.

 

When Milroy discusses example 16 ‘Me and Andy went to the park’ he could also bring in David Crystal and his 1982 Top Twenty complaints about broadcast language over the misuse of ‘you and I’ instead of ‘you and me’ and discuss his Merchant of Venice example.

 

List six quotations from the essay and explain why they are important.

‘Newspaper features, letter columns and the mailboxes of the BBC are good places to find complaints about bad grammar’.

This quotation is important as Milroy highlights here that it is perhaps the media which are behind this influx of ‘bad grammar’, as they are the distributors of new and different ways of speaking he displays his idea here that it can’t simply be down to slovenliness and the BBC are a major aspect of British culture and society and wouldn’t use certain grammatical terms if they felt they were really slovenly.

 

‘Sometimes an attempt to follow the prescribed rules produces odd results’.

This quotation is important as it distinctly shows Milroys view that even the prescribed and standard forms of grammar can end up as being confusing to different speakers, therefore this highlights that if the ‘good’ grammatical structures can lead to confusion then the ‘bad’ grammatical structures cannot be seen as slovenly if they are more widely used and more suitable for the general population of English language speakers.

 

‘Britain needed a standardized language to meet the needs of geographically scattered colonial government servants’

This quotation is important as it highlights the idea of language spread and in turn, language variation and shows that English did need a standard version as the language spreads far but this spread also highlights that different English language speakers will use their language in different ways and varying forms of saying the same thing can become acceptable.

 

‘..which is not a systematic description of a language but a sort of language etiquette..’

This quotation is important because it demonstrates the idea that ‘good’ grammar is simply an idealistic view of how a person ought to speak, however this idea of ‘language etiquette’ does not take into account the idea that speakers will speak how they want to speak to suit what they are trying to communicate, therefore ‘etiquette’ goes out of the window.

 

‘..to attract covert social prejudice by virtue of their association with low status groups..’

This quotation is important because it suggests the idea that lower status people are all slovenly because of the ‘bad grammar’ structures they use however, it cannot be said they are simply slovenly because over generations this is the way they and their parents etc have spoken. They cannot be seen as slovenly if they do not know they are perceived as being this way or have not been taught to speak in a different way.

Do you agree with each of the author’s contentions?

 

I do agree with the authors contentions because I think that it cannot be seen as slovenly if people deviate from ‘standard’ English grammar, they are simply adapting their language to the way they as an individual want to speak and come across to other English speakers. As Milroy has demonstrated that even educated speakers can misuse grammatical structures and we would expect these speakers to know the most about grammar then it cannot be said that non standard grammar is slovenly, but simply a misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of what structure ought to be used. In the society we live in today there are so many different variations of the English language that it is hard to claim there is still one standard English grammar because of the growth of our society with people of different cultural backgrounds and therefore language, the ‘standard’ grammar is disappearing and people are using the grammar they feel required to communicate what they want to say, and most importantly people are able to understand what different people are trying to say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“ Double negatives are illogical?” – Jenny Cheshire

 

The central contention of this essay is that there shouldn’t be a problem with double negatives. Many languages (Eg Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, Hungarian) use double negatives, and even in English it is only the standard variety than insists on singly negatives; double negatives occur in African-American English and all of the English Creoles.

 

Many people disagree with double negatives because mathematically, two negatives always cancel out to form and overall positive procedure. For example ‘minus two minus minus two equals zero’ is true in mathematical law. However, a situation in which we are one thing or another is rare – in real life, there is a whole continuum between the two extremes with infinite graduations between one state and the other.

 

There are several types of double negatives covered by Cheshire, one of which is typical to some dialects of English and is used for emphasis and to convey adament denial.

An’ when they be sayin’ if you good, you goin’ t’heaven, tha’s bullshit ‘cause you ain’t goin’ to no heaven, ‘cause there ain’t no heaven for you to go to

–      15 year old black youth from Harlem

This, even out of context, is clearly understandable, and certainly as a part of the conversation it was taken from there would be no room for misinterpretation – when you are face to face with somebody their opinions are made clear by tone and body language as well as by their vocabulary and grammar. ‘As for potential problems of ambiguity, these are very rare in speech the person we are communicating with is right there with us’. The example of the youth in Harlem comes from William Labov, who says that there is a ‘highly systematic structure of social and stylistic stratification’. Double negatives in English, as a non-standard form, usually come with connotations of low social status or low levels of education – this can be linked to language variation, its causes and how we view regional variation.

 

As far as ambiguity goes, double negatives can cause some confusion. Take ‘I didn’t give nothing to no one’, for instance. This sentence is negative, but which negatives are cancelled out? ‘Didn’t’, ‘nothing’ or ‘no one’? Does it mean ‘I gave something to everyone’? ‘I gave everything to someone’? ‘I gave something to someone’?

 

‘Unlike figures of mathematics, words in language have meaning, so if we cancel some of the negative we change the meaning of the sentence’. By saying this, Cheshire discounts the mathematical theory as impractical, saying that to apply rigid numerical rules to something as amorphous as language is meaningless. Yes, double negatives can cause difficulties with comprehension but to trying to reason it out with maths is illogical – we don’t apply maths to any other areas of English, so why this one?

 

The root may lie in the origin of the unpopularity of the double negative, and the reason people are keen to preserve this dislike. In the 18th century, when English was becoming standardised, it was fashionable to be seen as ‘cultivated’ and impersonal, which made use of the pronoun ‘one’ popular as it removed the speaker from implicating him or herself in their statement. The same went for the intensifying adverbs ‘very’ and ‘rather’. ‘Rather’ experienced heavier use because it was impersonal and lacked emphasis. Therefore, the emphatic denial portrayed by double negatives suffered too – it was relegated to paupers and people of low social status, and this prejudice is still maintained today.

 

Some people dislike use of the negative to moderate a negative adjective, such as ‘not unkind’ or ‘not untrue’, saying that the double negative makes the ‘not un-’ part of the phrase meaningless. George Orwell’s suggested ‘cure’ for people who use that type of double negative was that they should, whenever tempted by the lure of the double negative, think of this phrase: ‘A not unblack dog chased a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field’. This is an extreme example but you can see where he’s coming from  – to use a double negative in this situation seems deliberately pedantic.

 

Returning to maths, people like Orwell could argue that descriptions like ‘not unkind’ are rendered invalid because there are only two states – kind and unkind – and to not be one is to be the other. Following this chain of thought, we can liken these two states to programming computers. Because computers cannot yet interpret anything more complex than ‘on’ and ‘off’, there are two states and nothing in between exists.

 

In real life this can be thought of as ‘dead’ and ‘alive’, two states that are polar opposites and between which (without venturing into the realm of zombies) there shouldn’t be and continuum – you are either dead or alive, not somewhere in the middle. However, figurative language invents impossible concepts like ‘half dead’ and ‘more dead than alive’. Computers do not understand this, but humans do – it is patronising to say that ambiguity is caused when phrases like ‘not unfriendly’ are used, or that they are dishonest.

 

There is a whole range of possibilities between ‘friendly’ and ‘unfriendly’ – how can we deny ‘not unfriendly’ as a description when we allow ‘very friendly’ or ‘not friendly at all’? As Cheshire puts it, we have ‘needs, as human beings, to go beyond simple two-way distinctions’. By saying this she presents herself as a shining beacon of logic in a sea of prescriptivist propaganda, a wise move seeing as she is representing positively that most hated archenemy, the double negative, and she needs to make herself sound credible if people are going to pay her any attention.

 

People – perhaps unreasonably – hate double negatives. Listeners of the Radio 4 series English Now said that double negatives ‘made their blood boil’, ‘gave them a pain in the ear’, ‘made them shudder’ and ‘appalled’ them. These strong reactions could be used to challenge the prescriptivist debate and show that although everyone has personal standards and bugbears regarding language, no forms are more ‘correct’ or ‘better’ than others.

 

By quoting these reactions Cheshire presents herself as calm and reasonable when compared to the unbridled hatred of those quoted. I’m not keen on double negatives myself, but I can see that ‘made my their blood boil’ is a bit extreme, even for Radio 4 listeners. It’s just a dialect feature! Harmless! (Or is it a conspiracy of the unwashed masses to usurp the hegemony of the prescriptivist, starting by destroying their carefully protected and perfectly regimented ‘Standard English’ and finishing with the storming of Buckingham Palace?).  Prescriptivism is weird.

 

Language Myth: America is Ruining the English Language

John Algeo

 

Algeo’s central point in the essay is that American is only ruining the English language if you a prescriptivist who believes that language change is a bad thing as all that American English has done is evolve in a different way to British English, resulting in the differences that we see today. He argues against the idea that Americans are ruining our language and for the point that it is only people who are against British English changing who claim this about American.

 

He uses the examples of a complaint that Prince Charles once made saying that American English is “very corrupting”, and the speakers have invented “all sorts of nouns and verbs and make words that shouldn’t be”. This is a prescriptivist viewpoint, believing that all new words and conversions are negative, even though they can sometimes enhance the language. The journalist Edwin Newman is an American, but dislikes the language of his fellow Americans, describing it as “deadly”. In his book, he objected to the same things as Prince Charles, and in particular verbosity and euphemism, which he described as bad style.

 

Algeo could refer to the Substratum theory because this refers to foreign influence in language change and that is what is happening with the Americanisms that exist in British English.

 

“…self-confessed linguistic vandals”

This quotation is important as it can be used against Algeo because if the Americans have proclaimed themselves to be ruining British English, then who are we to say that they are not? However, what is still unclear is how exactly they are ruining British English, despite having said themselves that they are.

“It wasn’t until the American impertinence of 1776 that Americans seem to have been ruining English.”

This quotation is important because it suggests that during the time before the late 18th century, when the American declared independence in 1776, changes that were introduced because of them were considered acceptable. This implies that the British are fine with their language being changed by those who are considered the same nationality as them, but once they are constitutionally a different nation, even they are the same people, we can no longer see the changes as a good thing. This suggests that it is perhaps not the language changing that is the problem for some people, but the fact that it was the Americans changing it.

“The assumption is that anything new is American and thus objectionable on double grounds.”

This quotation is important because it explains that maybe the British opinion of Americans in general may have something to do with our dislike of the influence that American English has on our language. Also, it picks up on “new” things being what are objected to the most, suggesting that it is the prescriptivists who want to revert British English back to how it used to be. However, Algeo points out that although British English and American English have the same original root, sixteenth century British English, they have developed in different directions since then and it may not have any more influence on British English than any other foreign language.

“British speakers have also been extraordinarily fertile in expanding the rage of use for tag questions.”

This quotation is important because it highlights one of the changes for which the British are responsible. Some British people may blame the Americans for all of the changes that occur  our language, but the truth is we can be held responsible as well.

“Both Americans and the British innovate in English pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. British people, however, tend to be more aware of American innovations than Americans are of British ones.”

This quotation is important because it demonstrates how the prejudice against American influence on British English in actually unfounded because we affect their language just as much as they affect ours. Therefore, what gives us the right to complain about Americanisms in British English when there are presumably signs of British English in American English?

 

I do agree with Algeo’s main point because I think that only prescriptivists would have a problem with the changes that have come about in our language because of the Americans. You could use Prince Charles’ complaints about American English being “very corrupting” as evidence against Algeo because, as a member of the Royal Family, he speaks RP which is considered the best form of English by some and are thought to know the “purest” form of the language and therefore are against change.

 

 

 

Gender and Sociolinguistic Variation – PENELOPE ECKERT

 

There is more to language than its referential function; language is something which makes us who we are and reveals our identity. Variation in language is not accountable to gender; other factors influence how we speak. Eckerts suggests that we need to accept and explore these other factors including class, the topic of conversation and the participants of conversation, rather than just looking to gender as the cause of all variation.

Examples used by the author

  • Comparing Jocks and the working class by looking at the phonological variant sounds ‘ae’, ‘uh’ and ‘ay’, it appears that the working class are typically closer to the vernacular language, whilst Jocks use more standard forms. Also, both female and male findings for both Jocks and working class suggest that language variable use has more to do with our social grouping.

What Theorists does she use?

  • Labov’s study of Martha’s Vineyard is commented on. Martha’s Vineyard looked at a fishing community who stuck to the local vernacular English form as they were proud of it and didn’t want it to be infected with the more standard form which the tourists spoke. By using Labov’s work as supporting evidence, Eckert is saying that vernacular language is also associated with local issues, not just location.
  • Peter Trudgill is mentioned as he refutes Eckert’s claims. Trudgill states that in his Norwich study; generally women did use more formal language. However he thinks this is because women tended to be less involved with the rest of society and generally didn’t work, whilst men were at work, subject to greater language variation. Women tended to stay in the confinement of their homes in the day and didn’t mix as much as the men did and therefore as a result used a more standard form of language. This suggests that gender may be linked with language variation, but suggests that this is because men tend to be the breadwinners of a family and are more likely to go to work, therefore they pick up a vernacular English form as they hear it more often.

 

Important Quotations

“has led many researchers to treat gender as secondary”

Gender is not the only reason for language variation.

 

 

 

 

“But women are vernacular speakers as well”

It is not only men that use vernacular forms, therefore other gender stereotypes regarding language may be incorrect or overgeneralised.

 

Downfalls with/Evidence against her argument

Men are more likely to use double negatives it seems, such as “I didn’t do nothing”. We cannot disregard these findings and examples as they do suggest that conservatism for women over men is a fair argument, however we just cannot completely attach them specifically to one or the other gender.

It does appear, from the use of the vernacular and standard form “talkin” and “talking” that women are more conservative and use the standard forms walking and talking, and it appears men are more likely to use the non standard vernacular forms.

 

 

Everyone has an accent except me – John H Esling

 

What is the central contention of the essay?

People may think that they have no accent because they believe they sound no different to the people around them but everyone has an accent. We think we are the best example of the ‘norm’.

Our accents can tell the listener everything about us, they reflect our experiences.

 

 

What examples does the author use?

He gives the example that we believe we have no distinguishing characteristics that set our speech apart from those around us. And this is only realised, when we leave where we came from and find ourselves among people who share a different background from our own and therefore stand out as having a distinctly different accent.

He says how in some countries there are ‘standard’ pronunciations that carry higher prestige. This is RP in the UK, and because of the prestige related to it and its use in broadcasting, we may think it is accent less and that non-standard speakers have an accent. But this is not true, RP is still an accent.

He states that we gradually lose the sense that other people around us have an accent and we begin to fit in to the ‘norm’ of speech around us.

 

What other theorists does the author refer to (or could refer to)?

He could refer to:

Labov (1972) – There is no such thing as a single style speaker although it is obviously also the case that the repertoire of styles available to individual speakers will be a reflection of their social experiences, and in many cases, also their education.

Howard Giles – 1970s –we adjust our speech to “accommodate” the person we are addressing –  Convergence, & Divergence occurs when people’s speech styles move further apart which acts to emphasise the difference between people.

 

List six important quotations from the essay & explain why they are important

‘So when we say, ‘I don’t have an accent’, we really mean, ‘you wouldn’t think I had an accent if you knew who I was and knew where I’d been.’’

–          Esling is suggesting that we don’t really think we have no accent, we just think others should accept that we are not all the same and should consider our accent as similar to their own.

 

‘Accent defines and communicates who we are. Accent is the map which listeners perceive through their ears rather than through their eyes to ‘read’ where the speaker was born and raised, what gender they are, how old they are…’

–          He is saying how we can learn a lot about a person from their accent and in some ways we can base our judgement of a person on it.

 

‘This is the essence of recognition – we can learn to pick a friend’s voice out of the crowd even though we consider everyone in our local crowd to have the same ‘accent’ compared to outsiders.’

–          Esling picks up on an interesting point as surely if we discount our friends as having different accents to us, then we would not be able to recognise them in a crowd and for that reason we must all have different accents to some extent.

 

‘Some remain intensely proud of their original accent and dialect words, phrases and gestures, while others accommodate rapidly to a new environment by changing, among other things, their speech habits, so that they no longer ‘stand out in the crowd’.’

–          He is saying how accents can be somewhat of an issue when a person moves from the environment they were raised in. Some people are proud of where they come from, so much so that they want to maintain their ‘accent’ whereas other people would feel more comfortable just fitting in and overtime, their accent changes to sound the same as their new peers.

 

‘But like most processes that have to do with language, the change probably happens before we are aware of it and probably couldn’t happen if we were’

–          In addition to the point above, Esling says that the change of accent is not always a conscious decision and instead it is more than likely that over time our accents would just change and pick up the linguistic patterns of those around us.

 

‘Consonants and vowels are the building blocks of linguistic meaning, and slight changes in their quality inherently carry large differences in meaning, which we detect immediately.’

–          Esling believes that even the smallest change of pronunciation of consonants and vowels is detected and we automatically can distinguish that a person is different from us, be that that they are from a different area, they are older or they spent the first years of their llives in a different region etc.

 

Do you agree with each of the author’s contentions?

Yes, I do agree with Esling. I think he is right when he says everybody has an accent as it’s impossible for someone not to have an accent. No two people sound exactly the same, there will always be even the smallest of differences in pronunciation between us and intonation also plays a part. I also agree that our accents can tell the listener who we are, but only to some extent. Sometimes our accents can hide certain aspects from our past and it is simply impossible to be able to judge a people by their accent. But if you were to just hear someone’s accent and not see them, it would be easy to make a guess of their gender, their age, where about they may be from or were raised and also how they are feeling at the time of speech.

 

 

Gender and Sociolinguistic Variation – PENELOPE ECKERT

 

Main Contention?

There is more to language than its referential function, instead we need to consider the social identity and revealing which comes with our communication. Language and communication is something which makes us who we are and reveals our identity. For some, they speak more standard forms whilst others use vernacular forms, however this is not accountable due to gender, instead we need to consider other factors altering how we speak.

The author is suggesting that we need to look past gender as the reason for our language variation and usage of standard and non standard forms and accept other factors such as class, the topic being talked about and who they are talking to.

Penelope Eckert is arguing against the idea that language use is purely based on gender, men speak in one way and women speak in another way. For Eckert, this couldn’t be any more wrong. “We clearly cannot talk about gender independently” surmises well her attitude that we need to look further than gender for the reasons behind our language variation. We cannot categorise that typically women use Standard English and men use vernacular, this is an unfair assumption.

Examples used by the author?

  • There is both a local based language and a suburban language in all areas. It appears that it is harder to tell where someone is from if their language is close to standard language, regardless of their gender. We tend to mix and match our use of standard and vernacular English.
  • It does appear, from the use of the standard and vernacular forms “walkin’” and “walking”, as well as “talkin’” and “talking” that women are more conservative and use the standard forms walking and talking, and it appears men are more likely to use the non standard vernacular forms.
  • Even when looking at negation in language, men are more likely to use double negatives it seems, such as “I didn’t do nothing”. We cannot disregard these findings and examples as they do suggest that conservatism for women over men is a viable argument, however we just cannot completely attach them specifically to one or the other gender.
  • Looking at Jocks, the high class socialisers and Burnouts, the working class looked down on people in America, it appears that Burnouts are typically closer to the vernacular language, whilst Jocks use more standard forms. This does not bear any relevance to their gender as both female and male findings for both Jocks and Burnouts suggest that language variable use has more to do with our social grouping. This investigation was conducted by looking at the phonological variant sounds [ae], [uh] and [ay].

We need to consider all three factors of gender interaction, social category local orientation in regards to phonological variation.

What Theorists are commented on?

In Eckert’s piece she refers to a few Theorists and how they support her own findings and work.

  • The work of LABOV is commented on and in particular the study of Martha’s Vineyard. Martha’s Vineyard looked at a fishing community who stuck close to the local vernacular English form as they were more of tradition. By looking at Labov’s work, Eckert is saying that vernacular language can be associated with local issues not just the place. The fishermen stuck close to their vernacular language as they were proud of it and didn’t want it to be infected with the more standard form which the tourists spoke who came to the Island close of Massachusetts. The vernacular form was used more readily as people were proud of it and wanted to show the “stuck up” tourists who they were.

 

Eckert refers to this in her piece, tying to show that we stick close to our local language as we want to be ourselves and be original, rather than be forced by an oppressing standard form. This happens regardless of our gender.

 

  • Boltanski and Bourdieu’s work developed by Sankoff and Laberge is also shown in Eckert’s work as she support their belief that what is right to use depends on the market you are in. If your non standard vernacular language suits the work you do and the environment you are in, you will be more inclined to use it as it serves your language needs and people understand it. This again bears no reference to your gender. Just because you are a women, it doesn’t mean you will then shy from vernacular forms, you will use the best form of Language which suits your conditioning.

There would be no point in particularly using standard forms for the sake of it if the people around you are using vernacular English.

 

  • Peter Trudgill is also mentioned and goes against what Eckert is saying as Trudgill states that in Norwich; generally women did use a more conservative form of language. However he feels this is because women tended to be outside the rest of society and generally didn’t work, whilst men were at work, subject to greater language variation. Women tended to stay in the confinement of their homes in the day and didn’t mix as much as the men did and therefore as a result used a more standard form of language. This is a viable reason as to how gender may be linked with language variation, but it shows the reasoning that because men tend to be the breadwinners of a family and go to work more so than women, they pick up a vernacular English form as they hear it more often.

 

 

  • The Belten High School study, that social stand reflects our use of standard and non standard grammar reflects our language use can also be referred to the work of Jenny Cheshire. Jenny Cheshire said that our aim in life and our interest reflects our use of standard and non standard forms. Those boys and girls who had more inspiration and drive to get somewhere used a standard form of grammar whilst those who were less inspirational and more likely to live in one place for the rest of their life were likely to use stronger vernacular forms of language.

 

This is what is reflected in Eckert’s study of Jocks and Burnouts. The Jocks want to have popularity; they try to achieve a good reputation whilst the Burnout are less bothered about such issues. However, Jenny Cheshire’s work does disagree slightly with Eckert’s. Jenny Cheshire said it was those who wanted to talk about makeup, about trivial issues and fighting that were the non inspirational people. However from Eckert’s work, it is those who want to talk about such issues who use the better standard form of English which suggests they may get somewhere in their life.

 

Important Quotations

  • “there is an apparent relation between gender, social category and urban- suburban orientation”

We need to consider the alternative factors to gender being the pure reason as to why we interact and use language differently. Social positioning and where we live and grow up in hold a large influence on how we talk. More so than gender alone. Eckert is trying to have us realise that there is a bigger picture, we cannot just assume gender to be the only factor influencing our use of standard and vernacular language forms but as the coordinating clause “and urban-suburban orientation” shows we have to look at where people live.

  • “We clearly cannot talk about gender independently”

As I have said above, Eckert then reiterated her point in her conclusion paragraph and said that we have to look further than gender. As the adverb of emphasis “clearly” suggests, we must begin to look at the bigger picture and see that gender is not “independently” the only factor influencing our standard/non standard grammar. Using the first person inclusive plural pronoun “We” groups all people together to believe that none of us can really say that gender is the only reason we all talk differently.

  • “But women are vernacular speakers as well”

This coordinating clause is emphasising that men can speak Standard English and they can speak well and speak with true grammar forms. It is not just women who use a standard form of grammar, highlighting that there is definitely more to our language use than our gender.

  • “has led many researchers to treat gender as secondary”

Findings of many researchers, including the work of Labov, Trudgill and Cheshire makes it seem that for sure there are reasons other than gender as to why we need to accept standard and non standard forms.

  • “women’s usage is considerably more standard”

The adverb of degree “considerably” highlights how far women are aware of their language and how far they go to ensuring they use true English forms.

  • “women are status conscious or polite, men are rough and down-to-earth”

This shows us that there is certainly a difference between male and female interaction. The use of the descriptive adjectives “conscious” and “polite” describes women well whilst men are described as “rough” and “down-to-earth”. The adjectives are complete opposites and provide a clash in description. It suggests women do mind how they are perceived and because of that are very aware of the English they are using, whilst it seems men are not bothered how people look at them.

 

I do agree with Eckert and I feel she is right to say that language variation is not just because of our gender. Instead it appears that we are divided over our language use by social groupings since both men and women can talk in a certain way and can adopt vernacular or standard forms dependent from where they come from.

Evidence supporting the author would include that of Bernstein who says that there is an elaborated code and a restricted code. We can flip between either codes and no code is ever specific to one gender and instead we can use either depending on our conditioning and context. As Eckert is trying to say, neither one gender talks in a certain way, instead we need to appreciate that language is a lot more flexible, from time to time we may adopt vernacular or standard forms, they are there for us to choose regardless of gender.

However Bernstein does say that the codes can be chosen by anyone of different classes. Class does not restrict how we talk, therefore, as Eckert did mention, maybe we should base our language form on the context of the conversation, not gender and maybe not even our social classification.

 

 

So….

 

There is more to language than its referential function; language is something which makes us who we are and reveals our identity. Variation in language is not accountable to gender; other factors influence how we speak. Eckerts suggests that we need to accept and explore these other factors including class, the topic of conversation and the participants of conversation, rather than just looking to gender as the cause of all variation.

Examples used by the author

  • Comparing Jocks and the working class by looking at the phonological variant sounds ‘ae’, ‘uh’ and ‘ay’, it appears that the working class are typically closer to the vernacular language, whilst Jocks use more standard forms. Also, both female and male findings for both Jocks and working class suggest that language variable use has more to do with our social grouping.

What Theorists does she use?

  • Labov’s study of Martha’s Vineyard is commented on. Martha’s Vineyard looked at a fishing community who stuck to the local vernacular English form as they were proud of it and didn’t want it to be infected with the more standard form which the tourists spoke. By using Labov’s work as supporting evidence, Eckert is saying that vernacular language is also associated with local issues, not just location.
  • Peter Trudgill is mentioned as he refutes Eckert’s claims. Trudgill states that in his Norwich study; generally women did use more formal language. However he thinks this is because women tended to be less involved with the rest of society and generally didn’t work, whilst men were at work, subject to greater language variation. Women tended to stay in the confinement of their homes in the day and didn’t mix as much as the men did and therefore as a result used a more standard form of language. This suggests that gender may be linked with language variation, but suggests that this is because men tend to be the breadwinners of a family and are more likely to go to work, therefore they pick up a vernacular English form as they hear it more often.

 

Important Quotations

“has led many researchers to treat gender as secondary”

Gender is not the only reason for language variation.

 

 

 

 

“But women are vernacular speakers as well”

It is not only men that use vernacular forms, therefore other gender stereotypes regarding language may be incorrect or overgeneralised.

 

Downfalls with/Evidence against her argument

Men are more likely to use double negatives it seems, such as “I didn’t do nothing”. We cannot disregard these findings and examples as they do suggest that conservatism for women over men is a fair argument, however we just cannot completely attach them specifically to one or the other gender.

It does appear, from the use of the vernacular and standard form “talkin” and “talking” that women are more conservative and use the standard forms walking and talking, and it appears men are more likely to use the non standard vernacular forms.

 

 

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