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An aspect of Language variation & change

Regional varieties of English and changes due to social mobility.
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Dale Munday

on 24 April 2010

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Transcript of An aspect of Language variation & change

Regional varieties of English - accents and dialects An aspect of Language variation & change Eighteenth century philosophers believed that language was a natural, organic entity, like a plant, and its diversity was thought to have the same source as the diversity of vegetation. Just as vegetable life took on distinctly different appearances according to the climate and soil that nourished it, so languages took on distinctly different characteristics in different climates. English World-Wide 21 (2000): 1-31. Region and Language Variation
J.K. Chambers
What is a dialect? A dialect is a specific variety of English that differs from other varieties in three specific ways: lexis (vocabulary), grammar (structure) and phonology (pronunciation or accent). English dialects may be different from each other, but all speakers within the English-speaking world can still generally understand them. A speaker from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for instance, might pepper his speech with localised vocabulary, such as gan for “to go” or doon for “down”. He may often use regional grammatical constructions, such as the past tense constructions I’ve went and I’ve drank or the reflexive pronouns mysel, yoursel, hissel etc. In addition he probably uses a range of local pronunciations. For all these reasons he could be described as a Geordie dialect speaker. (www.bl.uk) What is an accent? Accent, on the other hand, refers only to differences in the sound patterns of a specific dialect. A speaker from Newcastle-upon-Tyne who generally uses mainstream vocabulary and grammar, but whose pronunciation has an unmistakeable hint of Tyneside, should properly be described as having a Geordie accent. In other words, dialect is the umbrella term for a variety of linguistic features, one of which is accent. True dialect speakers are relatively rare, but despite popular belief we all speak with an accent. Languages change for a variety of reasons. Large-scale shifts often occur in response to social, economic and political pressures. History records many examples of language change fuelled by invasions, colonization and migration. Even without these kinds of influences, a language can change dramatically if enough users alter the way they speak it. (nsf.gov)
Speech in the North East is descended from the dialect that emerged approximately 1,500 years ago in the mouths of Anglo-Saxon settlers from continental Europe. The North East was settled mainly by the Angles, as was most of central and northern Britain in the centuries following the decline of Roman rule in the early fifth century AD. Subsequent invasions left the North East increasingly linguistically isolated from developments elsewhere in Northumbria. The Vikings, for instance, settled mainly south of the River Tees and therefore had a lasting impact on the development of dialects in Yorkshire, but not further north. Later still, the counties of Durham and Northumberland do not feature in the Domesday Book in 1086 as both counties resisted Norman control for some time longer. Meanwhile the border skirmishes that broke out sporadically during the Middle Ages meant the River Tweed established itself as a significant northern barrier against Scottish influence. As a result, the North East has always maintained a strong sense of cultural identity and resisted the centralising tendencies of both Edinburgh and London. Many contemporary Geordie dialect words, such as gan (‘go’ modern German gehen) and bairn (‘child’ - modern Danish barn) can still trace their roots right back to the Angles.(www.bl.uk)
social networks Social networks play an important role in determining the dynamics and
outcome of language change. Studies have quantitatively shown that individuals’ linguistic behaviours are highly correlated with their degrees of integration
into the network: in situations where linguistic variations are present in the community, the more integrated an individual is into the community, the less variation (s)he has, and the better (s)he conforms to the speech norm of the community.(Jinyun et al. 2007)

As with any variety of English, Geordie includes a wide range of speakers from broad dialect to speakers with only a faint hint of a Tyneside accent. In the table, Broad Geordie refers to pronunciations associated with dialect speakers, while other entries identify pronunciations more common in careful speech or among certain social groups, such as older speakers, the middle classes or females.
The phonetician, John Wells, introduced in his book, Accents of English (1982), the concept of using a single word to refer to the pronunciation of a particular group of English words. He calls these word-groups lexical sets and uses a key word, such as BATH to identify them. The BATH vowel refers to the pronunciation of the vowel in the word bath and other words that share that same vowel, such as laugh, ask and dance. Other important lexical sets include the STRUT vowel which occurs in words such as cup, mother, blood and young; the GOAT vowel in words such as soap, grow, rose and old and the NURSE vowel in words such as bird, work, herd, church and earn.
Lexical sets It has been largely accepted that most adults change their language little after childhood, and language change mainly happens through children’s learning (Croft 2000). when a new mutant trait arises in an individual, it has a good chance to be passed on to the offspring of that individual, as long as the mutant is not severely deleterious or actually lethal. But linguistic transmission is different from genetic transmission. Instead of inheriting genes from one or two parents, a language learner samples at least a proportion of the language community, which may include a fairly large number of people in the generations above him as well as in his peer group. Therefore, the innovation, or the mutant, being the minority at the beginning, is unlikely to be learned by the next generation. This is the “threshold problem” of language change (Nettle 1999). In order for an innovation to spread and become the new norm in a language community, it must pass “a threshold of frequency”
The other possibility to cross the threshold is “social selection”, in which the innovation originates from some influential speakers who have higher influence, or “social impact”, than others, and learners may favour learning from them. Nettle proposed a model to study the threshold problem in language change. This model is adapted from the Social Impact Theory that simulates attitude change in social groups (Nowak et al. 1990). The latest edition of the Collins English Dictionary has been published, including 1,500 new words reflecting recent changes in language and culture.
Among the new words is "chav" - defined as "a young working class person who dresses in casual sports clothing". Also included are "Asbo", the acronym of Anti-Social Behaviour Order, and "retrosexual", a heterosexual man who spends little time on his appearance.
Personal phonological change Social network is considered as a determining factor in language change, contact, maintenance and shift, etc. Labov 2001, de Bot & Stoessel 2002. (cited Jinyun et al. 2007)
When I moved to Preston form Ashington (Northumberland) I struggled to communicate affectively and therefore had to adjust to understand different grammatical structures, which are used daily.
J.K. Chambers (2000), English World-Wide 21 1-31. Region and Language Variation
http://www.ncsu.edu/linguistics/docs/pdfs/walt/Language_variation-sgl.pdf
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/28427053/Language-Variation
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/28434151/Variation-and-language-(I)-The-study-of-language-variation
http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/changing-voices/
http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit
http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/change.jsp
K. Jinyun et al. 2007, Language Change and Social Networks. English Language Institute
Croft, William. 2000. Explaining Language Change: an Evolutionary Approach. Harlow, England; New York: Longman.
http://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?p=163373
Nettle, Daniel. 1999. Linguistic Diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press
J.K. Chambers (2000), English World-Wide 21 1-31. Region and Language Variation
http://www.ncsu.edu/linguistics/docs/pdfs/walt/Language_variation-sgl.pdf
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/28427053/Language-Variation
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/28434151/Variation-and-language-(I)-The-study-of-language-variation
http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/sounds/changing-voices/
http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit
http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/linguistics/change.jsp
K. Jinyun et al. 2007, Language Change and Social Networks. English Language Institute
Croft, William. 2000. Explaining Language Change: an Evolutionary Approach. Harlow, England; New York: Longman.
http://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?p=163373
Nettle, Daniel. 1999. Linguistic Diversity. Oxford: Oxford University Press
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