Language variation conditioned by social class
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Language variation conditioned by social class. Part 2: interactions between class, prestige, age, and gender. Overview. Last week: Many linguistic variables conditioned by socio-economic status (class) Speakers are (normally subconsciously) aware of such correlations

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Language variation conditioned by social class l.jpg

Language variation conditioned by social class

Part 2: interactions between class, prestige, age, and gender

Overview l.jpg

  • Last week:

    • Many linguistic variables conditioned by socio-economic status (class)

    • Speakers are (normally subconsciously) aware of such correlations

    • Class connected to region, register, attitude, interlocutor, prestige/stigmatisation

    • Language/class connections are arbitrary: social biases map onto (perceived) linguistic correlates

  • Today:

    • Elaboration of methodology for studying variation

    • More on accommodation (cf. Labov 1966 dept store study)

    • Class and speech codes

    • Problematisation of class/region connection

    • Connections of class with age, gender, and innovation

Methodology l.jpg

  • Observation

    • Variation in use of Std 3d sg present -s in verbs

      • She like him very much.

      • He don’t know a lot, do he?

      • It go ever so fast

  • Hypothesis

    • Variation between Std -s and Non-std -Ø conditioned by social factors (in this case, class)

  • Experiment

    • Recruit speakers from a community (Norwich, Detroit…), ideally ones who have never left

    • Classify speakers according to social class

    • Elicit and record speech in one or more contexts (casual speech, word lists…)

    • Count percentage of times each speaker uses verbs with and without –s

  • Results:

Results for 3sg s l.jpg
Results for 3sg -s

% usage of 3sg present -Ø by social class

Sources: Wolfram 1969 (Detroit), Trudgill 1974 (Norwich)

Accommodation l.jpg

  • Labov’s 1966 dept store study:

    • apparent accommodation of speakers wrt socio-economic context

    • they know the r’s are underlyingly there, and choose whether or not to delete them depending on where they are and who they’re talking to.

  • Parallel in AAVE (Rickford and McNair-Knox 1994)

    • Study of (MTV VJ) Downtown Julie Brown’s use of AAVE features

      • 3sg present suffix -Ø: she[Ø] bad

      • zero copula: she always telling me what to do

  • Interesting manifestation of “The Observer’s Paradox”

Class and speech codes l.jpg
Class and speech codes

  • Bernstein: distinction between restricted code and elaborated code:

  • 2 5-yr-olds (one MC, one WC) describing a series of pictures involving boys playing football and breaking a window:

    • (MC) Three boys are playing football and one boy kicks the ball and it goes through the window and the bail breaks the window and the boys are looking at it and a man comes out and shouts at them because they've broken the window so they run away and then that lady looks out of her window and she tells the boys off.

    • (WC) They're playing football and he kicks it and it goes through there it breaks the window and they're looking at it and he comes out and shouts at them because they've broken it so they run away and then she looks out and she tells them off. (Bernstein 1971:194)

  • Both WC and MC children know both codes (e.g. each can understand both codes when spoken to them).

  • The classes differ in the occasions on which they can use the codes

    • e.g. WC children often have more difficulty than MC children in using the elaborated code in school.

  • NB the elaborated code and its users are not superior in logic, clarity, etc.:

    • “Our work in the speech community makes it painfully obvious that in many ways working-class speakers are more effective narrators, reasoners, and debaters than many middle-class speakers who temporize, qualify, and lose their argument in a mass of irrelevant detail.” (Labov)

    • There is no consistent relationship between the linguistic variety one uses and logical thought.

Class and gender part 1 l.jpg
Class and gender, part 1

  • Linguistic variables are often conditioned by both class and gender:

    • Use of -in’ rather than -ing as gerund suffix (from Trudgill 1972:187)

Over and under reporting l.jpg
Over- and under-reporting

  • Observation

    • Frequent co-variation of class and gender

  • Question

    • Are gender and class independently correlated with linguistic variables in all such cases, or can gender and class be directly connected to one another?

  • Hypothesis

    • They can (sometimes, at least) be connected by gender-based attitudes about class and prestige.

  • Experiment

    • Expose M and F test subjects of different classes to paired linguistic variables, eg (std) TYOON/CHOON vs (non-std) TOON.

    • Have test subjects pick which option they themselves use.

    • Compare these reports to what they actually use in speech.

  • Results:

Self evaluation for tune norwich trudgill 1974 l.jpg
Self-evaluation for TUNE(Norwich, Trudgill 1974)



  • Over-reporting is when subjects say they use the standard form more than they actually do.

  • Under-reporting is when subjects say they use the non-std form more than they actually do.

Self evaluation for tune by sex norwich trudgill 1974 l.jpg
Self-evaluation for TUNE by sex(Norwich, Trudgill 1974)

Self evaluation for ear by sex norwich trudgill 1998 26 l.jpg
Self-evaluation for EAR by sex(Norwich, Trudgill 1998:26)

  • Similar results for (o) in ROAD, (a) in GATE, (?) in BETTER:

Class gender and change l.jpg
Class, gender, and change

  • The gender differences we’ve just seen are not just imaginary; they can often be observed in speech:

    • Trudgill on the vowel in TOP:

      • the non-std form used in MC by more men than women

      • the non-std form used in LC by more women than men

      • Change in progress towards RP vowel, led by MC women and WC men

      • In this case overt and covert prestige coincide (Trudgill 1983:93-94), though this is a bit unusual

Self evaluation by sex class norwich trudgill 1974 l.jpg
Self-evaluation by sex/class(Norwich, Trudgill 1974)

  • Generalisations:

    • Females use more standard forms; men use more regional/non-standard forms (cf also Milroy 1982)

    • Females over-report their use of standard forms; men under-report their use of standard forms.

    • Others pick up on these patterns (Edwards 1979):

      • listeners told to identify the sex of children from tape-recordings

      • Results—listeners expected:

        • masculine speech to sound ‘working class’

        • feminine speech to sound ‘middle class’

  • Why do these gender/class patterns arise?

Suggested explanations l.jpg
Suggested explanations

  • Assumption: speakers report themselves as using the forms which have positive connotations for them

  • Elyan et al. 1978 performed an experiment contrasting RP speakers with speakers of British vernacular Englishes

    • RP speakers were rated higher on intelligence, fluency and self-confidence

    • vernacular speakers were seen as more charming, humorous and good-natured

    • To the extent that these stereotypes are shared by both sexes, men and women on the whole may be aiming for different images.

  • “Women, it seems, are considerably more disposed than men to upgrade themselves into the middle-class and less likely to allocate themselves to the working-class - a finding which confirms the common observation that status consciousness is more pronounced among women.” (Martin 1954:58)

  • Trudgill 1983

    • women use favored linguistic forms to achieve a higher status

    • mostly responsible for children→ more aware of importance that their children achieve norms

    • women aim at a publicly-legitimised (i.e. overt) prestige norm; men aim at a norm with covert prestige.

  • Since overt and covert prestige correlate with class differences, we then find correlations of class/gender/language.

Class age change l.jpg

Class, age, & change

A case study from Glasgow

Glasgow sociophonetics stuart smith et al 2000 l.jpg
Glasgow sociophonetics (Stuart-Smith et al. 2000)

  • Linguistic variables studied:

    • tooth, brother, milk, butter, loch, w(h)ine, car, icy, lock, red

    • (see appendix slide for details)

  • Non-linguistic variables:

    • class, gender, age, standard/vernacular

Variability by age and class l.jpg
Variability by age and class

  • Variance in PCA scores (see later slides for explanation)

    • A lower figure represents speakers close on the plots (a cohesive unit), a higher figure shows that the speakers are more spread out (less cohesive).

  • Generalisations:

    • Working-class adolescents show the lowest variability.

    • Middle-class adults are also relatively consistent.

    • Working-class adults and middle-class adolescents are much more variable.

Wc use of supra local variants l.jpg
WC use of supra-local variants

  • We saw last week that the WC often uses regional forms. But this isn’t always the case in Glasgow:

Composite results l.jpg
Composite results

  • Principal component analysis (PCA) plot of the Glasgow wordlist data, combining all of the variables

    • PC1 = pattern used most often, PC2 = 2nd most common pattern, etc.

  • The plot shows a correlation between PC1 and Age and Class.

    • WC adolescents cluster to the far left of the plot

    • MC adults are generally to the far right

  • General findings

    • Region/standard and class

      • The variants which contribute most to the position of middle-class adults are all consistent with the regional standard.

      • Variants which contribute most to the position of the working-class adolescents are all non-standard, both local and non-local.

    • Class, conformity, and innovation

      • less mobile (ie WC) adolescents show high linguistic conformity, they lead all changes; the more mobile adolescents (middle-class) show few changes

light = young, dark = old

 = M,  = F

red = WC, green = MC



Conclusions l.jpg

  • Speakers unconsciously adjust their speech based on who they are speaking with, in what context they are speaking, what they believe is expected of them, what they want to be perceived as, etc.

  • What speakers produce (performance) often differs from what they think/know (competence).

    • Underlying /r/’s

    • Elaborated/restricted code

    • Over- and under-reporting

  • Not everyone aspires to be perceived as milk-toast regionless middle class.

  • This may lead to preservation of regional forms, adoption of supra-local non-standard forms, or innovation of novel forms.

  • It also plays a role in creating and preserving class stratification for language, and class-gender correlations.

References l.jpg

  • Bernstein, Basil. 1971. Class, Codes and Control, volume 1. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

  • Eckert, Penelope. 1997. Age as a sociolinguistic variable. In F. Coulmas (ed). The Handbook of Sociolinguistics. 151-167. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Edwards, John. 1979. Social class differences and the identification of sex in children’s. speech. Journal of Child Language 6:121-127.

  • Gordon, Elizabeth. 1997. Sex, speech, and stereotypes: why women use prestige speech forms more than men. Language in Society 26: 47-64.

  • Guy, Gregory. 1988. Language and social class. In F. Newmeyer, ed., Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey, vol. 4. (Language: The Socio-cultural context.), 37-63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Labov, William. 1990. The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic change. Language Variation and Change 2: 205-254.

  • Martin, F. 1954. Some Subjective Aspects of Social Stratification. In D. Glass, ed., Social Mobility in Great Britain. London.

  • Milroy, Lesley. 1982. Language and group identity. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 3:207-216.

  • Rickford, John and F. McNair-Knox. 1994. Addressee- and topic- influenced style shift: A quantitative sociolinguistic study. Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Register. D. Biber and E. Finegan. New York, Oxford University Press: 235-276.

  • Stuart-Smith, Jane, Fiona Tweedie, Claire Timmins, A. Wrench, and James Scobbie. 2000. Accent Change in Glaswegian: A sociophonetic investigation.

  • Trudgill, Peter. 1974. The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Trudgill, Peter. 1983. Sex and covert prestige. In P Trudgill On Dialect, Chap. 10. [Revision of the original 1972 article in Language in Society; which is excerpted in J. Coates, ed. 1998, Language & Gender: A reader, 21-28.]

Appendix glasgow variables l.jpg
Appendix: Glasgow variables

  • From

  • (th): TH-fronting. The pronunciation of /th/ as [f], in e.g. think, something, has been reported anecdotally in Glaswegian since the early 1980s (see Macafee 1983; 1994; Stuart-Smith 1999). The more usual Glaswegian (and Lowland Scots) variant is [h] (Macafee 1983).

  • (dh): DH-fronting. In Glaswegian, at least intervocalically, in e.g. brother, a tap is a common variant for /dh/ (Macafee 1983). The pronunciation of /dh/ as [v], in e.g. smooth, was found in the pilot study (Stuart-Smith 1999).

  • (l): L-vocalization. The change of /l/ to a vowel took place during the history of Scots, as in e.g. aa for all (e.g. Macafee 1983). More recently, L-vocalization similar to that found in Cockney English, to a back rounded vowel or before a consonant in e.g. well, milk, has been reported in Glaswegian: Macafee (1983); Stuart-Smith (1999).

  • (t): T-glottalling. The glottalling of /t/ between vowels and word-finally, as in e.g. butter, but, has long been a stigmatized feature of Glaswegian (Macaulay 1977; Macafee 1983; Stuart-Smith 1999a); T-glottalling in non-standard southern English may originate from Glaswegian.

  • (x): X-loss. Scottish English has a distinction between /x/ and /k/, as in loch and lock, but this is being lost for some speakers (Macafee 1983; Stuart-Smith 1999, Lawson and Stuart-Smith 1999).

  • (hw): HW-loss. Again, Scottish English maintains the distinction between /w/ and /hw/ in pairs such as wine and whine. Loss of this distinction is reported in Macafee (1983), Stuart-Smith 1999, Lawson and Stuart-Smith 1999.

  • (r): R-loss. Scottish English is typically rhotic, with pronunciation of postvocalic /r/ in e.g. car and card, as well as red (Wells 1982). Loss of postvocalic /r/ is reported in Edinburgh schoolchildren by Romaine (1978), and anecdotally for Glaswegian in Macafee (1983), Stuart-Smith (1999).

  • (s): S-retraction. A retracted variant of /s/, auditorily closer to  is commonly found in all positions in the word in working-class (Lowland Scots) speech.

  • (k): K-realization. In order to investigate the changes in (x), in particular, the possible merger of /x/ with /k/, we also examined typical pronunciations of /k/, in e.g. lock.

  • (w): W-realization. Similarly, the finding of [w] for (hw), suggesting merger of /hw/ with /w/, necessitated a consideration of typical /w/ pronunciations, in e.g. wine.

  • (r2): R-realization. The auditory analysis of postvocalic /r/ proved complex yielding a huge array of variants. When subsequent categorization still resulted in 11 variants, we separated the variation into two variables, R-loss – considering the vocalization/loss of postvocalic /r/, and R-realization – considering the articulation of /r/.