What sort of linguistic features distinguish regional and social varieties of English? How have researchers tried to explain such variation?Geographical location and social standing between people in given populations have long played a part in determining what people say and how people speak throughout the world.
Varying accents, dialects and regional varieties of English exhibit phonological lexical and syntactic features differences between different groups of speakers. I will first highlight some linguistic variation in grammar and vocabulary throughout the world in national and regional contexts and then show phonological differences in the given examples, when compared to Standard English and Received Pronunciation. I will then attempt to explain this variation with reference to social variables like status, age, and sex backed up with accepted empirical explanations where possible.On U210 Audio Cassette 2 Band 3 Indian English. Professor SK Verma compares verb phrases, tense and aspect of Standard English in relation to the non-standard Indian English variety. Verma explains that in SE, The Present Perfect Continuous tense describes and action starting in the past and continuing up to the present time, for example “I have been teaching English since 1951”. Verma goes on to show differences in his native Indian English that favours “I am teaching English since 1951”, replacing the Present Perfect Continuous with a Present Continuous construction and the am form of the verb to be.
This gives the initial impression that something is happening around the present moment, when in fact the speaker is referring to a past event continuing until the present. Verma points out the message and meaning that the speaker is trying to convey is not lost. The familiar Subject, Verb, Object, Adverbial is present in the I am teaching English since 1951 example, and even though there has been a rogue substitution of am the word order in the clause is not flawed and a syntactic relationship exists. Even though a mistake exists experienced English speaker would appreciate the syntactic structures in English and probably realise the mistakes different non SE speakers make and adjust their thinking accordingly.In the IPA consonant chart plosives and fricatives characters are by far the most used to describe manner of articulation. Plosive sounds are made from blocking air before it is expelled out of the mouth, where fricatives are produced by forcing air through a constrictive passage, usually lips or teeth. Phoneticians need to describe the place of articulation in the mouth, for example bilabial or labio-dental.
On U210 Audio Cassette 2 Band 3, Professor Vermar explains phonological problems associated with Indian English speakers when speaking English. On a national scale there are ‘sounds that do not exist in any of the languages in the county for example the /d?/ sound in RP /measure/: Consequently ‘major’ or ‘mijer’ is substituted by Indian speakers. Regionally, in the east they have trouble using labio-dental fricatives as in /f/ and /v/, so they substitute this with a plosive making /vote/ into /bote/ for example.
This is a minimal pair; /bo?t/ is the nearest phonemic substitution for /vo?t/they can find and are able to articulate. By comparing speakers it is possible to trace a dialect spoken within a region comparing speech characteristics of different speakers. Vermar presents two sides of the argument explaining although meaning is often not lost between educated non-standard English speakers within speech communities, for example at university, people still need to identify with a group. Easterners, in this case, are immediately identified as being unable to speak English properly and therefore ostracized, affecting their standing within the group and possibly their performance.
Modal Verbs are used to show varying degree of possibility or prediction in SE. In Caribbean English there is a tendency to replace will with would as in ‘I would go there tomorrow’. While keeping the same future aspect, it gives the SE listener a sense of uncertainty as if something may or may not occur. Indian English could and would are found to replace can and will. This hedge by the speaker could be seen as indecisive but as Trudgill and Hannah suggest this substitution is more tentative and therefore (seen as) more polite.
(Graddol, Leith ; Swann P238).Using determiners in SE depends on what message you want to convey. SE uses the with non-countable nouns or if we are familiar with the object. For example pass the butter or get in the car. Scottish English uses determiners more liberally in some respects, for example the day for today and up the stair for upstairs.
South East Asian forms of English invariably use no articles at all, for example ‘She is teacher’. Indian English ignores some non-countable nouns and forms such as a furniture and furnitures exist. Most learners of English as a second language have trouble with learning the correct use of a and the, and the rules may seem overly complex with mistakes often made. It is understandable why some speakers of English, noticeably the face-saving South East Asians, omit determiners altogether for fear of mistakes and embarrassment.Linguists see RP as ‘just another accent’, yet RP has long been the bench mark of phonemic description of English. However, recent observations of the Queen’s Christmas speech (The Independent on Sunday 3rd December 2006), suggest her English is becoming more estuary, crossing between cockney and home counties English, changing her vowel sounds over the past fifty year reign; /d?ute?/ is now pronounced /d?uti/ for example. An article in the Guardian on 3rd June 1998, Professor John Honey observed Tony Blair showing a tendency towards estuary by adopting the plosive glottal stop[?] in his speech and omitting d word endings, and characterises Cockney and Irish accents.
“They pu[?] on a lit[?]le show for us” says Mr Blair. Glottal stops help create a staccato effect like Singapore English where vowel sounds are truncated interfering with the rhythm of the clause, which highlights the stress-timed characteristics of Regional Estuary English. This can be contrasted with the rhythmic, melodic style of Jamaican English that stress the final syllable in word, rather than the first, for example celebrate rather than initial stress of celebrate. ‘The prosodic systems of different accents are clearly not identical’. Wright (Graddol, Leith & Swann P267).Estuary English is relatively new phenomenon. In the same article as above, David Rosewarne a London teacher who identified the accent concludes that it allows ‘Cockney speakers to water down their accents’ while giving the middle classes ‘the street cred of a regional twang’, giving a benefit to each party. This shows the regional diffusion of two accents into one, but suggests too that some boundaries of register, formal and informal as an example, are becoming blurred.
Paul Kerswill argued the emergence of a new accent in his Milton Keynes studies. His studies involved four, eight and twelve year old school children.The studies focussed demographic shift and on age to show what change took place to a population over a period of time. Kerswill argued that the younger children still followed their parent’s accent with limited change but the twelve year olds, verging on adolescence and seeking approval of their peers, were actively forging a new accent. Furthermore, the studies showed that the majority of older children recorded, showed little trace of a local MK accent, or any of their caretaker’s accents. The study’s population were new to Milton Keynes. The conclusion of the study was that even though a new accent had been ‘invented’ it was close to what was already in existence.
South Eastern accents were being standardised as seen in estuary English in what is termed dialect levelling.Phonology varies throughout the world and different accents produce different sounds. Historically and socially is necessary to understand how language has changed over time and how different speech communities communicate with each other.
The model held up as a measure is Received Pronunciation (RP) being ‘a social rather than regional British accent’, (Wright: Graddol, Leith ; Swann P259), also known as the Queen’s English. Most people today do not speak RP but style shift changing accents depending on the requirements of a given social situation. Relationships between interlocutors decide the tenor used. The way people interact with their friends is not the same way they would talk to their doctor for instance. The register would be informal with friends and formal with their doctor.However, some people strive or need to project a higher perceived social status, which dilutes the local accent and subsequently tend to use fewer local language forms. William Labov showed social aspirations influenced speech patterns. Labov centred on the rhotic, non-prevocalic /r/ in New York.
The non-prevocalic /r/ is a post-alveolar approximation made by raising the soft palate in the mouth and positioning the tongue tip close to the alveolar ridge. Leith’s speaker from Wallingford, (U210 Audio Cassette 1 Band 3 “The sounds of Old English”), utters the words “ears” and “together” as examples of a non-prevocalic /r/ sound.This is contrasted with Trudgill’s study of young speakers in Norwich finding a spread from working to middle classes of the labio-dental approximation [?], making the non-rhotic /rabbit/ sound like /wabbit/. Labov divided speakers into six groups based on his assumption of class and graded informants speaking styles, with unplanned casual speech requiring the least attention and reading minimal pairs requiring the most. As the non-prevocalic /r/ is associated with higher social classes the expectation was for higher class informants to use the non- prevocalic /r/ more consistently, particularly in the planned reading tasks requiring greater focus while lower classes were expected to produce the non-prevocalic /r/ less in all tasks.The results graph (Coates: Graddol, Leith & Swann P278) shows a hypercorrection occurred with lower middle classes actively using the non- prevocalic /r/.
This was particularly noticeable in the women of the group. Labov’s conclusion was that the lower middle class needed acceptance and aspired to the levels of higher classes which manifested in speech: Woman were the most conscious of the need to elevate their social standing, probably being the more socially active than men. This phenomenon has become known as accommodation theory ‘where speakers converge with their interlocutor when they wish to reduce social difference…
and diverge when they wish to… increase social distance.'(Swann: Graddol, Leith ; Swann P304). Essentialy this is a measure of friendliness or distinctiveness people wish to project between each other.Inspired by Labov, Allan Bell’s New Zealand studies focused of the ‘short i’ of New Zealand speakers, contrasting native Maori and British Pakeha settlers.
Out of a sample of three thousand Bell took into account different social variables of age, sex, race and class to assure a balanced experiment. Referring to the vowel charts (Study Guide P32) we see a high number of older Maori woman pronounced the frontal ‘short i’ similarly to speakers of RP, in contrast to the majority of Pakeha woman who pronounced a centralized [?] schwa sound. However, Maori speakers who are not fluent in their own language pronounce the /i/ nearer to the Pakeha speaker’s utterance.Older Pakeha woman also uttered a unique central /hoo-t/ vowel variant. Two points that Bell makes in this study are that the British brought a close frontal hit type vowel to New Zealand , while Pakeha and Maori woman use a different vowel pronunciation, the conclusion being that both sets of woman are making New Zealand English more distinctive from other varieties of English around the world, (U210 Audio Cassette 2 Band 5 ‘Maori & Pakeha’). Where this is obviously a landmark study, it is not clear how Bell marked out some of his parameters namely the difference between working and middle class which seems to have been a subjective assumption; a best guess. Using a spectrograph to measure his results would have been more objective method however this could lead the informants being even more aware of the experiment taking place so increasing the chance of spurious results.Language varies in the context of different social variables.
The concept of regional diffusion an direct levelling show a diluting of regional accents while Bell’s Maori studies show a how some dialects and languages can develop a uniqueness. The social concept of prestige in a language can lead people to strive for elevated status converging towards their interlocutors as with Labov’s experiment. Regional dialect and accents can acquire phonetic, phonological, syntactic, morphological, semantic differences that make one group of speakers noticeably different from another in the same language, and as shown in the Indian English examples can have an effect on second language acquisition.
What people say and how people say it have a profound effect on not only meaning but on social interaction throughout the world.References:Graddol et.al : 1996 English history diversity and change.
Routledge in association with the OU.U210 Study Guide.Graddol et.al : Describing Language 1994. OU Press.Crystal: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language Second Edition 2003 Cambridge University Press.Open University Audio Cassette 1, 2 ; 3.