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Social class and language


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Published in: Education, Technology

Social class and language

  1. 1. Language and Class
  2. 2. Class consciousness Raymond Williams & E. P. Thompson Each class contains the other(s) within itself, though in distorted and ambivalent forms … each class views the others … as images of their hopes and fears for their own lives and futures … if much of working class culture can be understood as … embodying the ambivalence of upward mobility, much of middle-class culture can be seen as embodying the terror of downward mobility. (Ortner, 1991)
  3. 3. What is social class? In everyday use, and even among sociologists, the word ‘class’ is used non-sociologically, meaning ‘a kind of category’ ‘A division or order of society according to status; a rank or grade of society.’ (OED)
  4. 4. What is social class? Objective Subjective Applying a criteria of  The individual places inclusion to an individual in himself/herself in a class order to place them in a category, regardless of class category, regardless of whether the researcher whether the individual thinks they belong in that thinks they belong in that class category. class category
  5. 5. Low, middle, upper …? Your accent Where you live  Power What you do  Wealth What you earn  Prestige How much you are worth
  6. 6. Class in the UK Classless? Upper Class  Education  Income ( Middle class  Upper middle class  Occupation  Middle middle class  Wealth  Lower middle class  Class Stereotypes Working class  Toff  Skilled working class  Rah  Unskilled working class  Sloane ranger  Worcester woman  Essex man Underclass  White van man  chav
  7. 7. Trudgill: social class dialects I done it yesterday./I did it yesterday. He ain’t got it./He hasn’t got it. It was her what said it./It was her that said it. ‘Why does social differentiation have this effect on language?’  Geographical boundaries  Social boundaries The study of  Idiolects  From a study of rural dialects to urban speech communities  The importance of Labov
  8. 8. Trudgill: social class dialects The dialect continuum Highest class: standard dialect Social variation Lowest class: most localised non- standard Regional variation
  9. 9. Trudgill: social class accents The accent continuum Highest class: RP Social variation Lowest class: most localised non- accent Regional variation
  10. 10. Trudgill: dialect correlations From hunch to method to correlation to theory Explanatory power:  We know what we are doing when we ascribe social status from speech  We learn about social structure from an understanding of language variation  Idiolects follow predictable patterns  It teaches us to be suspicious of stereotypes
  11. 11. Trudgill: accent correlations Norwich: Trudgill  Variation across speech styles parallels variation across social class New York: Labov  Study in 1962 at department stores in New York.
  12. 12. The stores Saks Fifth Avenue  At 50th Street and 5th Avenue, near the centre of the high fashion shopping district Macys  Herald Square. 34th Street and Sixth Avenue, near the clothing district S. Klein  Union Square. 14th Street and Broadway, not far from the Lower East Side
  13. 13. The shop assistants The interviewer asked:  Excuse me, where are the (womens shoes)? The salesperson answered:  Fourth floor. The interviewer then leaned forward and said:  Excuse me? The salesperson answered:  Fourth floor.
  14. 14. The hunch In New York City the pronunciation of postvocalic (r) in words like “fourth” and “floor” is variable. Labov’s hypothesis  Salespeople in the highest ranked stores will have the most (r), those in the middle ranked store will have an intermediate value, and those in the lowest ranked store will have the least. Was he right?
  15. 15. Conclusions There is a sliding up and down between standard and vernacular forms  The ‘classic sociolinguistic finding’ People’s pronunciation tends to move closer to higher class speech styles in formal situations, and closer to lower class styles when situations are more relaxed. Individual variation turns out to be a reflection of the speech differences that emerge when you survey the class groups in society as a whole. Individuals internalise class hierarchy and act it out in the fine grain of ordinary life. How?