Language and Popular Culture

LING 057

H. Schiffman

  1. Dialectology

    Dialectology---the study of non-standard language. Dichotomy between language and `dialect' has been around for a long time, although not easy to characterize.

  2. Problems with regional dialectology

    1. It ignores variation
    2. concentrates on norms, (Non-educated, older, rural men) and ignores all other persons
    3. Ignores social differences.
    4. Boundaries: where is boundary between German and Dutch? French and Italian? Russian and Ukrainian? Serbian, Croatian, and "Bosnian"?
    5. Political boundaries shift: superposed standard language may change: Southern Sweden example.

    6. Dialect continuum: chain of mutually intelligible dialects; Dialect and language in Asia:
      • Chain of mutually intelligible dialects
      • Diglossia
      • Chinese dialect situation
      • Japanese centrism: Tokyo vs. Kansai
    7. Just for your own interest, participate in a dialect survey about American regional dialects.

  3. Language Variation

    In time: historical linguistics (clock, calendar)

    In space: dialectology horizontally

    In society: social dialectology. (vertically) and

    1. Social dialects--were ignored by the 'Atlas' approach, the `classical' approach to dialectology.

    2. Even within a ``uniform" social group, there is variation, depending on situation: formal vs. informal, e.g. 'thinking' vs. 'thinkin' etc.

    3. Variables: sex/gender ( esp. women), profession (doctors, lawyers, criminals), national origin, education, class, formality of situation, age, sexual preference, religious affiliation (Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc., Catholic/Orthodox in Yugoslavia.)

    Any kind of social difference can make a difference and be reflected in speech. People notice things and react to people by their speech. Has always been true: In Bible: the shibboleth and its pronunciation was used to discern differences; the recognition of Peter the Apostle (as a Galilean) when Jesus was being arrested, etc. In classical Sanskrit plays, e.g. Shakuntala, high noble people spoke Sanskrit, women, servants, children spoke Prakrits.

  4. Gross kinds of social variation:

    1. Code-switching
    2. Dialect to dialect
    3. Language to language (multilingualism)

    More subtle kinds of variation:

    1. Black English, the Creole situation (Acrolect, Mesolect, Basilect: the creole continuum). Non-standard dialects are often stigmatized i.e. ridiculed, denigrated, made fun of. Labov credits stigmatization for 'chasing out' the non-standard [oi] pronunciation in 'Brooklynese' e.g. [boyd] for 'bird', [toity-toid] for 'thirty-third,' etc. (The diphthong is actually schwa+i, not o+i). This was done systematically by comedians like Jack Benny in his radio programs, that made fun of the telephone operators Gertrude Gearshift and Mabel Flapsaddle.

    2. Spoken vs. Formal: in Japanese: spoken vs. formal vs. dramatic stage style, etc.

      • English: radio announcer vs. sports announcer; FM vs. AM; professor vs. rap group, etc.;
      • New York English, southern English, other kinds.
        New York English has been studied by Labov, who found much variation according to class stratification, correlated along an axis of informal to formal speech:

      • This chart shows increasing use of [r] postvocalically, such as in words like car, beer etc., in five different styles (A to D', D' being the most careful), by people from different social 'classes'. Note that Lower Middle Class speakers (LMC) cross over all classes above them and use the most r-ful speech in the most careful style.

        Another chart shows the reduction of the use of stops and affricates instead of 'th', also by class and style, in other words, the reduction of forms stigmatized as deze, dem, doze which are replaced by these, them, those etc. .


    3. Other languages, e.g. French, have similar phenomena for such things as deletion of /l/ in forms like il faut which in Parisian or other non-standard French may be pronounced [i fo], etc. Other variables include the reduction of [e] and [E], i.e. the contrast between est 'is' and et 'and' is lost, and both are pronounced the same.

  5. Official policy

    The type of official State policy may determine kind of attitudes toward dialects, both regional and social.

    1. France: centrist, all controlled by Paris; the Academy (no class differences that cannot be surmounted; but meprise of regional `patois' (but not of Parisian Français Populaire). French revolution destroyed upper class, but legitimized their dialect. (Singapore has emulated this model.)

    2. Germany: decentralized, no center controls norms; High German Bühnensprache is available to all, but dialects are not sneered at. No `class' accents (but `educated/non-educated').

    3. England: No academy, social dialects are mark of class and education; people who are not members of the upper classes are not supposed to sound like they are. (Marg. Thatcher resented)

    4. America: more egalitarian (in the sense that anyone who wants to acquire 'standard' speech (often referred to also as Mainstream US EEnglish, or MUSE ) can do so, and will be accepted as a 'standard' speaker; standard speech is broadcast standard; previously it was determined by NY stage pronunciation, originating out of eastern prestigious college's pronunciation by pastors trained there. George Bush (the elder) tries to talk like a truck driver (linguistic equivalent of eating pork-rinds). And George W. Bush clearly sounds Texan. Southern speech, which was previously scorned, is no longer so stigmatized.

      5.1 Politics

      Politics may have an effect: if a particular social class (e.g. ``the establishment") gets a bad reputation, attitudes toward their language may change. During the 60's and 70's attitudes toward `standard' language in US changed dramatically; counterculture groups, anti-segregation groups, rise of drug culture etc. all contribution to change of perception about ``good" language. Attitude toward Black English changed; attitude toward Spanish spoken publicly changed (although some people retain private prejudices).

      5.2 Theoretical linguistics

      Basic premise is that rules are categorical, that there is an ``ideal speaker-hearer,"and that linguists speak like the ideal speaker-hearer. Variability is not permitted. Rules is rules. This is monolithic approach, actually very elitist, not based on empirical research.

      Compare the premise of social dialectology (sociolinguistics): language is inherently variable.

    5. Study of non-standard English

      Labov and the study of non- standard English. Department store study; Martha's Vineyard; BEV.

      Studied and isolated variables, e.g. /r/ dropping in NY, vowel-raising in NY. Centralization of /au/ in M's Vineyard; other variables (e.g. be) in BEV.

      For your interest, here is a page devoted to Scottish dialects, and all the sociolinguistic baggage associated with that area of Britain. The site indicates that people are tired of 'dodgy' (i.e. inauthentic) Scottish accents, such as the one Mel Gibson used in Braveheart and now are providing resources to help people learn an authentic one.

    6. Summing up.

      1. Language variation indicates ``change in progress." Previous model (classical dialectology), people thought language change was too slow to observe. They excluded most of the population. Labov showed that /r/ variation indicates that /r/ is being reinserted into the language. The change from /r/ to [ 0 ] to /r/ again is happening before our eyes (ears). But other things are changing, too.

      2. Age variation: people educated before 1940 are not changing. The norm has changed since the war. New York ``stage" pronunciation is no longer fashionable. Radio and TV have made ``midwestern" (or eastern urban educated ) pronunciation fashionable.

      3. Ethnicity variation: discernible difference between Jewish and Italian background speakers in NY: Jewish speakers raise the back vowels more; Italian speakers raise the /æ/ vowel more. Black speakers do other things.

      4. Sex variation: women vary more, especially LMC women. Since they are working in department stores and are also the primary source of grade school teachers they may be influencing children more than we know. Teachers typically have two ways of talking, classroom speech, outside (``Normal") speech. Students realize that classroom talk is phoney.

      5. This brings us to ``ways of speaking" as a topic.

        • What constitutes `politeness'? Varies from culture to culture.
        • How do you begin a conversation?
        • How close do you stand to the other person?
        • What topics of conversation are covered? ( `How's your sex life?' vs. `How's your spiritual life?')
        • What kind of greetings and closings are used?
        • What use is made of the telephone; what are the `rules'? French: Begin with
          Allo, bonjour! J'espere que je vous dérange pas?

          ( Hello! I hope I'm not bothering you?)

        • What cultural and subcultural attitudes are there about speech?
        • Are there differences between the way men and women speak?
        • What are the `illocutionary' and pragmatic aspects of language?

      Harold Schiffman,
      last modified 1/17/05.