Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Lecture 24 -- Summary Outline
Language and Society: What Your Speech Says about You
By Valerie Fridland
The Changing Face of Linguistic Diversity
People are often interested in two questions related to the subject of
linguistics: (1) Are English dialects becoming more similar over time,
and (2) What effect does mass media have on language? It seems
obvious that the massive exporting of English and American pop culture must
be shaping the way people communicate in some fashion, but surprisingly,
these questions are understudied by theoretical linguists. In this lecture, we
will take a look at the opposing forces of convergence and divergence in
language, both at home and abroad. We’ll examine both the power and the
limitations of linguistic imperialism. And We’ll find out if the global reach
of popular media is, in fact, shaping the way English is spoken worldwide.
I. The Question of Convergence
A. Convergence can be as simple as borrowing vocabulary words or as
complex as acquiring new grammatical rules. It is much more likely
in the former case than the latter. For example, we have easily
picked up the words sake and sushi, but we don’t generally adopt
Japanese grammatical word order.
B. We can also discuss convergence in terms of decreasing numbers
of languages in the world overall or in terms of linguistic leveling
across regionally distinctive forms within a single language.
C. Adding to this complexity, language is driven toward divergence
in response to social pressures, such as gender, race, and class.
Cultural and social motivations often ch‘ive us to speak differently,
either because of geographic or social separation or a desire to set
D. Why might we want to converge or diverge linguistically? In yotn'
own experience, do you pick up on certain styles of speaking when
the person you’re talking to is someone with whom you identify
strongly? Do you sometimes move to a formal, impersonal style
because you want to distance yourself from someone? These
questions point to the power of identity construction, which is
crucial to the issue of convergence.
II. Identity Construction
A. In an earlier lecture, we discussed a number of social factors, such
as migration, geography, ecology, and group reference, that help
to form and maintain dialects. Quite frequently, as we’ve seen,
language changes occur in ways that make speakers more distinct
from others. This leads to the recognition of specific dialects and, in
some cases, the birth of new languages. In fact, this is how English
came into existence in the first place.
B. Language divergence happens when speakers move away from each
other for economic, sociopolitical, or psychological reasons. Often,
this occurs simultaneously with a population shift, as in situations
involving colonization, migration, or war. Insofar as these same
pressures affect us today and into the future, it is unlikely that the
process of linguistic divergence will disappear altogether.
C. However, languages or language varieties also become more similar
over time. For example, the early settlement of the United States led
to increasing divergence from dialects in England. As the settlers in
the New World established social and cultural ties, a new koine was
formed-a new variety of language resulting from the mixture of
various language inputs. As a result of this New World koine, the
children of the early settlers began to speak more like one another
and less like those who stayed behind in the original homeland.
D. Likewise, the emergence of a standard language in the face of
many regionalized or local varieties often has a homogenizing
effect to some degree on the local varieties themselves. Thus, in
our own history, colonists began to see their land not as isolated
settlements but as a united band of colonies in opposition to the
British government. This recognition of greater similarity across
groups brought greater linguistic convergence. In other words,
regionalisms, though still present, became part of a larger, more
recognizable “American” dialect-bringing with it symbolic unity.
E. Sometimes this linguistic standardization occurs not just at the
national level but also at the international level. The expansion of
a nation economically, politically, or militarily can establish that
language as an international linguistic model. In modem times,
this process of standardization has certainly intensified with our
increased global connectedness and reliance on CMC.
III. The Global Expansion of English
A. Over the last century, English has spread rapidly around the globe
in its role as a language of diplomacy, economy, and entertainment.
For those speaking a less economically or socially advantageous
language, there is something to be gained by teaching their children
English or adopting English as a second language themselves.
With such widespread adoption of English, we certainly seem to be
converging toward a smaller set of dominant languages.
B. At the same time, this expansion gives birth to new and diverging
dialects of English. Many world Englishes have now moved
beyond being just second languages. They have become thriving
separate dialects, in some cases, with a native speaker base of
their own. This is true in Singapore, West Africa, Hong Kong, and
C. The key to the development of world English has been contact-
situations in which two or more groups of speakers are forced
to interact and communicate with each other. This contact alone
establishes a new form of language, particularly when members of
one group must acquire a language to meet a dominant group’s needs.
D. In the case of English, indigenous language speakers adopted
the variety brought to their land by British colonizers, starting in
the l6“‘ century. Over time, these varieties developed uniquely to
represent the cultural and linguistic diversity of those speaking it.
E. Though it may seem that the colonizer simply instills a dominant
linguistic code, it is rare that the experience of the linguistic groups
involved is that rigid and fixed. Instead, though the language may
be imposed by a politically and economically dominant group, it is
altered and shaped by the experiences of the indigenous population.
Of course, it is here that English takes on the role of the “killer”
language-when it begins to encroach on the domains of the
indigenous language that preceded it.
F. Although such spread of English is often taken as evidence of
increasing linguistic homogenization, that is far from true.
1. Over time, the English of another land comes to represent the
social and cultural aspects of those speakers in the same way
that Southern speech in the United States has come to represent
a different history and way of life in the South. It is from this
perspective that we seem to fear English’s globalization-not
because of a fear of homogenization, but because English
becomes something else to someone else.
2. The dark side of this convergence is that it typically results in
the death of some languages, particularly those that don’t have
a large number of speakers.
G. Even granting the serious nature of this phenomenon, we should
remember the forces of linguistic divergence. As English becomes
more widespread, speakers become proficient at creating global
varieties that come to represent group identity.
IV. The Effects of Mass Media
A. If we think of linguistic movement toward similar vocabulary,
or “Iexis,” as being a meaningful type of convergence, then we
can certainly say that movies, television, and online media are
promoting convergence around English forms. For the most part,
though, linguistic change beyond new vocabulary requires true
social engagement and interaction.
B. Despite extensive contact with mainstream varieties, the social cost
of convergence still outweighs the potential benefits. Thus, in every
major city of the United States, ethnic varieties are alive and well.
This suggests that we are far from convergence toward a single
variety of English, despite mass media and increasing mobility.
C. Of course, we still find evidence of convergence. Although ethnic
varieties retain their distinction from mainstream English, it’s
often true that this distinction is now maintained by fewer, more
recognizable features, rather than by a large collection of linguistic
characteristics. This process, in which fewer but salient features do
the work of social identification, is called linguistic focusing.
D. We also find that changes in U.S. migratory patterns have affected
what were once salient ecological differences among American
dialects. For example, over the last century, rural dialects have
atrophied Migration to cities has created both dialect contact and
a motivation for speakers of rural dialects to shift toward more
standard forms. Research suggests that similar dialect leveling is
occurring in Great Britain.
E. To some degree, changes in modern speech can be traced to
exposure to pop culture and the media. The most obvious examples
here include the spread of vocabulary items or phrases. What else
does our mass media export?
1. In general, research has found little support for the idea that
grammatical and phonological patterns are diffused via media
Picking up an isolated pronunciation of a word is not unusual,
but deeper levels of linguistic influence require peer group
interaction and local rewards for using new forms.
2. There is limited evidence, however, that popular media might
be able to spread some phonological alternations. This is
true only if the media norm plays into a linguistic and social
ideology that already exists in the target community. In other
words, some research suggests that exposure to norms already
familiar and accessible at some level within a community can
be assisted by modeling in pop culture.
V. Linguistic Unity?
A. As we’ve discussed, there is a consistent trend toward linguistic
leveling across a number of regional dialects. However, there is
also ample evidence of divergence.
1. Earlier, for example, we saw a number of vowel changes
affecting the regional dialects of American English. This is
in contrast to what we might expect given accessibility and
2. In addition, vowel patterns in Englishes worldwide, such as
New Zealand English and varieties of Southern British English,
are also showing divergent vowel systems. Such tendencies
suggest that at the level of phonology, there is not a great deal
of convergence overall.
B. We also have found no evidence that access to mass media has
introduced much beyond vocabulary worldwide. In other words,
social interaction remains the primary means through which
language changes. Limited social engagement, such as that typically
found among speakers of different global English varieties, limits
the degree to which language converges toward shared nouns.
C. Most importantly, though, the belief that we are headed toward
linguistic convergence doesn’t take into account the fact that
linguistic diversity serves an important role. Dialects are about
communicating identity as much as about communicating facts.
D. Throughout this course, we have seen how much our language
differs depending on who is using it and who we are talking to.
Clearly, these influences will not lessen or fade away soon.
Language, as long as it is part and parcel of social identity, will
remain a flexible and evolving tool to reflect our differences, as
well as our similarities.
Lecture 8 -- Summary Outline
Language and Society: What Your Speech Says about You
By Valerie Fridland
Your Shifty Vowels
Almost all major dialects of American English are undergoing massive
changes in their vowels. These changes differ from region to region
nd among ethnic and age groups in different regions. Because most
of the people we talk to speak the same dialect we do, we notice differences
only when they are unusual to us. These latest vowel shifts are not the first to
affect English, but they certainly represent some of the most striking changes
to our speech in quite some time. Perhaps most surprisingly, American
speech is becoming less similar, not more similar, regionally. In this lecture,
we’ll explore how vowel articulation comes to mark social differences, and
we’ll learn about vowel production.
I. Modern Vowel Shifts
A. Linguists have been studying vowel movements, often referred
to as vowel shows, since isolated vowel changes were first noted
in the 1970s. However, the extensive and interrelated shifts that
we currently recognize in U.S. dialects were not really identified
until the early 1990s as interrelated shift patterns. We also find that
Canada is being affected by vowel shifts that are different than
those in the United States.
B. We often think of regionally diagnostic terms or words as the main
markers of where a person is from-such terms as “y’alI” versus
“youse guys” or “soda” versus “pop.” However, vowel pronunciation
actually plays a more extensive role in making someone sound
like a Southerner, Westerner, or Northerner than we tend to think.
Despite this, we are rarely able to articulate exactly what the
differences in vowel sounds are.
C. Although speech samples from speakers in different parts of the
country sound different, pinpointing specifically what differs
among them is difficult. You might notice a particular word or two
that stand out as distinctive, but it isn’t the word that’s different; it’s
the way the vowels in it sound.
D. Obvious markers of region, such as y’aII or totally rad, make a
clear social claim Vowel sounds, in contrast, are typically below
the level of conscious awareness. Changes in vowel sounds are not
usually even noticed by those shifting them. Eventually, when we
meet people outside of our dialect region that don’t shift in the same
way, we may notice that they pronounce their vowels strangely,
but we probably don’t realize that they are thinking the same thing
E. Vowel shifts can progress rapidly across age, gender, and regional
groups without meeting the social roadblocks that many more
obvious language differences meet. For example, you don’t usually
hear people comment on the way someone else pronounces his or
her vowels, but the substitution of /v/ for /th/ or the deletion of an
/r/ (as in “brovah” instead of “brother”) is often seen as salient.
II. Vowel Articulation
A. Why is it that vowel articulation is so much more subtle yet makes
such a difference?
1. Vowel sounds are produced along somewhat of a continuum
in the mouth. There are fuzzy areas between what constitutes
different vowel qualities for speakers in different regions.
2. We can make an iw/ sound (as in cat) either raised (“ce-aet”)
or retracted (“cuht”) but still have someone understand that we
are saying cat. We then start to identify this subtle variation
with social distinctions.
3. For example, if Great Aunt Mary says “caht” while our
children say “ce-act,” this distinction may come to signal
age differences when we hear it, even though we may not
recognize it consciously. Yet again, we see how language-in
this case, vowel articulation-subtly indicates and reinforces
social categories-in this case, old versus young.
B. ln contrast to other speech sounds, vowels vary quite a bit, and
this variation provides us with an effective yet still linguistically
comprehensible way to recognize social differences.
1. Though there is some variation in how they are produced,
consonants are less variable than vowels. In general, to
make a consonant sound, you have to hit specific targets in a
2. Vowels are a more relational kind of articulation. If you make
a vowel sound a bit higher or lower in the mouth compared
to someone else, it doesn’t matter so much as long as you are
making it distinct from other vowel sounds. This continuous
rather than clear-cut distinction between vowel sounds makes
it harder to recognize exactly how the sound is different unless
you are linguistically trained.
3. But these subtle differences that simply develop through
shared use by a regional or ethnic group are then identified
as social indicators. Again, as we’ve been exploring with
language development more generally, we see that our
speech is a result of both social and linguistic pressures that
are a reflection of where we come from and who we speak
III. Vowel Normalization and Social Differences
A. Vowels are essentially created by vibrations within the vocal tract;
thus, the size of the vocal tract makes a difference in terms of the
frequencies produced by the shaping of the airflow through it. The
process people use to understand another speaker’s vowels when
they sound different is vowel normalization.
1. Normalization processes seem to be most efficient when
there is talker familiarity. That means that the more you
hear a particular speaker, the quicker and more efficiently
you normalize his or her speech. This is the reason you
understand the speech of those you talk to most often more
readily than those with whom you may not have much
2. Normalization may make it seem that variations in vowel
sounds are not very significant-because listeners are able
to accommodate for them. But when an entire group or
community starts to vary its vowel production in the same
way overtime, then the target for that vowel for children may
become shifted toward a new norm
3. The community as a hole changes in a linguistically patterned
way that opens up the opportunity for that shift to become a
marker of a particular social identity. Speakers outside that
community don’t shift consistently or at all toward the new
target, leading to a potentially socially significant difference
among groups of speakers.
B. Why might people start to produce a sound in a systematically
different way than they originally heard it? It seems that young
people are the critical link in introducing innovations into a
1. Adolescence favors social forces beyond class, including
the need for autonomy and independence. These are forces
that are often not as relevant as we age. Although adults are
economically status conscious, teenagers are status conscious
based on other factors. Athletic ability, urbanness, coolness-
all these are critical during maturation, as is the need to express
separation from adult norms.
2. These factors, it seems, help drive vowel changes, among other
types of changes. We will explore more about language and
youth in a later lecture, but we typically End that it is younger
people who are most advanced in sound changes entering a
C. If several communities adopt new norms for vowel production
over time-and do so in different ways-we end up with socially
diagnostic vowels indicative of membership in those communities.
This is exactly what seems to be happening in regional U.S. dialects
today. At the same time, some of the new positions for other vowels
in American English seem to be in the process of dialect leveling,
or losing local differentiation.
D. Because the same vowel sounds reoccur in many of the words we
use, any shift in vowel pronunciation generally affects the way we
say all words containing that vowel sound. A shift in our vowels
can, thus, drastically change a language over time.
IV. Vowel Production
A. Most American dialects have about ll single vowel sounds and 3
main diphthongs, although this inventory varies a bit depending
on a speaker’s dialect and on what is counted as a separate
vowel sound. These sounds are made by moving the tongue
front and back and up and down and by rounding or spreading
the lips. These movements create different shapes in the mouth,
which in ttn‘n create different resonances in the airflow that we
hear as different vowel sounds. This is what linguists refer to as
B. When discussing how we make vowel sounds, we typically refer to
a number of concurrent factors: tongue position (front or back of the
tongue lifted high, mid, or low in the mouth), jaw position (opened
or closed), and lip position (rounded or spread). The movements
of the tongue and lips work together to essentially make a tube.
Air moving through vibrates at different resonances, depending
on the shape made with this tube. Different shapes create different
C. We can more easily understand how these elements work together
by thinking about how vowel sounds are produced in the mouth.
Linguists typically arrange vowels on a trapezoid-shaped chart.
Vowels produced at the front part of the mouth are represented on
the left of the chart (toward the hypothetical open part of the mouth),
and vowels produced at the back of the mouth are represented on
the right side of the chart. The charts below show the front and back
D. Vowel shifting is part of the history of every language and results
in significant changes over time in the way sounds are pronounced.
Part of what makes vowel shifts have such an impact on the way
language systems develop is because of the interconnectedness of
the vowel space.
1. A change in the articulation of one vowel can encroach on the
way another vowel is produced. Or the movement of one vowel
can open up possibilities for another vowel sound to move into
the articulatory space it previously occupied.
2. This kind of simultaneous related shifting is called a vowel
chain shift, and such chain shifts can radically reorganize the
vowel space of a language or dialect. Indeed, such vowel shifts
result in the development of longstanding linguistic divergence
because they often affect which vowel categories are perceived
in a language.
E.As we know, English has shifted quite a bit over time-from its
Germanic vowel qualities to Old English, then to Middle English,
and finally to Modern English vowel categories. Now it seems as if
our vowels are shifting yet again.
Lecture 4 -- Summary Outline
Language and Society: What Your Speech Says about You
By Valerie Fridland
Four Levels of Language Variation
Previously, we examined how communities of speakers build social
meaning using some parts-but not others-of their linguistic
endowment. Different groups vary in terms of which aspects of
linguistic competence they use, with social facts playing a large role in
determining what facets of their cognitive grammar are relevant in their
speech. Individuals’ speech also varies according to the norms of their more
local communities. But before we delve too deeply into this relationship
between variation and social identity, we first need to understand the different
linguistic features that can be put to work by speakers. In this lecture, we will
cover some of the linguistic levels affected by dialect variation, specifically,
phonetics, phonology, syntax, and morphology.
I. Phonetics and Phonology
A. The areas of linguistics concerned with the sounds of language
are phonetics and phonology. Though these two fields are related,
phonetics centers on how sounds are actually produced.
1. An example of a phonetic difference might be the Southern
pronunciation of the vowel in the words tie and hide as “taz”
2. The Southern pronunciation of the fay/ vowel is what is
referred to by linguists as a linguistic shibboleth-a speech
form that is recognizable as being associated with a particular
type of speaker or as signaling a particular social identity.
Though not all Southerners monophthongize the fay/ vowel, no
non-Southerners do; thus, it is a strongly identifying feature of
B. Phonology is the area of linguistics that is concerned with how
human speech sounds are organized into unique systems in
1. An example of phonological organization would be the number
of vowels used in different languages. For example, there are 5
vowel sounds in the vowel inventory of Japanese. Essentially,
all words use one of those 5 vowels and no other vowel sounds.
English, in contrast, has a large vowel inventory, essentially
using ll stressed vowels.
2. One consequence of this difference is that a Japanese speaker
must use one of the 5 Japanese vowel sounds to approximate
English vowels when learning English words. This results in
the substitution of the closest vowel from the Japanese system
for the vowel the speaker lacks in the English system.
3. The vowel sounds in boot and book are different for an English
speaker, but this contrast does not exist in Japanese. Thus,
when speaking English, a Japanese speaker will use the vowels
in Japanese that are the closest-sounding approximates to the
vowel sounds of English. Because tl'|is won’t be equivalent
to an English speaker, this difference will mark the Japanese
speaker as a normative speaker of English.
4. This is an example of how phonology can mark a difference
between two languages. This difference may, in turn, be
taken to suggest certain things socially about the speaker,
such as level of cultural awareness and, in some cases, even
competence. In reality, however, an adult learner of English is
simply constrained by a first-language system that makes exact
replication of the second language impossible.
II. Spoken versus Written Language
A. It’s important to remember that linguistics is primarily concerned
with spoken, not written, language and that this perspective results
in different ways of understanding language variation.
1. For example, most variation that we will discuss in the next
few lectures will not have any correlate in the written form
of the word. When speakers who pronounce “pin” and “pen”
in the same way write these words down, they typically write
them as the rest of us do. As we will see, written language is
tied into the norms associated with standard formal English,
not the version we use in our day-to-day, face-to-face
2. Throughout these lectures, we need to remind ourselves to
think as we speak, not as we write, when discussing language
B. An important concept when talking about any level of linguistics is
that of rules. We tend to think of writing as informing us of the rules
of how to speak But we had language skills long before we went to
school and started writing. The type of rule system that drives our
oral versus written knowledge of language is vastly different. For
example, in phonology, the way we put sounds together is a strictly
governed process regardless of which language or dialect we speak.
1. Possible human speech sounds appear to be limited. On the one
hand, we find similar sounds being used in most ofthe world’s
languages, such as /i/, /u/, /m/, and /k/. On the other hand, we
produce many sounds, such as blowing or teeth-chattering,
that have no linguistic meaning anywhere in the world This
suggests that sound selection in language is driven by cognitive
and articulatoly rules or preferences; it is not arbitrary.
2. Further, we don’t connect just any sounds together into
syllables; there are many sound combinations that are never
evidenced in human language. Even preliterate children know
these types of rules and don’t break them.
C. These linguistic rules are different than social rules. Such rules as
“Don’t split infinitives” are social niles of grammar, not linguistic
rules. And when you violate grammar rules, you do not violate the
linguistic rules that stand behind the language we speak. Instead,
you violate the conventional grammar rules that our educational
and institutional systems have established as the social norm.
1. Linguists refer to this difference as the difference between
prescriptive and descriptive rules. Prescriptive rules are those
established by grammarians to control the output of speakers
by assigning prestige or penalties based on the use or nonuse
of prescribed language norms. Descriptive rules describe how
language works and is used by speakers-what you already
know unconsciously as a speaker of a human language.
2. Linguistics is a descriptive field; its goal is to explain the
linguistic output of speakers in terms of what is possible and
what is not possible in language based on empirical evidence.
Although we will often discuss prescriptive rules and their
interaction with language in society in these lectures, the
linguistic rules we will discuss are those that are responsible
for all languages and dialects we find in the world.
D. It’s important to note that every language and every dialect is
systematic and rule governed, but rules driving dialects differ.
There can be a great deal of difference in rules between linguistic
systems, say, between such languages as English and Arabic. Or
there can be fewer and subtler differences between systems, such
as those between British and American English or Southern and
A. Syntax is the study of sentence formation. In addition to knowing
possible speech sounds, we also have knowledge of the structure of
phrases, such as across the floor and the giant rodent, and sentences,
such as The giant rodent scurried across the floor. Syntax is the
toolkit that tells us what goes where and how.
B. An important feature of syntax is grammaticality judgment. This is
essentially native speaker intuition about what constitutes a “good”
sentence in the language.
1. Obviously, not every sequence of words strung together is a
possible sentence. For example, consider: The runs a weeofy
already town the from. Clearly, no one would say such a
sentence, and no one would judge it to be a grammatical
sentence of English.
2. Again, it is because of rules-both universal rules and
language-specific rules-that we can make judgments about
whether a sentence we hear or see is grammatical or not.
C. Of course, different languages and even dialects have different
rules that can apply to make sentences that would not be acceptable
structures for another speaker. However, the “wrongness” of such
a sentence as He don t do nothing is a different kind of wrong than
the sentence above, which a listener cannot even process.
D. The possible variation in syntactic structures is constrained by the
possibilities allowed by our universal grammar. Although multiple
negation is a socially dispreferred structure in standard English, it is
a perfectly fine structure in terms of following linguistic rules.
A. Morphology is the study of how words are formed and created. ln
this field, linguists look at slang or novel words, such as Google,
bling, or blog, which actually follow specific word formation
rules. Some words seem to be formed through “regular” processes,
while others seem to be exceptions or “irregular” (for example,
dog/dogs versus tooth/teeth, jogged versus ran). Most of these
irregular forms are remnants from older forms of English, when the
language had a much more complicated verb and noun class system.
B. New words, when they enter the language through borrowing or
through invention, are also subject to linguistic rules. When a new
word, such as Google, enters the language, it belongs to a particular
category, in this case, a verb. Thus, by default, English speakers
understand that to form the past tense, we add -ed, and to form
the progressive, we add -ing. We are also able to make the word
into a noun by adding a “noun-type” ending; for example, one who
Googles may be called a Googler.
C. We can be quite creative with new words but only insofar as is
allowed by our linguistic constraints on word formation. For
example, no English speaker would form the past tense of Google
as Goggle per the sing/sang or ring/rang model. These are not
productive rules of English morphology and, unless someone is
being purposefully atypical, would simply not morphologically
D. As with phonology and syntax, morphology is also an area where
languages and dialects can differ substantially. Many languages use
more affixes than English does to express meaning, and sometimes,
these take the form of infixes (breaking up the base) or circumfixes
(encircling a base). This is not something we find in English unless
we count slang expressions, such as “I guaran-damn-tee it!”
E. Languages and dialects can also differ in simply what is selected
to be encoded as a morpheme (meaning unit) and what is not. In
Chinese, the past tense is not grammaticized as a separate word
but instead is interpretable from other linguistic and pragmatic
contextual cues. In other words, unlike in English, it is not
mandatory to add something like -ed or -ing on the end of a word
to communicate past tense.
F. Our language can and does vary substantially on a number of
different levels simultaneously. When morphology is combined
with phonetics, phonology, and syntax, we have a powerful set
of tools for performing both linguistic and social work with