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Defining ‘a sense of place’: working with local communities to explore the social meaning of language variation

Dr Emma Moore, University of Sheffield

Wednesday 29 January at 5.30 pm

Research in the field of sociolinguistics has explored the many ways in which language correlates with different social factors. This research has revealed a number of interesting patterns, such as the finding that adolescents tend to make greater use of language variation than other age groups, and men generally use more vernacular language features than women. Unsurprisingly, linguists’ abilities to trace and explain these patterns are greatly influenced by the methods employed in the field. Put simply, the more researchers learn about the speakers surveyed, the better equipped they are to explain the social contexts of language use.

Using two distinct case studies, this lecture will examine the two general findings mentioned above, and show how the greatest improvements in sociolinguistic knowledge have resulted from interdisciplinary engagement with the field of anthropology. For instance, explaining why adolescents exhibit extreme forms of language use requires an understanding of how language enters into the social practices of communities. A case study of adolescents from a town in the north-west of England (Bolton, Greater Manchester) will show how ethnographic methodologies have provided a better understanding of how and why adolescents use language to construct distinct and oppositional identity styles. The second case study will explore the claim that men use more vernacular language features than women, and show that this finding is contingent on the type of men being analysed and the dynamics of the social circumstances in which groups of men find themselves. A case study involving a speech community living on a group of islands off the south-west coast of England (the Isles of Scilly) will show how it is possible to gain a richer account of gender patterns by engaging the community studied in the research process itself.

Both case studies will show that a full and complete understanding of the social life of language requires researchers to gain a comprehensive sense of the places and spaces inhabited by speech communities. Furthermore, the diversity of the case studies demonstrates that it is possible for linguists to use anthropological techniques effectively, no matter what kind of community, or language practice, is under observation.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked.  To book tickets please go to http://emmamoore.eventbrite.co.uk/