Article Review: Language Change
Television can also be a Factor in Language Change: Evidence from an Urban Dialect
(Smith, Pryce, Timmins and Gunter, 2013)
Summary of the Article
The article considers two instances of language change in the Glaswegian vernacular dialect, the the-fronting (pronunciation of “the” as “f” or “v”) and the l-vocalization (pronunciation of the “l” as a semi-vowel). These morphological features are not found in the Glaswegian variety of English but the Cockney dialect of London. Hence, this article discusses the changes Glaswegian pronunciation has undergone in the past years as well as the speech changes in Glaswegian teenagers. Consequently, the article seeks to link these changes with the proliferation of mass media programs such as EastEnders, a drama set up in East London, an area historically known for its Cockney accent.
The study presents an interesting sociolinguistic approach to language change. Since the beginning of the research, the article presents a series of perspectives regarding the importance of mass media in language and accent change, as well as a series of considerations concerning the social impact of British soap operas in the Glaswegian population. Moreover, it shows how engagement with television shows changes the perspectives of an individual dialect, turning it into a more “palatable” or desirable dialect that it is worth imitating as a well of increasing their perceived prestige.
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Consequently, it draws from existing sociolinguistic and sociological data and surveys to assess the weight of EastEnders in the Glaswegian speech.
Also, instances such as the partial loss of the rhoticism and the use of the-fronting, which are speech patterns not found in Scottish English cause for an in-depth analysis of the current cultural trends that despite the cultural differences. Subsequently, the study draws on the belief that the intelligibility of standard accents can be greater than the local ones due to the exposure of these “posh” standard varieties to different regions with non-standard varieties (Clopper and Bradlow, 2008).
The study is designed as a multivariate analysis of samples consisting of digital recordings of conversations “up to forty minutes from self-selected, same-sex pairs, followed by reading of a wordlist from all informants” (Smith et al. 2013). It is structured in four parts: Background, methodology, rationale, discussion and conclusion. Also, a part of the sample was composed of teenagers, who had to complete an additional questionnaire regarding their demographics, social status, and media exposure. Last, participants had an informal interview with a fieldworker who also observed the teenager participants in their schools during a four-month period of data collection. In brief, the study aims to answer if the television is enough to produce changes in a regions dialect.
Moreover, the study was composed of 48 participants; 24 females and 24 males ranging from 10 to 40-plus years. Further, the members were separated into four groups according to their chronological age and school level. Consequently, since the research draws from every sector of the population and chooses their samples according to their educational level as well as their age, it adds the depth of the study and gives a broad scope of examples to provide a more precise approach to the question. On the same hand, the study draws from a sizeable amount of sources and presents a background study that back their claims and weight and depth to the investigation.
The article’s discussion is separated into seven parts, and its separate analysis would prove much longer than the available length so, to summarize the discussion research centers in the finding that the use of the-fronting in their speech was related to three main factors related to the participant’s social practices. For instance, the teenagers who wore street clothes instead of school uniforms during the interviews scored higher regarding using the-fronting. Nevertheless, those who showed the engagement with the EastEnders program, dialect contact with relatives in South England and greater recognition of the London accent scored higher in the study.
However, the results are too small to be conclusive. For instance, the-fronting broadly found in words that do not start with the rather than those who do, which indicates that grammar is a factor that hinders the spread of the speech marker in Glaswegian youth. Regarding the l-vocalization, the study found that there is a correlation between contact with England, namely watching the soap opera and having contact with family members in north/south England; and the speech marker. Ultimately, the study discusses how the Cockney accent (that is perceived as one of the less “posh” variants of English) is viewed as it by the Scottish audiences, which adds for its use among the viewers.
Variability, Language Change, and the History of English
Summary of the Article
Milroy proposition is quite antisystem as he seems eager to demonstrate (against all the traditional evidence) how transmission of language is a social process rather than a social. He then argues on how language transformation is necessarily a social process where variation in language comes from common sources instead of a variety of linguistic patterns through the years. To demonstrate such claims, Milroy takes English Received Pronunciation and its use of prevocalic “hw” and “h” as an example of a speech pattern that does not come from a single uniform source but a combination of dialectal and historical variants.
Consequently, since the study tries to debunk a traditional belief, it is of great interest for the field of sociolinguistics regardless of its results as it shows how beliefs are challenged and if they do not stand the scrutiny, they ought to be changed. Besides, the sources consulted, and the broad bibliography adds up credibility to the study that although not statistical, presents a theoretical approach to a known discussion.
Likewise, Milroy’s research is largely historical, which means he draws from historical evidence rather than actual sampling to gather his data. Nevertheless, assessing the dialectal changes of the “hw-h” merger would be impossible without those historical evidence he uses. Therefore, it does not hinder his research. On the other hand, the study is not designed as a statistic study but as an academic approach that tries to bring a new perspective into the discussion. Milroy does not have participants nor surveys to draw data from, nor measures used as its approach is more contrasting sources and adding his input in them. On the other hand, since there is no evidence that he cherry-picked his sources to fit his study, it is possible to affirm that the sources are right and correctly documented. Regarding the depth of the discussion, he seems to believe that those who read his article are well acquainted with the discussion, and he skims through much of the discussion to get to the point he initially wanted to show. Hence, the discussion, although rich, does not transpire to the article.
Furthermore, Milroy’s piece is divided into an introduction that serves to show the state of the discussion, a discussion, and a conclusion. His approach seems pretty straightforward but not light. The discussion is further divided into three parts: The first related to the principle of a single parentage of the English RP, where he, using Dobson’s evidence states that “notes that simplification of [hw] to [w] occurred in Middle English (ME) in the south and midlands and reports that this also had currency in ‘vulgar London speech’.” (Dobson, 1968), but it is possible that hw and h might have coexisted for a longer period. Also, he states that the belief that RP comes from the Elizabethan court only is circumstantial. Instead, he proposes that RP rose to its preeminence during the 19th century due to changes in the socio-cultural structure of the country (Milroy, 2005). The next point on which Milroy cements his affirmation is the evidence of the use of an emphasized form of hw and w that coexisted during Middle and Old English, what seems to suggest that the “hw” pronunciations for the “why” spelling draw from much older sources that it was initially believed and that lexical and grammatical changes wiped the “hw” phoneme from the rest of the English dialects.
Hence, basing on that evidence, Milroy seeks to explain how the English Received Pronunciation grew from a series of dialects that drew influences from older sources and due to the little amount of mobility that dialect had remained unchanged until now. Conversely, the rest of English dialects are much more mobile and since grammar translated the Old English sound of “hw” as “why”, it got lost from the rest of the English dialects and in those that appears it is due to wanting to mimic the RP. To sum up, Milroy’s approach to sociolinguistics is by far more social, as it challenges the parentage of the pronunciation and tries to put it in context with a social reality.
Clopper, C., & Bradlow, A. (2008). Perception of Dialect Variation in Noise: Intelligibility and Classification. Language and Speech, 175-198.
Dobson, E. (1968). English pronunciation 1500 – 1700 (2.nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Pr.
Milroy, J. (2005). Variability, Language Change, and the History of English. International Journal of English Studies, 5(1). Retrieved November 11, 2015, from http://revistas.um.es/ijes/article/view/47831
Stuart-Smith, J., Pryce, G., Timmins, C., & Gunter, B. (2013). Television can also be a factor inlanguage change: Evidence from an urban dialect. Language, 89(3), 501-536. Retrieved November 13, 2015.
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