Look at your FACE! – Tracing variation and change in vowels across the lifespan in Tyneside English

by Lea Bauernfeind

Dear reader,

Welcome to our blog about lifespan change in Tyneside English! If you’ve read some of our earlier blogposts, welcome back! You might already know about our corpus of Tyneside English and what we are interested in (if not, do check out the other blog posts 😉 ). My MA thesis, like many of the theses you’ve already read about, centres around variation and change in Tyneside English. I investigate how and how much the vowels in words that sound like FACE and GOAT have changed over the lifespan of individual speakers and in how far these speakers adhere to the trends in their speech community.

I look at two groups with six speakers each, which we call the young panel and the old panel. All participants were recorded at two timepoints. The old panel speakers were in their twenties at the time of their first recording in 1971, and (almost) retired when they were recorded for a second time in 2013. The young panel speakers had just started Uni when they were interviewed for the first time around 2007, and most of them had completed their degrees and entered professional life at the time of the second recording in 2013.

FACE and GOAT in Tyneside English

In Tyneside English, there are several ways of pronouncing the vowel in words like FACE and GOAT. Very similarly to the realization of FACE (see Marie Philipp’s post here), Dominic Watt (2000, 2002) identifies three types of variants of GOAT: a supralocal variant [o:] which is generally associated with the North East, local variants [ʊə] and [ɵ:] which are explicitly linked to the Tyneside, and a national variant [oʊ] which carries overt prestige and is often referred to as “the standard”.

Both vowels are known to pattern together, that is, they are similar in their pronunciation. For example, if a speaker usually says FACE with a monophthong, it is very likely that they also say GOAT with a monophthong.

Looking at big picture changes

I investigate data that was gathered 50 and ten years ago for the old panel, as well as data that was collected ten and five years ago for the young panel. That way I can draw conclusions about how individual speakers may have changed over the course of their lifespans. For example, I can observe if they still say words like game, tray and great the same way they did when they were interviewed for the first time, or if they have changed in any way and why.

Remember the trend sample? By taking this group of speakers into account, I can also make assumptions about the reasons behind some of the changes we can observe within the greater Tyneside population. For instance, we know that many young speakers in the Tyneside region realize both FACE and GOAT as monophthongs ([e:] for FACE, [o:] for GOAT). It is widely assumed that the reason for their monophthongal choices for FACE and GOAT is that they prefer to convey to listeners that they are from the North East of England, but they don’t need the listeners to know where exactly in the North East they’re from.

Examining language patterns of individuals

Let’s take a look at one of our panel speakers: Chloe is part of the young panel, and she was in her first year of Uni when she was recorded with her friend Lynn for the first time in 2010. By the time of the second interview, Chloe had started a PhD in English linguistics. Usually, we assume that speakers who enter professional life adhere to the pressures of the workplace and therefore abandon variants that are regarded less prestigious. Chloe, however, makes different linguistic choices from what we would typically see in young professionals. She increases her realizations of FACE variants as monophthongs [e:]. There are many possible reasons why she might speak this way:

(1) Since Chloe works in English linguistics and is surrounded by colleagues and many local students, the way her speech is perceived as professional or less professional might differ from the way it would be perceived in a different workplace. If Chloe worked in high-end retail, we would likely expect her to produce language patterns which resemble those of her customers and which might come off as “posh”. However, since Chloe works in a field where variation in language variation is studied and cherished rather than judged, she does not need to conform to the same sort of social pressures with respect to her language that she’d encounter in other jobs.

(2) Her linguistic choices can be regarded as taking a sociopolitical stance: by choosing variants that are associated with the North East, she might express allegiance with the speech community she’s part of.

Dieses Bild hat ein leeres Alt-Attribut. Der Dateiname ist young-professional.png

With my research I aim to give insights into how speakers’ language patterns might change over time and how these changes are connected to their individual paths of life. For instance, both Chloe and her friend Lynn tend to realize more monophthongs in their second interview, but they do this for very different reasons. While Chloe works in English linguistics, Lynn has become a teacher in her local area. She says the pupils are more likely to accept and treat her respectfully if she sounds like them, so she chooses monophthongs for FACE and GOAT.

By comparing the language choices that our panel speakers make to those of the ones from the trend sample, we can observe how individual speakers behave in regard to their speech community. Do Chloe and Lynn behave similarly to other speakers their age, or do they make different linguistic choices and for which reasons? Stay tuned!

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From the sound of your voice I thought you were older!

Language perception across different age groups

by Johanna Mechler

Have you ever heard a voice on air and immediately had a really clear image of the person in your mind, but when you saw a photo, they looked completely different? Maybe the person was actually younger or older than you had expected. This happens to all of us! How we perceive voices and how we connect them to ideas about who we think that person is, is a really complex process.

That’s exactly what I look at in my PhD. I am especially interested in age and what part it plays in how we judge different voices. At the moment I am trying to find out how the age of a speaker affects as how professional they are perceived. Are these evaluations really only related to the age of the speaker? Which role do, for example, the pitch of their voice or their gender play?

from pixabay

Of course, there are always two sides to perception: the person who speaks and the person who listens. So, what about the listener influences how they perceive a voice? We know that a range of factors such as listeners’ cognitive dispositions may impact onhow they perceive and evaluate voices – but there are only a few studies that deal specifically with the role of listeners’ age.

To learn more about the effect of speaker and listener age on perception, I conduct several online surveys in the Tyneside conurbation. The surveys usually consist of two parts: an experimental part in which participants are asked to listen and rate different sound samples; and a questionnaire part in which they are asked to provide some background information on themselves, for example, attitudes towards the region or the local dialect. As I am interested in whether or not older speakers rate the sound samples differently than younger speakers, I am recruiting a diverse group of participants from Geordie Facebook groups, local volunteer groups, and students and staff from Newcastle University. The sound samples are all taken from interviews with Tyneside speakers who vary in age, gender, and social class.

Let me introduce you to two of the speakers: The first speaker’s name is Amelia[1]. She is a 19-year-old university student who sounds “young” because her voice has a relatively high pitch. She was recorded together with a friend, and she usually speaks quite quickly and colloquially. When older, comparatively conservative listeners hear her voice, they are very likely to rate her as less professional, while younger listeners would potentially rate her as more professional.

The second female speaker is called Shannon. She is 45-year-old teacher with a lower voice who sounds more “standard”. She is much more likely to be evaluated as “professional” by the same older, conservative listeners.

I hope that my studies will help us better understand how we evaluate younger and older voices and therefore how we judge people based on their voices – and how we can counteract implicit bias and people being judged unfairly. Because we are much more than our voices!


[1] All names are pseudonyms.

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„I sound like a posh Geordie“ – Language change away from the community

by Marie Philipp

Map of the North East of England (from Buchstaller et al. 2017)

Map of the North East of England (from Buchstaller et al. 2017)

Can changes in our lives evoke changes in our language patterns? In my BA thesis, I’m looking at young speakers who – at the time of the sociolinguistic interviews – were students at university. This stage of life is called emergent adulthood and is often associated with instability and changes, for example in an individual’s social environment, in their workplace, or regarding their socioeconomic status. In previous research on language change, emergent adulthood has only been investigated scarcely because it was assumed that speakers stay stable in their linguistic patterns after puberty. However, studies have shown that language change can in fact occur after this assumed stabilisation.

The data for my thesis consists of a panel of six young speakers who were interviewed twice. First, they were interviewed at the age of 19/20, when they had just started studying. Then, five years later, they had (almost) finished their studies at university and were interviewed again.

meeting-1015313_1280Looking at the FACE vowel

For the analysis, I look at the way the speakers realize the FACE vowel in words such as face, gate, and bay. This phonetic variant is well researched in the North East of England and two major changes have been reported on in previous research: On the one hand, younger speakers are expected to realize face as [fe:s]. This monophthongal realization is associated with a supralocal general Northern identity. On the other hand, a shift towards the “standard English” closing diphthong has been observed, which means that speakers produce face as [feɪs]. This, too, characteristically represents a shift away from traditional and local forms, especially of younger speakers. These traditional and local realizations of FACE such as in-gliding diphthong [ɪe] are lost.

In my analysis, I attempt to find out in how far the speakers’ choices in regard to the FACE vowel change or stay stable throughout their lifespan. While investigating FACE, I also take constraints such as following sounds and word frequency into account.

Social changes and who you speak to make a difference

The results of my analyses support previous findings of a trend towards the supralocal monophthong (Watt 1999, Watt 2002). However, differences between male and female speakers are rather apparent. While the female speakers stay relatively stable in their realisation of FACE, three out of four female speakers predominantly using the monophthong, the two male speakers significantly shift from one preferred realisation in the first interview to the other way of producing FACE in the second interview.

The following graph shows my overall results for the male speakers. Jake finished his post-graduate and is now working as a project manager. While starting off as predominantly diphthongal, he shifts to a more monophthongal realisation of FACE, which could be a result of work place pressure as he is working in a local company. In the North East, local dialects are often taken with pride in these local workplaces. On the contrary, Paul already starts off with a rather variable realisation of FACE in 2009. After his studies, he has been struggling with finding a secure workplace. This could be a reason for him being linguistically variable, and perhaps accommodating to his interview partner Amelia’s way of speaking (her being stable in her diphthongal realisation) during the second interview.

Marie_stats

Put into a nutshell, the findings of my BA thesis support the assumption that language change can indeed occur after critical age, i.e. after puberty, and that especially the instable age of emergent adulthood heavily influences speakers‘ dialect in relation to the trends in their speech community.

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“The sister that lives next door is ninety-two or something” – A longitudinal study of the grammar of Tyneside English

by Deborah Veiter

We can trace how the grammar of a language varies in speakers and across time by looking at changes in sentence and word structure. These (types of) changes sometimes imply that different grammatical constructions can co-exist. To give an example, in English as it is spoken today, the following three utterances express the exact same thing – that somebody possesses something. They are called “stative possessives”:

1) I have a cell phone.
2) I’ve got a cell phone.
3) I got a cell phone.

From a sociolinguistic point of view, however, these different ways of saying the same thing also carry different social meanings. They can be indicative of the speaker’s age, profession, social class, gender, or origins – got, for instance, is associated with U.S. American English. Depending on the word which precedes or follows the stative possessive, different forms are more frequent i.e., when the subject refers to something or someone specific, then speakers choose mostly have got (e.g., “I’ve got a friend over there”). Therefore, variation in stative possessive use seems to correlate with both social and language-internal factors.

Debbie_1workDebbie_4

 

 

 

 

Analyzing diachronic oral data

My MA thesis relies on a panel sample consisting of six informants from Tyneside in the North-East of England, who were first interviewed in 1971 shortly after they had entered the workforce. Forty-two years later, the same speakers were re-recorded during their retirement. With these panel data, I investigate variability in an individual speaker’s grammar throughout the course of their lives.

I investigate three variables: relative pronouns, general extenders and the system of stative possessives. Relative pronouns include the standard forms which, that, who and the zero marker, which functions as the object of the sentence (e.g., “I had a tape a tape Ø I used to follow”). I look at the two vernacular variants what and the zero relative as well, which is the subject of the relative clause (e.g., “There’s only two people Ø had a telephone”).

General extenders are used at the end of a speaker’s utterance (e.g., “They had like cottages and that”).
The system of stative possessives makes speakers choose between the three forms previously mentioned.

In order to compare the individual linguistic choices, I explore how often the six panel speakers use one variant or the other, and whether their choices change over time (1971-2013). I also want to find out to what extend/how linguistic environments as well as social meanings influence the informants’ grammars.

Diachronic versus synchronic findings 

Looking at all panel speakers together, we can see that two major changes occur between the first and the second interviews. The plot below shows that they have increased their use of which, who and what, whereas that and the standard zero marker are produced less frequently in 2013 than in 1971. Just like previous research, my findings document that linguistic mechanisms might be at work. In particular, who has become increasingly categorical where the previous word is an animate subject (e.g., “There was a guy who was a ex-commander”).

Click on the picture to see the plot!

Relative markers across time_DV

The findings also indicate that the most predominant general extender is and that. And that is mainly produced by the three working-class speakers of the panel. This pattern of social class variation has also been reported by literature focusing on community trends. It can be argued that the overall use of specific variants relates to the stratum of society.

With respect to the system of stative possessives, the six informants make linguistic choices in their old age just like the rest of their speech community. They use have got and got much more often and reduce the production of have. The form have got appears to occur especially with subjects that contain specific references (e.g., “We’ve got a house from when we were brought up”). Nonetheless, one of the panel speakers, Fred, has not adopted the incoming variant got by 2013. A possible explanation why Fred does not follow the overall trend might be his presentation as a conservative teacher in the second interview.

The overall results of my longitudinal study give insight into how the six panel speakers behave regarding their speech community. My diachronic findings support the claim that grammatical variation does not only depend on the linguistic context but also on the speakers’ differences in social traits/characteristics.


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“The people’s changed”- How though? Investigating language change across the lifespan in Newcastle English

by Anne-Marie Mölders

Does our age influence the way we speak? The short answer is: yes! As we age, we are influenced by certain linguistic pressures which means that we try to avoid forms that people associate with negative stereotypes. Let me introduce you to Fred. He comes from a working-class background and is not only the first one in his family to go to grammar school but also the first one to go to university to pursue a career in teaching. He realizes that he needs to fit in with his middle-class peers and adjusts his speech accordingly towards the “standard norm” to earn his colleagues’ and pupils’ respect.

teacher

The Variables: Hyper -s and First-person Possessive

In my MA thesis I analyze two variables which are typical for the North-East of England. The first variable is the hyper -s: some speakers add an -s not only to verbs in the third person (e.g. he/she/it goes) but also to verbs in other grammatical persons (e.g. I says, we wants).

The second variable is the pronunciation of the first-person possessive “my”: the typically Northern pronunciation is [mi], but speakers will also use a shortened [ma] or [me] instead of the standard pronunciation [mai].

I investigate in which contexts speakers use the more vernacular variants – or if they avoid them altogether. Overall, the pronunciation of [mi] as well as the hyper -s seem to be receding in the speech community. I want to know how the speakers contribute to this development: do they follow along or do they behave differently?

pic_Anne_standard_vernacular

The Speakers: Two Panels from Newcastle

I look at two sets of people form Newcastle who were interviewed at different points in their lives. The “old panel” was interviewed in 1971, 2013 and 2019 at the start of their careers and once they had retired. The “young panel” was recorded in 2007, 2014 and 2019. In the first interview, they were studying at Newcastle University and in the later interviews, they had entered the professional sphere.

The Findings: Comparing the Panel to the Community

My findings show that the speakers only use the hyper -s in certain contexts. One example are so-called existential constructions. The majority of speakers say things such as “there IS cars” instead of “there ARE cars”. It seems as if it is becoming similar to “es gibt” and “il y a”-meaning that it stays “there is” no matter if the following noun is plural or not. These existentials are also used by speakers who tend to speak “posh” or very Standard British English, which could imply that this construction is not socially stigmatized any more. This has also been found in previous studies.

As for the pronunciation of the first-person possessive, the typically Northern pronunciation is becoming increasingly rare and is being replaced by the shortened variant [ma], just as previous studies have found. Even though this realization is vernacular, it is not typical for the North but occurs in several varieties of English.

Click on the picture to see the plot!

This bar chart shows how the distribution of the different variants changes between the different time points. The Y-axis displays the proportions of the different realizations [ma], [mai], [me] and [mi]. The X-axis compares the young panel with the old panel. The old panel uses [mi] the most often and [ma] quite rarely. The young panel uses [ma] the most and [mi] only in some cases. This indicates that there is an overall trend: Since young people use [ma] more frequently than older people, it seems as if [ma] is a new variant which is replacing the traditionally Northern realization [mi].

Overall, my analysis does not only show that the speakers go along with overarching linguistic trends but also that they change how they speak across their life-span: when they enter workplaces where sounding professional is important, they follow standard language norms a lot more closely than once they do not need to linguistically “prove” anything anymore.

 

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Toasting One Year of LaVaLi!

LaVaLi_toast

This year, we are celebrating the first anniversary of our LaVaLi project. The DFG-funded project Tracing Language Variation and Change across the Lifespan is run by principal investigator Prof. Dr. Isabelle Buchstaller and her team consisting of postdocs Dr. Mirjam Eiswirth and Dr. James Grama, as well as PhD student Johanna Mechler.

What we look at

We’re interested in how speakers change in their language behaviour when changes in their lives occur, e.g., when they leave school and enter adulthood, or when they retire from professional life. This helps us answer big theoretical questions in linguistics about how language change works and about how language attitudes, perception and production relate to each other.

Our data

The data we work with consists of two different sets: the panel data, which traces individuals over the course of their lives from the 1970s to today, and the trend data which records similar people at similar stages in their lives; 32 speakers were recorded in 1990 and another 32 in 2010. To give an example from the panel dataset: one speaker, Anne (pseudonym), was first interviewed in the 1970s. At that point, she and her husband had just started considering a move to New Zealand. By the time we met Anne again more than 30 years later, the couple had indeed moved to New Zealand and raised their family there. They returned to the Tyneside area after a decade. While in New Zealand, Anne worked as a seamstress and her husband taught at college. In her interviews, Anne reports that her co-workers adopted some of her Geordie words.

Based on this kind of panel data we can investigate how language varies and changes within an individual speaker over time. The trend data allows us to see how language varies and changes at the community level. Taken together, we can compare how the individual behaves with respect to the community – are they the first to adopt new words like “zoom”, or do they resist such changes and prefer to talk about “videoconferencing”, for example?

Stay tuned

If you want to find out more about these questions, keep an eye on our blog: here, we will present work conducted by junior researchers within the project. They are looking at how the sounds, sentence structure and words in Geordie have changed over time.

We are excited to share this journey with you!
Mirjam & Lea

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