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The University of Southampton
Centre for Linguistics, Language Education and Acquisition Research

That’s what she said - a sociophonetic investigation of class and gender in southeast England Seminar

Languages, Cultures and Linguistics
16:30 - 18:30
16 November 2016
Building 65 Lecture Theatre C Avenue Campus SO17 1BF

Event details

Part of the annual seminar series for the Centre for Linguistics, Language Education and Acquisition Research (CLLEAR).


Previous work on /s/ variation in English has suggested that, for a number of varieties, backer, more [ʃ] like variants are associated with men (e.g. Essex sounds like Eshex) while more fronted realisations are associated with women, and, in some varieties, also gay men (e.g., Munson et al 2006). Subsequent work in the UK has also indicated that for some speakers /s/ may also be associated with class (Stuart-Smith, 2007).

We took data from British reality television in order to investigate this further. We selected two shows - Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex - and used the different programmes as a proxy for social class (upper middle class Chelsea versus working class Essex). Our initial analysis showed that while women consistently showed fronter /s/ measures, the magnitude of the difference was much greater in Essex than Chelsea. Furthermore, this difference was driven primarily by the Essex females. But why, to borrow from Eckert (1989), were the Essex girls “putting these phonological resources to better use than the boys”? What does this phonological resource signify to these speakers?

In order to attempt to tackle this question we analysed the variation in its conversational context (Brown & Levinson, 1987; Kiesling, 2009). For instance, do different speech activities elicit systematically different articulations of /s/? In other words, do Essex girls use fronter /s/ articulations when they are gossiping and aligning with their friends, as in (1), compared to when they are confronting and challenging their boyfriends, as in (2)?

(1) It was so funny right, he was like “I love this girl so much” and everyone was like “aw” and I was like “oh my gosh, Mark is being really emotional” (Lydia, TOWIE:32)

(2) Hate you so much James, just fucked up my life so much (Lydia, TOWIE:27)

Our findings show that they do – particular interactional types are associated with fronter /s/ productions. I discuss these findings in light of what they may contribute to our understanding of socially constrained variation and how linguistic variables develop socially symbolic meanings.

Light refreshments will be provided. All welcome!


Speaker information

Dr Sophie Holmes-Elliott, University of Southampton. Research interests: language change; sociolinguistics; phonetics; sociophonetics; language & gender; language & identity; regional dialect levelling; incrementation; bidialectalism

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