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The Definition Of A Linguistic Variable English Language Essay

People can be distinguished by their different dialects which may be influenced by social factors. Each dialect has a set of variables which characterizes its type. The Cockney English dialect, for example, contains different linguistic variables, and this paper will focus on the ‘Th-fronting’ variable which is a well-known feature of the cockney accent. The starting point of this analysis must be the definition of this variable: it can be defined as a replacement of the dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ by the labio-dental fricatives /f/and /v/, respectively. Therefore, each variable has two variants. This replacement is not random, it follows certain rules: the /θ/ changes to /f/ regardless of its location in a word while the /ð/ changes to /v/ only when it is in medial and final position (Altendorf 2003:63).

In terms of the ‘Th-fronting’ variable, this paper will address two main concerns: firstly, if there is a social stigmatization associated to the variable, then famous people would probably avoid using it in their speech to the media to maintain their social prestige. According to previous studies, this is due to the variable being a feature of non-standard and working class dialects. The second concern is that depending on the interview, the celebrity subject David Beckham is expected to apply the variable change each time he matches the required environment in his speech.

In terms of the settings, three interviews were conducted on 2007 by television presenters. The first interview was in David Beckham’s house in Madrid after his decision to play for the LA-Galaxy soccer team. The second interview is a complement to the first one but it took place in his house in London. In these interviews, the subject talks about his life and his experiences with his previous football teams. The third interview seems to be more formal, as it took place in a studio and David Beckham discusses the reason why he joined the LA Galaxy team and talks about his first season there. In the first two interviews, the interviewer seems to use a normal British accent whereas in the second interview, the interviewer approximately uses an Australian accent. Both of them are likely to pronounce the ‘Th-fronting’ variable with /θ/and/ð/ regularly. It can be clear that Beckham has been neither influenced by where the interviews took place nor the dialect of the interviewers.

Analysis of the ‘TH’ fronting variable:

An analysis of the three interviews shows that ‘Th’ is pronounced /f/instead of /θ/ when it is preceded by a consonant in a word-initial position or by a vowel in both a word-final and word-medial position. The second variable of ‘Th’ is /ð/ which is replaced by /v/ when it is preceded by a vowel in both word medial and word final positions. According to the manner of articulation, both /θ/, / ð/ and /f/, /v/ are similarly fricatives. However, the place (location) of articulation is different, as /θ/, / ð/ are produced between the teeth while /f/, /v/ are produced between the lower lip and the upper teeth. /θ/and /f/ are voiceless while / ð/ and /v/ are voiced. These differences could explain why people can distinguish between their uses and not mix them up or even exchange the variants’ pronunciation. Also, they may be aware of which word should have which sound.

Some tokens taken from Beckham’s speech as an example of this variable:

The /θ/ changes to /f/

Word position

The sentence

The IPA transcription

IV.no.

Word- initial ,preceded by a consonant

… Manchester united for thirteen, fourteen…

/fɔr fɜrtin/

IV.3

Word -initial ,preceded by a consonant

… players and things like….

/ə n fɪŋs laɪk /

IV.3

Word -initial ,preceded by a consonant

….and just throw up…

/ ə n dʒʌs frrəʊ ʌp/

IV.1

Word -initial , preceded by a vowel

…walking through you know...

/ ˈwɔː.kɪn fruː jə nəʊ/

IV.1

Word -initial , preceded by a vowel

…gone through it…..

/ gɒn fruː ɪt/

IV.1

Word -initial , preceded by a vowel

…..he just thinks….

/ hi dʒʌs fɪŋk/

IV.1

Word -medial, preceded by a vowel

….his birthday the other day...

/hɪz ˈbɜːf.deɪ ðɪ ʌv.ər/

IV.1

Word -final , preceded by a vowel

….with both clubs…

/ wɪv bəʊf klʌbs /

IV.1

It can be seen that this variant is commonly used in word initial but is less commonly used in word final and word medial.

the /ð/ changes to /v/

Word position

The sentence

The IPA transcription

IV.no

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

…..after another and……

/ ɑːf.tə əˈnʌv.ər/

IV.3

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

..you know other opportunity..

/jə nəʊ ʌv.ər ɒp.əˈtjuː.nə.ti/

IV.3

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

…and either explain how…

/ ə n iːvər ɪkˈspleɪn haʊ /

IV.2

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

…got myself together….

/ gɒt maɪˈself təˈgev.ər/

IV.2

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

….his birthday the other day...

/hɪz ˈbɜːf.deɪ ðɪ ʌv.ər/

IV.1

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

…. I did know whether…

/ aɪ dɪdən nəʊ wev.ər/

IV.2

Word -medial , preceded by a vowel

….or the other and….

/ ər ðɪ ˈʌv.ər ə n /

IV.2

Word -final , preceded by a vowel

….dealt with ah….

/ delt wɪv əh/

IV.2

Word -final , preceded by a vowel

….with both clubs…

/ wɪv bəʊf klʌbs /

IV.3

It can be seen that this variant is commonly used in word medial but is not as common in word final.

Through this interview, there are some tokens such as the words with /wiv/ and thing /fing/ which can be considered as common tokens. Therefore, they may be eliminated from the analysis. Interestingly, David Beckham seems to pronounce the word ‘something’ with /θ/ and in the phrase ‘over there’ the ‘Th’ is pronounced with / ð/ which means that he seems to be aware of the rule for changing the variable. Moreover, the amount of tokens in all the interviews is approximately similar and there may be no lexical structure to constrain the variable replacement that it can occurs in any position of the sentence.

In terms of social meaning and value, the social meaning of the two variants is still the same whether the word is pronounced with /θ/or /f/, as it is the case with the words thirteen /θɜrtin/ and fourteen /fɜrtin/. This has to do with standardization of the use of the word in formal or non formal speech. However, regarding its social value, it is almost considered that ‘Th’ fronting is associated with low status and a working class dialect. It is also assumed to be as a stereotype of cockney speakers. Despite its low prestige reflection, people may use it to express their identities and their convergence, for example indicating to the group you belong to by using its dialect. It may convey a sense of solidarity as other non-standard dialects do. Moreover, it may be related not only to social class but also to ethnicity. In the interview, David Beckham seems to use this variable in his speech even though he may be considered as one of the world’s most famous footballers who belongs to the middle class. By using it, he probably tries to refer to the place where he was born and grown up and indicate his sense of common identity with cockney speakers who in general are born and live in London.

After looking at the linguistic and social meaning of this variable, it seems that even though David Beckham is a superstar footballer, he is likely to speak with a cockney dialect away from standard dialect and regardless of the degree of formality of an interview situation. This can be interpreted as his unconscious tendency to present himself as a normal person and to be close to his fans without the media hype and the standard speech which may affect his relationship with them negatively. Therefore, contrary to what has been a hypothesized, famous person such as David Beckham may not use the Received Pronunciation style of speech in his interviews. Another interpretation is that he may be ‘performing’ in this dialect to the media: he may consider it as a part of his style, ignoring the circumstances of the interviews, which also contradicts with the first hypothesis.

Regarding the second hypothesis about the use of the ‘Th’ fronting variable in the speech, it can be shown that David Beckham seems to use the cockney dialect fluently even when he is far from the community where cockney is widely spoken. This may reflect how much Beckham is committed to this local dialect regardless of where he lives and thus. Moreover, it seems that he does the replacement of the ‘Th’ fronting variable almost every time his speech matches the required condition for the replacement.

There are two difficulties that I encountered while doing this exercise: the first one is, choosing the variable after listening to the recordings because they include more than one variable. Secondly, analyzing the speech and picking the tokens up is a time-consuming and complex task that involves listening to the recording several times and paying attention to every little detail in the interviews to identify the variable.

Further research:

With respect to further study of this variable, it may be interesting to explore the reasons why such famous people use their colloquial dialect instead of the standard dialect in their interviews with the media. Moreover, the influence of their style of speech on their fans can be questioned. This can be beneficial to understand the correlation between the linguistic variables and the extra- linguistic variables, and to interpret how ‘Th’ fronting may, in future, become popular in middle class speech and not remain restricted to the working class. Actually this can guide the researcher to address the effect of media on diffusion of the dialect.

These further studies are likely to need a good range of different procedures. Data can be collected through observation methods involving the surrounding environment of the participants. For example, by observing the speech act of people who admire David Beckham’s as a sport man, especially teenagers in different communities, the researcher may be able to measure Beckham’s influence. Another way of collecting data is that the researcher can obtain a large number of tokens by using Labov’s style of interviews which motivates the speaker to use his/her normal dialect ,as it deals with subjects they have experienced emotionally. By conducting interviews with those people and asking them to express their attitudes toward Beckham’s speech style and the use of non-standard dialect in the media interviews. A questionnaire could be used here for the same purpose and to evaluate the acceptance of his use of cockney dialect among the audience. Moreover, he may rely on presenting written material such as word lists and reading passages, and ask the speakers to read them. Thus, there is a range from the most formal to the least formal style of speech. In analyzing these data a combination of quantitive and qualitative ways are applied, counting up the features in the transcripts is an example.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, each dialect is unique in its variability and it is interesting to find out the variables and their variants. ‘Th’ fronting may be a well known variable for the cockney dialect. Although it is considered to be a working class dialect, there seems to be a movement to obtain it by members of the upper class. The chosen interviews in this article may show the patterns of the variable and the environments in which it occurs. It also points out some social and personal aspects behind the use of this variable. These interviews seem to be rich in variables which make them valuable to analyze or at least to be taken as an example of cockney dialect. Furthermore, there is a suggestion for further study in this field involving procedures for data collection.

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