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The Concept of a Wrong Language

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1497 words Published: 14th Aug 2017

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Language and Society QXL-1113

Task 1

  1. The figure tells me that there are a higher percentage of lower working class men using negative concord (75%) compared to women to that of lower working class women at 50%. In general, women of all classes use negative concord less compared to men of all classes. It appears that the isn’t a percentage change of such variant between upper middle and lower middle class women.
  2. There are two independent variables; gender and class,  the dependant variable is the percentage negative concord.

Task 2

As a native speaker, English is my first language and I have always lived in the North West of England with both parents coming from the same region. Therefore, the majority of my influences have come from these surroundings and family. Growing up near Chester I wouldn’t say I have a heavy northern accent and is quite muted compared that of other northern regions. However, a city that has a had a great effect on my accent and dialect is Liverpool. With Liverpool, only being a 15 minute drive I come into contact with the scouse accent quite frequently with friends and family living and working there.

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In terms of linguistic features, lenition is one of the clearest phonological characteristics of modern northern/Liverpool English. This lenition process happens whereby underlying plosives are released as fricatives and affricatives and stop constants are weaker and softer. For example, it is common to hear lock sound like loch and particularly affects /t/. According to the literature of Honeybone (2001) this lenition is unique to Liverpool English and its neighbouring areas with no other English variety exhibiting such extensive process. Further suggested by Kortmann and Upton the /t/, /p/ and /k/ can be affricated in all positions and in final position may be realised as full fricatives (Kortmann and Schnieder,2004). These heavily aspirated phonemes result in words such “work” to sound [wɛːkχ]. This uniqueness could account for the lack of glottal forms which are found in almost every other urban area in the North of England (Hughes and Trudgill 1996:93).

Regarding vowels and diphthongs, another salient marker of the North/South divide is that Liverpool English/northern accent has a short /a/ bath and /ʊ/ in foot and strut. Corresponding with Kortmann et al these two features are highly recognisable to the northern accent and although throughout history the southern inventory to lengthen the short vowel /a/ in bath was stigmatised it has now reversed with the northern short /a/ described as a flat vowel. Whilst researching such topic it is obvious that this is the most often mentioned subject in terms of the northern dialect, and a stereotype for the north in general. Diphthongal pronunciations are typical of Merseyside. In words, such as face, the diphthongs are pronounced more like RP as well as the occasion /eɪ/ (Kortmann and Schnieder, 2004).

There is a clear established contrast between the vowels in square and nurse across most English varieties however in Liverpool and within its surrounding areas these two sets are merged and can be pronounced either as [ɛː] or [ɜː]. Patrick Honeybone gives great insight into the pronunciation of square in saying that this is traditional of South Lancashire dialects and that the variants in the Liverpool-Lancashire mix are the most obvious explanation for the present-day lack of contrast in Liverpool English (New dialect formation in nineteenth Liverpool: a brief history of scouse, n.d.).

In terms of my experience with the language findings promoted above, I do to a certain extent use two of these in my language. Regarding the lenition and aspiration of /t/ /p/ and /k/ although I do use such feature it is not as heavily noticeable in my accent partly due to it not being apparent in my parents accent so is naturally weakened but I do have slight undertones of the features which I believe is solely due to social and situational factors. With many friends from Liverpool I have engaged in many social occasions where this lenition is clearly noticeable and naturally I’ve adapted to fit in to such surroundings.  When conversing with parents I can switch this off to speak more “elegantly” so one can debate whether this is imbedded into my accent or is mainly a social attribute. A definite feature I use is the use of short vowel in both bath and foot. This is a typical northern trait and one that applies for my area. The role of socialisation does however play a minor part in this.  Particularly in my region if one was to pronounce bath the typical southern way of lengthening /a/ it could appear as “snobby” and so refrain from doing so to follow the social norm.

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Although I am not in disagreement with Honeybone that merging of square and nurse exists within Liverpool it is unjustified to say that this appears in its surrounding areas. This must must be restricted to Liverpool and distinct of the city as I have not heard this outside of this area and I do not have such linguistic feature. As I do not originate from Liverpool this is expected; from birth my influences came solely from my surroundings of Chester which is a lot subtler compared to that of scouse and it is was only as I grew up that I came into more frequent contact with Liverpool and changed the way I spoke. Not having a particular accent from birth, it is likely that I will not have every feature as this could be innate. There is definitely a desire within in my area to sound “more scouse” and this is becoming a lot more noticeable.

Task 3

The idea of “wrong language” is an unclear and somewhat unambiguous concept. What defines a wrong language? This concept that is made up of different kinds of distinctions of what is a wrong language such as stylish-shabby, clean-dirty, ugly and beautiful. According to Mary Douglas these distinctions are based on the culture we live in; naturally, language adapts itself to the situation of use and reflects the social variation of the speaker, so therefore linguistic variation is ultimately inevitable. There is no right or wrong language, it is only wrong in the eyes of those evaluate the language (Andersson and Trudgill, 1990).

To discuss this, one must consider the idea of descriptivism vs prescriptivism. Prescriptive grammarians would argue that language is a set of rules that should be taught and enforced to use language in the “correct” way. They follow the classic grammars of Greek and Latin and aim to preserve these early forms. By contrast, descriptive grammar highlights the language in current use, not saying how it should be used. There are arguments for either side, if we consider the prescriptive view we could argue that the language produced by its native speakers based on their inherent, subconscious rules is the correct way to produce language (Vakkilainen, 2015). Whereas descriptivist’s accept that there are no such rules and there is no wrong language; it is just a reflection of general trends of language use. For example, “yous” has become popular with English-speaking countries. There is a tendency for people to dislike such innovations, regarding them as incorrect (Andersson and Trudgill, 1990) however these communities have found it useful to create a distinct word for the plural you thus is justifiable.

The ultimate question into this debate is who decides what is right or wrong? This has much to do with social standing, much of the “condemned” language comes from social groups other than the educated middle classes–professional people (Finegan, 1980). Take the pronunciation of r for example, Janet Holmes expresses that even though there is nothing good or bad about r-pronouncing, in more middle-class communities it is regarded as humorous and evident of lack of education and in others is deemed good speech (Holmes, 2004). Although a standard language is useful in terms of print and literature, it is not right to say that the language of middle-class speakers is not better than the language of other social groups. Language references such as dictionaries are an example of language and should simply be referenced, not all social situations require a formal way of speaking and vice versa. Language is an expression of character and defines a person. You can gain great insight into an individual from their use of language and should not be frowned upon because they aren’t using RP but instead this uniqueness should be celebrated. Ultimately, there isn’t such a thing as a “wrong” language just a different way of using it.


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