The Role Of Identity In New Dialects English Language Essay

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Recent studies in new dialect formation have paid increasing attention to the role identity in this process. There are different factors contributing to new dialect formation: linguistic change, adaption, most importantly dialect contact and dialect mixture (Trudgill 2008:242). Identity, as a factor, may play a crucial role in this process. The correlation between identity and formation of a new dialect is a controversial issue, which has gained some prominence in recent sociolinguistic studies. The starting point of our discussion must be the understanding of the meaning of identity and new dialect formation norms. Identity can be defined, according to Jenkins as 'the systematic establishment and signification, between individuals, between collectives, and between individuals and collectives, of relationships of similarity and difference' (1996 cited in Schneider 2003:239). It can be interpreted as "the active negotiation of an individual's relationship with larger social constructs, in so far as this negotiation is signalled through language and other semiotic means. Identity, then, is neither an attribute nor a possession but an individual and collective-level process of semiosis" (Mendoza-Denton 2003:362). New dialect formation may refer to "a linguistic situation which arises when there is a mixture of dialects leading to a single new dialect which is different from all inputs" (Hickey 2003:2).

The birth of a new dialect in any community may result from either a contact between different dialects followed by accommodation and mixing process, or a transplantation of ready formed dialect in a new community. A case in point, New Zealand English may be considered as a new dialect resulting from a merging the indigenous dialect and the colonial one. It might be not surprising that identity in this process may play a role as a means to signal new nation through choosing specific linguistic varieties. Or it may be considered as merely as transplanted ready-formed colonial dialect in new land 'cockney dialect', for example. Sociolinguists who agree with the first possibility claim that dialect contact does not necessarily lead to dialect mixture and then to new dialect formation, while others, who support the transplantation method, prefer the monogenetic origins for specific varieties.

This paper attempts to find out whether identity plays a role in new dialect formation or not. It will present, in the second section, the model of new dialect formation according to Trudgill's opposing view of its role and discusses the dialect issues: accommodation, as a main cause for dialect mixture and its relation with identity, uniformitarian principle, the use of present studies to interpret the past knowledge, and Trudgill's endorsement to Labov's scepticism toward identity role in his well-known study, Martha Vineyard. Furthermore, Schneider's model will be illustrated to show in which phase identity may play role.

New dialect formation model:

Hickey (2003:3) comments that:"As these divisions are central to any consideration of new dialect formation, it is worth recalling the description of the three stages offered in Trudgill et al. (2000a)".

The first stag is called rudimentary levelling in which adult speakers from different area come into contact with other s in one area. In Trudgill study, those people are the first generation of British- born emigrants to the southern hemisphere and the indigenous people in the new location. There is a dialect levelling as a result of some sort of Accommodation in face-to-face interaction. However this accommodation seems to be limited at first glance. Moreover, Localized features and negative sensing toward rural speech may be the real motive of this process.

Secondly, the extreme variability stage occurs in the first generation born in the colony. The ONZE (Origins of New Zealand) Corpus provides valuable inferred evidence. This stage is characterized by considerable variability, which may indicate the mixing of dialects. Trudgill admits that this considerable variability occurs in urban spots "linguistic melting pot" where the opportunity of mixing is high among speakers from different backgrounds. For example, in the late 19th century New Zealand corpus presents examples with three different backgrounds: England, Scotland and Ireland (Hickey 2003:3).

The further levelling stage represents the sub-second stage in new dialect formation. In this stage, there is a reduction in the amount of Inter-individual variability heard in earlier stages due to the dialect's failure to survive with poor representation. Therefore, the fewer occurrences the variability has, the less opportunity it has to continue in this stage. It can be seen in the ONZE project data that some of the linguistic components are not existed although they were provided in earlier stages.

The Third and last stage in this process is focusing, which refers to stability and crystallization of the varieties. Focusing process has a clear impact on the modern New Zealand English, which limited in regional variation. There are some variants in ONZE which disappeared in NZE because of its minority usage, but there are some exceptions: "the use of schwa in unstressed syllables as is found in New Zealand English in words like David, naked. Trudgill et al. point out that only about 32% of their informants from the ONZE archives had schwa in this position" (Hickey 2003:4). Therefore, the survival of the variants, at this stage, depends on the majority and the minority usage of these variants.

Trudgill suggests that new dialect formation is a mechanical process apart from an identity influence depending on the demographic variables only, in other words, 'An automatic consequence of interaction' (2004 cited in Gordon 2005:147). Therefore, it is necessary to consider linguistic information about entrant dialects as well as the number of their speakers "demographic information" in the formation of a certain new dialect. Nevertheless, there may be important information missing by excluding social factors.

Through this classification there are some controversial issues regarding this classification which may weaken Trudgill's claim about the identity role.

The accommodation issue:

The claim raised by Trudgill in his study is emphasize the importance of dialect mixture which may be a cause of dialect contact and as a leading force in new dialect formation process. Accommodation in face to face communication may also leads to dialect mixture. People may modify their speech according to their interlocutors even if they are mutually intelligible as a means of accommodation which may convey a sense of common identity. Trudgill partly agrees with this correlation, he says that "Although there clearly are sociolinguistic situations where identity plays a role, I see no role for identity factors in colonial new-dialect formation'' (Trudgill 2008

: 243)

As a supporting claim to Trudgill, Bauer provides a suggestion why people, of early generation in the colonial community, do not change their dialects and slightly accommodate to other regional dialects. It is assumed that those people consider Britain, which is thousand miles away from where they live in 'New Zealand', as their home land. Therefore, they don't have the motivation which encourages them to change their dialect to signal their new regional identity. Thus, there is no correlation between selection of new dialect varieties and symbolizing colonial identities (Gordon 2005:149).

Colonialism causes not only regional development but also changes in people's identities. Despite the fact that new emerging identities have a robust linguistic element, Trudgill suggests that a common identity cannot affect accommodation but accommodation through languages may lead to a common identity. The human value, as a social agent, may be marginalized in the accommodation process. Identity is not a driving force which accounts for accommodation which, in turn, leads to new dialect formation. In other words "identity is parasitic upon accommodation, and is chronologically subsequent to it" Trudgill (2008:251).

It is assumed that accommodation is a conscious and automatic process which results from the fact that people act according to the maxim "Talk like the others talk."(1994:100 cited in Trudgill 2008: 252). It reflects people's tendency towards "behavioural coordination," "behavioural congruence," "mutual adaptation," or "interactional synchrony," The innate motivation to "behavioural coordination and congruence" is the real driving force behind both dialect mixture and mixed colonial varieties. Furthermore, it is not constrained by identity influence. Cappella, in human interactions, claims that adaptation process is mutually pervasive because it automatically depends on evolutionary and biological "innate" reactions regarding less the social impact. (Trudgill 2008: 252).

Although, Trudgill refers to the importance of social component in dialect contact and language change in which both dialect and people are in contact , he empties out this value by arguing that the accommodation process is merely a mechanical and pre-programmed. This assumption is seems to be refused by Meyerhoff (1998). She attributes her interpretation to the fact that communication accommodation theory is used in explaining the interactive nature of identity construction. The CAT (communication accommodation theory) formulation relies on that people will use their speech to either converge or diverge themselves from a community and to increase their social attractiveness (Coupland 2008:268). People, in communication situations, may define or redefine their social and cultural knowledge which, in turn, will affect their language in order to match communication needs.

Schneider (2008:264) regards Trudgill argument: "identity is parasitic upon accommodation, and is chronologically subsequent to it" as rationally not accepted. Schneider's perception toward accommodation is that "it is one of the mechanisms of expressing one's identity choices. Both are closely related, but not quite the same; the two notions emphasize different aspects of similar constellations and processes, different sides of the same coin". Accommodation concerns with groups in which individual identities are the prime structure of their cohesiveness. Therefore, accommodation and identity role complement each other in formatting new dialect formation.

In spite of Trudgill's reliance on Keller's maxim "Talk like the others talk," in his interpretation of dialect formation. It is difficult to agree with his assumption regarding identity as a consequence of accommodation. Schneider (2008:264-5) suggests that It might be true that identity is not a driving force but it is one of the major forces in this process. This claim seems reasonable because dialect formation is led by a combination of many factors.

Moreover, Bauer (2008:272) suggests that accommodation itself cannot be the direct cause to dialect mixture as a contradict claim of Trudgill assumption, because people are not equal in their accommodation to each other or even as individuals in different situations. This seems logical because their identities, in nature, are different and prone to change.

Regarding the correlation between identity and accommodation, it can be presume that the frequency of the interaction as well as the dialect used in accommodation purposes are influenced by social factors. This is attributed to people acts in which they express their knowledge and beliefs, and their personal and social identities. Therefore, Trudgill may depend on biological and demographical factors in order to identify accommodation in face to face communication as the main cause of dialect mixture without addressing the social factors. (Holmes & Kerswill 2008:275).

The "Uniformitarian principle":

Trudgill supports his claim that identity plays no role in new dialect formation by following Labov's "uniformitarian principle" which states that through observing the present study, it is possible to infer the knowledge of the past, the idea of bringing things to their origins. Trudgill uses the knowledge of early 16th century to deduce the linguistic situation of the later 16th century. He suggests that dialect mixture in the early stage plays a crucial role in the development of the new colonial varieties of European languages in colonial expansion period. Therefore, new mixed colonial dialect comes into being without the identity influence (Trudgill 2008:244,251).

One of the major criticisms is centred on Trudgill usage of "Uniformitarian principle". The historical case studies used to indicate new dialect formation do not provide clear evidence that negates the role of identity in new dialect formation. Schneider (2008:263) comments on Trudgill's inference that: "here, however, we are expected to assess the well-documented and brightly lit present day by using the dim torch of medieval studies" which is not expected from the "Uniformitarian principle" to provide. Moreover, these studies are too old and the historical setting and sociolinguistic circumstances are different, the availability of data from those studies is not much accurate and sufficient as the present ones.

The scepticism about the "identity role":

Trudgill agrees with Labov in his scepticism regarding the role of identity in language change. The Martha's Vineyard study may be considered as an example of how identity impacts language change. Labov finds that this Study requires focusing on the social aspects; however he comments that "The Martha' Vineyard study is frequently cited as a demonstration of the importance of the concept of local identity in the motivation of linguistic change. However, we do not often find correlations between degrees of local identification and the progress of sound change" (2001:191cited in Trudgill 2008:244).

Labov seems to reject Martha's Vineyard general findings about identity but not as strongly as Trudgill implies in his argument. He shows some kind of uncertainty in his statement "However, we do not often find correlations" (2001:191cited in Trudgill 2008:244). He comments that the correlation between identity and linguistic change "may not be as frequent as has been assumed" (2001:191 cited in Holmes & Kerswill 2008:274). Also, it is likely that labov argues for the necessity of paying attention to local identity and the different social categories in order to understand the linguistic change. Furthermore, Trudgill would appear to be over ambitious in his claims in dismissing the identity as social factor in analyzing language variation and change.

Schneider dynamic model of new dialect formation:

Through this model, Schneider explains the changing role of identity in different stages of new colonial dialect formation. This classification may show that the original dialects' influence appears in the earlier stages while the emergence of redirected identities is in the later stages.

The foundation phase shows the initial conservative relationship between the settlers and indigenous people. This conservativeness, which is reflected on their identities, leads to difficulties and limitations in communication. As a solution to this problem, a tendency towards levelling, focusing and simplification of the English language appears to surface.

The "exonormative stabilization" of a colony makes English a dominant language among the residents. English begins to adopt several local norms and this improves positively convergence of the two different identities. As a result of the dominance of English, it becomes associated with high status. Therefore people may express positive attitudes toward English which leads to an increase in the number of bilinguals. The identities, at this phase, are considered as 'local-plus-English' ones.

In the "structural nativization" phase, some sort of phonological and structural levelling may occur as a result of people shift to new language. The traditional identity is shaken and begins to be modified slowly. Therefore, People may be characterized as permanent residents of both origins. In terms of lexical items, this stage represents the heaviest borrowing movement which may affect the reconstruction of English.

The "endonormative stabilization" phase appears as a result of nation building. In this phase, there is socio-political and cultural independence which increases the acceptance of local forms of English as adequate forms for formal use. It is 'the birth of new nation' phase due to the almost mixing of two nations. Schneider claims that "at this stage a national identity may play a strong role in strengthening symbolic linguistic forms, but … the process of linguistic evolution is no longer 'new'."(2008:265) .Moreover, because of the new language varieties, new dictionaries and new English books are produced in this phase which, in turn, supports the unique national and linguistic identity.

The final phase: "Differentiation" includes a completion and stability of social and linguistic independence. Thus, it is assumed that the birth of new dialect results from national internal diversifications. People seem to start signalling their subgroup identity by using certain dialect which includes new different linguistic varieties. Therefore, dialect features may depend on the choice of different groups to express their Identities.

It can be seen through these phases that depending on the history of varieties emerged with their varying influences and extents, identity illustrates social attitudes, in contrary to what Trudgill assumes, as merely directed support of new national linguistic forms. Moreover, identity choice effect is indirect on the use of social features (Schneider2008:265).

Schneider comments on Trudgill's case studies that "they represent situations comparable to phases 1 or 2 in the Dynamic Model at best, and so they cannot test a process that is strongest at phase 4". He, also, suggests that it is true that some postcolonial linguistics varieties are difficult to examine by using a deterministic basis without referring to national identity (2008:266).

This dynamic model seems to be very clear, very abstract and simplified. Sociolinguistic and sociocultural perspectives may be adopted to express their valuable contribution to new dialect formation


The question of the relationship between identity and new dialect formation is difficult to answer. Recent studies in this field suggest that identity is one of the main factors contributing to the construction of new linguist varieties; however, some sociolinguists refute this claim.

Those, including Trudgill, who deny identity role in the formation of new dialects, claim that the accommodation process is considered to be automatic, mechanical and pre-programmed away from any social influence, while other scholars argue that it is unconvincing to accept accommodation as automatic because it relies on face to face communication where people bring with them their social background.

By applying Labov's "Uniformitarian principle", Trudgill refers to very old studies to supports his view about identity role. These studies may be invalid because they may be exposed to different circumstances besides the probable difference in time and place. Trudgill, also, shares with Labov his scepticism regarding identity role. However, Labov does not reject identity role as strongly as Trudgill does and his argument may indicate the importance of considering the effect of local identity on language change. Thus, the studies should be well -formulated and it is important to understand the main theme of these studies and measure their relevance to the situations that are supposed to be interpreted.

Trudgill, in his model, suggests that there are stages of dialect formation that are dependent on biological and demographic factors only excluding the social consideration. On the contrary, Schneider presents his dynamic model to suggest that identity is reflected in the use of language varieties and indicates dialect birth.

Because identity role may be ambiguous, it is important to understand what identity means in sociolinguistic terms before judging its relevant role in new dialect formation. Considerably more work will need to be done to determine the value of identity in each stage of new dialect formation.