Peter Serafinowicz has updated George Bernard Shaw's dictum that "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him", by re-voicing Donald Trump to demonstrate that emotional reactions to British accents are easily evoked in Americans as well. There's "Sophisticated Trump", posted on YouTube 12/17/2015:
Archive for Sociolinguistics
The internet has been working hard at providing Deborah Cameron with material for a book she might write on attitudes towards women's voices. (Background: "Un justified", 7/8/2015; "Cameron v. Wolf" 7/27/2015.)
To see what I mean, sample the tweets for #JeopardyLaura, or read some of the old-media coverage, like "Is this woman the most annoying 'Jeopardy!' contestant ever?", Fox News 11/24/2015:
"Jeopardy!" contestant Laura Ashby is causing quite a stir on social media. The Marietta, Georgia, native isn't getting attention for her two-day winning streak but instead the tone of her voice.
Ashby first appeared on the competition show on Nov. 6 and when she returned this week the Internet went crazy over her voice.
Several tweeters went out of their way to exemplify Cameron's observation that "This endless policing of women’s language—their voices, their intonation patterns, the words they use, their syntax—is uncomfortably similar to the way our culture polices women’s bodily appearance":
— Alive In Philly (@AliveInPhilly) November 25, 2015
Over the years, we've presented some surprisingly consistent evidence about age and gender differences in the rates of use of different hesitation markers in various Germanic languages and dialects. See the end of this post for a list; or see Martijn Wieling et al., "Variation and change in the use of hesitation markers in Germanic languages", forthcoming:
In this study, we investigate cross-linguistic patterns in the alternation between UM, a hesitation marker consisting of a neutral vowel followed by a final labial nasal, and UH, a hesitation marker consisting of a neutral vowel in an open syllable. Based on a quantitative analysis of a range of spoken and written corpora, we identify clear and consistent patterns of change in the use of these forms in various Germanic languages (English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Danish, Faroese) and dialects (American English, British English), with the use of UM increasing over time relative to the use of UH. We also find that this pattern of change is generally led by women and more educated speakers.
For other reasons, I've done careful transcriptions (including disfluencies) of several radio and television interview programs, and it occurred to me to wonder whether such interviews show accommodation effects in UM/UH usage. As a first exploration of the question, I took a quick look at four interviews by Terry Gross of the NPR radio show Fresh Air: with Willie Nelson, Stephen King, Jill Soloway, and Lena Dunham.
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, "LOL Vocal Fry Rules U R All Dumb", Jezebel 7/30/2015:
This week, in shit-hot stuff happening on the internet, once-great feminist pundit Naomi Wolf wrote a column about how vocal fry is Keeping Women Down, and then other women across the internet rebutted her, rightly positing that when your dads bitch about the way you talk it’s because they’re just trying to not listen to you talk, period, so fuck your dads. […]
Vocal fry, as interpreted via California’s finest Calabasians, is a weapon of the young, disaffected woman, not a way to connote that they don’t care about anything, per se—just that specifically, they do not care about you. It is the speaking equivalent of “you ain’t shit,” an affectation of the perpetually unbothered. It’s a protective force between the pejorative You—dads, Sales types, bosses, basically anyone who represents the establishment—and the collective Us, which is to say, a misunderstood generation that inherited a whole landscape of bullshit because y’all didn’t fix it when you had the goddamn chance. It’s a way of communicating to you “We have this handled,” and also “Get off my dick.” It’s a proscenium of absolute dismissal and it is one of the most beautiful mannerisms millennials possess.
At the risk of sounding like I missed the joke: creakiness in a speaker Chomsky's age is much more likely to be physiological in origin than stylistic. I checked older footage of Chomsky, and he does seem to have been quite a bit less creaky in the 60s than today. But more importantly, listen to William F. Buckley in the same recording! I suspect that Noam has been out-creaked.
While I am a loyal fan of your program, I’m very disappointed in your interview of David Thorpe and Susan Sankin from 7 July 2015. As both a phonetician who specializes in intonation, stress patterns, and voice quality, as well as a gay man, I found the opinions expressed in the interview to be not only inaccurate, but also offensive and damaging.
You can listen to that interview, and read the transcript, on the Fresh Air web site — "Filmmaker And Speech Pathologist Weigh In On What It Means To 'Sound Gay'":
Is there such a thing as a "gay voice"? For gay filmmaker David Thorpe, the answer to that question is complicated. "There is no such thing as a fundamentally gay voice," Thorpe tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. But, he adds, "there is a stereotype and there are men, to a greater or lesser extent, who embody that stereotype."
In his new film, Do I Sound Gay?, Thorpe searches for the origin of that stereotype and documents his own attempts to sound "less gay" by working with speech pathologist Susan Sankin.
"Can you spot wealthy New Yorkers by their ‘R” sounds?", Improbable Blog 6/19/2015:
Is it possible to gauge how wealthy a New Yorker might be just by the way they pronounce their /r/ s? A new paper in the Journal of English Linguistics investigates whether variations of rhoticity [viz. the prevalence, or lack of, the /r/ sound in speech] in wedding-consultants’ speech could be correlated with the amount of money a bride states she is willing to spend on her wedding dress. That is to say, the amount of money she has at her disposal, used as a measure of her (perceived) social status. The paper, in the Journal of English Linguistics, June 2015, 43: 118-142, can be downloaded here for US$30: Maeve Eberhardt & Corinne Downs, "'(r) You Saying Yes to the Dress?' Rhoticity on a Bridal Reality Television Show", Journal of English Linguistics 2015.
Or you can deprive Sage Publications of their $30, and get a report about the same research for free in an earlier version: Maeve Eberhardt & Corinne Downs, "A Department Store Study for the 21st Century: /r/ vocalization on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress", NWAV 2013.
James Fallows has been superintending an interesting discussion at the Atlantic about how strange early twentieth century American announcers sound to us today (There are five articles in the series so far, listed with links here). The comments on his articles suggest that we need make certain distinctions.
At the Atlantic:
"Language Mystery Redux: Who Was the Last American to Speak This Way?", 6/6/2015
"That Weirdo Announcer-Voice Accent: Where It Came From and Why It Went Away", 6/7/2015
"The Rise and Fall of Announcer-Speak, Class War Edition", 6/9/2015
"American Announcer-Speak: The Origin Story", 6/9/2015
"Announcer-Speak: The Video Highlights Reel", 6/11/2015
Joshua Fishman, a founder of the field of the sociology of language and a highly influential scholar of language planning and bilingual education, died last night at his home in the Bronx at the age of 88.
The following remembrance, written by Ofelia García (Professor in the Ph.D. programs of Urban Education and of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York), has been shared on Facebook and the LINGUIST List.
A week ago, Bob Ladd pointed us to a Guardian story about British sociolinguistic prejudice ("Viewer offered BBC’s Steph McGovern £20 to 'correct' her northern accent", 11/25/2014). Steph McGovern is from Middlesbrough, and back in February of 2013 ITV News had one of its posher presenters trying to fix up Middlesbrough resident's pronunciation in real time:
A short summary of the filled-pause saga so far: If we call nasal-final filled pauses UM and non-nasal varieties UH, younger people use UM more than older people, and women use UM more than men. We've found this to be true in several varieties of English (sampled all over the U.S., sampled all over the U.K., from Philadelphia, from Glasgow) and in several other Germanic languages (Dutch and German). In addition, in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus, where we have interviews gathered over four decades of real time as well as interviews with speakers of different ages, it appears that there is a historical trend as well as a life-cycle phenomenon. Contributions to this work-in-progress have come from Mark Liberman (University of Pennsylvania), Martijn Wieling (University of Groningen), Josef Fruehwald (University of Edinburgh), and John Coleman (University of Oxford), among others.
For more detail, here's a chronological list of past posts: "Young men talk like old women", 11/6/2005; "Fillers: Autism, gender, age", 7/30/2014; "More on UM and UH", 8/3/2014; "UM UH 3", 8/4/2014; "Male and female word usage", 8/7/2014; "UM / UH geography", 8/13/2014; "Educational UM / UH", 8/13/2014; "UM / UH: Lifecycle effects vs. language change", 8/15/2014; "Filled pauses in Glasgow", 8/17/2014; "ER and ERM in the spoken BNC", 8/18/2014; "Um and uh in Dutch", 9/16/2014; "UM / UH in German", 9/28/2014; "Um, there's timing information in Switchboard?", 10/5/2014; "Trending in the Media: Um, not exactly…", 10/7/2014.)
Below is a guest post by Martijn Wieling, adding one more Germanic language to the list.
Josef Fruehwald, "America's Ugliest Accent: Something's ugly alright", Val Systems 10/1/2014.
Update — See "The beauty of Brummie", 7/28/2004 — some quotes therein from Steve Thorne:
In May 2002, I recorded short samples of 20 different accents of English… In order to limit the influence of extraneous variables, the speakers chosen were all male, white, aged between 35 and 40, and upper-working to lower-middle class. These recordings were played to 96 native and 109 non-native English speakers who were then asked to briefly describe each accent and rate each one on a scale of 1-10 (1 = very unpleasant, 5 = neutral, 10 = very pleasant). […]