Torgersen, Eivind and Gabrielatos, Costas (2009) A corpus-based study of indefinite article and invariant tag use in spoken London English. In: CLAVIER 2009, 2009-11-052009-11-07, Modena, Italy. (Unpublished)
This paper reports on the analysis of the use of indefinite article forms (a/an) in front of vowel sounds, as well as certain established and emerging invariant tags (yeah, innit, right, okay, you get me) in spoken London English. The study used the Linguistic Innovators Corpus (LIC; Gabrielatos et al., forthcoming), a 1.3 million word corpus comprising the transcribed and marked-up interview data from the ESRC-funded project, Linguistic innovators: the English of adolescents in London (Kerswill et al. 2008), as well as the Corpus of London Teenage English (COLT) (Stenström et al. 2002). The research methodology combined approaches and techniques from sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics. Variables were examined individually and in cross-tabulations, using both manual/semi-automated and automated techniques. The analysis of indefinite article forms examined both linguistic and sociolinguistic variables, but only the sociolinguistic variables yielded statistically significant results for use of indefinite article forms. This suggests that the linguistic variables play a minor role, if any at all, in the choice between a or an in front of a vowel sound. The sociolinguistic variables comprised the speakers’ sex, age, ethnicity and place of residence, as well as the ethnic make-up of the friendship networks. In particular the speakers’ ethnicity and place of residence, emerged as the strongest predictors of the use of a before vowels. The indefinite article form a before vowels seems to have undergone a process of reallocation in which its sociolinguistic status has been realigned. While the form a in front of vowels earlier seemed to have been avoided, either because it was socially stigmatised or only formed a part of child language and L2 varieties, it is now frequently found among adolescent speakers in inner London. For tags, the comparison of LIC and COLT revealed an increase in yeah and, in particular, innit, and a dramatic increase in you get me, but a decrease in the relative frequencies of right and okay. The analysis of LIC showed that all the innovative tags, such as innit and you get me, were clearly a feature of young people’s speech. In addition, the most innovative tag, you get me, was by far most frequent in inner London. The ethnic minority speakers, and male speakers in general, are the most innovative tag users, particularly of innit and you get me, but the ethnic minority speakers also had high frequencies of yeah, okay and right, and they were therefore the highest users of tags overall. Overall, there is a difference in tag usage between inner and outer London: the more innovative tags are more frequent in inner London, and the more traditional ones in outer London. The innovative tags you get me and innit were most frequent, and were used by a larger proportion of speakers, among male, ethnic minority, inner city residents. We argue that the indefinite article form a before vowels and innovative use of tags form part of Multicultural London English (Kerswill et al. 2008), along with other phonological and grammatical features that have already been documented.
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