UrBEn-ID – Urban British English and Identity (focusing on youth language)
In 2014 I was awarded a Leverhulme Trust project grant which allowed me to continue the work I initially started with a MMU research accelerator grant, and then continued in 2013 during a period of research leave, into the speech of adolescents in Manchester, especially those who are educated in Pupil Referral Units.
The project involved the appointment of a two year full-time post doctoral research associate, Dr Susan Dray, who joined me in collecting ethnographic and speech data from Pupil Referral Units and a mainstream school in Manchester. It is hoped that the findings will raise awareness of the changing nature of young urban speech, highlighting the fact that many of its salient features are predictable results of the context in which it is used and acquired. In addition, the project will explore the ways in which particular linguistic features are used in the construction and negotiation of identities among young people, while at the same time looking at the extent to which speakers are able to style-shift between language varieties. Details here.
A book about the project was published in March 2018: Researching Urban Youth Language and Identity.
Manchester Voices is the umbrella name for a series of research projects investigating and celebrating the accents and dialects of Greater Manchester. The research seeks to help us understand the ways in which our use of language makes us who we are. It also aims to uncover the underlying perceptions of the various accents of the ten boroughs of the county. The research is being carried out with a colleague, Erin Carrie. Details can be found here.
The Accentism Project
This is a project aimed at raising awareness of language-based prejudice and discrimination. At the moment we are simply inviting people to share their stories and experiences of linguistic prejudice, discrimination and stereotyping. The project site is at accentism.org, and on Twitter at @AccentismProj.
Manchester Centre for Youth Studies
I am a founding member and Head of Youth Language at the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies. The centre brings together researchers from across the university – including the humanities, social sciences and education – to explore how the meanings, experiences and representations of youth have changed over time. Historically, children and young people have been seen as a source of concern for the media, politicians and academics. MCYS aims to examine the competing conceptualisations of childhood and youth, and provides an opportunity to develop novel perspectives and new approaches to historical and contemporary understandings of the area by encouraging opportunities to compare and contrast trends, regionally, nationally and internationally in a variety of contexts. The Centre comprises academics from across a wide range of disciplines including: Sociology, Criminology, History, Linguistics, English and Education. Our vision is to become a focus of excellence for research on youth across a range of disciplines. Our strength and distinctiveness grow out of these inter-disciplinary relationships.
In 2011 I launched a new project looking at the association between vowel and colour perception. I’m trying to find firstly if people are indeed able to identify different vowels with different colours, and then look into whether people’s accents have an effect on the nature of this association.
Some preliminary findings were presented at the BAAP Colloquium in Leeds in March 2012 (pdf copy of poster here), and when I have some time I will write up the rest of the results.
Broadly speaking, my research links three areas of linguistic research – variationist sociolinguistics, dialect acquisition, and second language acquisition – by looking at sociolinguistic variation within the acquisition of L2 phonology. Although I am interested in any L2 community in any urban setting, the majority of my work thus far looks into the effect of features of the local accent on the English pronunciation of native Polish speakers living in Manchester. Methodologically, the research draws on techniques from sociophonetics including acoustic analysis of vowels using Praat, and statistical analysis using Rbrul.
Common sense and personal experience tell us that people who move to an area in which people speak with a different dialect often show signs of acquiring features of that dialect, including the accent itself. Various second dialect acquisition studies have supported this hypothesis, providing insights into the process behind this acquisition. However, these studies have almost exclusively looked at two dialects from within the same first language, and not at the possibility of second language dialect acquisition. Again, common sense and personal experience tell us that this does indeed happen, that non-native speakers of English do in fact often acquire features of the local accent, despite it perhaps being a non-standard variety (in relation to any pedagogical model they may have been exposed to). Yet this acquisition is not a foregone conclusion for every person, neither is it complete. My research aims to find out the extent of, and reasons behind this acquisition by analysing the speech of the Polish community in Manchester.
Four linguistic features were investigated: the STRUT vowel, glottal variation in /t/, -ing variation, and h-dropping. The first three of these all showed considerable variation in the speech of the participants (h-dropping was almost non-existent) and a number of social factors were explored in attempting to explain the differing degrees of acquisition. Those social factors appearing to play a part in shaping the acquisition include gender, identity, attitude, motivation, and context of L2 use.
Linguistic factors were been explored, and some predictable patterns relating to preceding following sound were found in relation to the consonantal features. The influence of frequency was been looked at, and while lexical frequency appears to have no effect, there is an intriguing pattern of a possible frequency effect at the level of phonetic voicing with regard to the STRUT vowel.