Friday, 15 March 2019

"I'm so Fancy"

Remember Iggy Azalea? Well, if you were just about anywhere in 2014, you might recall her smash hit song 'Fancy' featuring Charli XCX. In fact, that song was so popular that it earnt Iggy Ig's a Billboard award for the 'biggest ever hit for a female rapper'. But whilst she might be one of the most recognisable Hip-Hop artists of the current period, you might also recall that she's faced quite a lot of criticism too with many referencing the difference between her ethnicity (as a White Australian) and her distinctive rapping-style which has been referred to as a 'Blaccent' (literally a 'black accent'). 

But, why does Iggy sound 'Black'? And why do people perceive Iggy to have a 'Blaccent'? These are two questions that Maeve Eberhardt  & Kara Freeman decided to investigate in their 2015 paper.

By transcribing Iggy's entire back catalogue of albums, EPs and mixtapes, Eberhardt & Freeman set about analysing her distinctive rapping style. With newspaper articles referring to Iggy's 'Blaccent', the authors examined her use of features typically found in African American English (AAE) in her rap music. As a speech variety, AAE is typically spoken by Black individuals (i.e., African American) speakers who live in parts of Northern America.

One feature that the authors decided to explore is 'copula absence' which describes the tendency for speakers to pronounce the sentence "he's in here" as "he in here" - in other words, the verb 'be' (is/are) is absent from the sentence.

Whilst this feature occurs in many varieties (including some varieties of British English), in AAE, researchers have found certain patterns that seem unique to the variety. In particular, they have found that speakers tend to use higher amounts of copula absence before certain types of words and that this feature is more likely when the verb occurs before gonna as in "she gonna go home" and least likely before noun-phrases "Marie's in there".

Remarkably, by analysing Iggy's rapping style, Eberhardt & Freeman found good evidence to suggest that she wasn't just using copula deletion randomly but, rather, her use of this feature mirrored the same patterns that native AAE speakers exhibit! However, when they analysed Iggy's interviews, they found that she rarely uses copula deletion.

Iggy in an interview - sounds Australian, huh? 

So, why does Iggy use a variety that's typically spoken by Black African Americans in her rap but not in interviews? One such explanation has to do with the music industry and genre that she's working in: Hip-Hop. As an art-form that originated in Black communities in the U.S., many of these artists come from this community and typically those who speak AAE - think of Jay Z or Lil Wayne. As such, the language associated with this genre of music - the 'Hip-Hop Nation Language' (HHNL; Alim, 2004) - is largely based in AAE and shares many features of this variety.

In order to get by and sell records, it seems then that you need to use the 'code' that's typical of the genre and rap in HHNL. But, as a White Australian, Iggy doesn't really look or sound like a Hip-Hop artist... Hip-Hop in an Australian accent doesn't seem to work! Herein lies the explanation for her performance of AAE.

Eberhardt & Freeman argue that she uses AAE to sound like a 'real' Hip-Hop artist in order to sell records. And she does this quite well- as we've seen she uses the same features in the right 'slots' as a native speaker. But, whilst she might be able to speak AAE like a native speaker, it seems that her performance is still pretty problematic. In fact, there are virtually hundreds of articles on Iggy's 'cultural appropriation' of AAE, with many referencing her use of this variety and her lack of authenticity as a White Australian.

So whilst Iggy may be claiming to be a "a white girl with a flow ain't been seen before" it seems that she's not the "realest" after all...


Eberhardt, Maeve & Kara Freeman (2015) ‘First things first, I'm the realest’: Linguistic appropriation, white privilege, and the hip‐hop persona of Iggy Azalea. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 19(3):303-327.

This summary was written by Christian Ilbury

Friday, 1 March 2019

Authenticity in the Hood

Whether it’s in friends, designer handbags, or website security, one quality people always want is authenticity. Their fake counterparts are shoddy at best and damaging at worst, whether that be for your emotional health, your belongings, or the contents of your bank account.

The music is real, even if the wool on the collar is not.
In a recent paper, Pia Pichler and Nathanael Williams look specifically at the way identity is authenticated by four young men from South London. Nathanael was one of these four men, and he recorded over five hours of conversation between him and the three others. The conversation covered a range of topics, including class, race, language, fatherhood, and the US; however, the focus of this research specifically covered their discussion of hip-hop.

In order to investigate the links between identity and authenticity, Pichler and Williams draw on Silverstein’s “cultural concepts”, which describe people’s use of linguistic elements that do not have a straightforward interpretation. In order to access the meaning of those elements, you need to be part of a shared cultural sphere with the person who is using them. One example they give is that of a wine connoisseur, who uses certain terms to describe wine which might otherwise mean something different. Using these terms to convey these cultural meanings is therefore a way to indicate your affiliation with that sphere, and make it a part of your identity.

In the conversation that Nathaniel analysed, the four men frequently positioned authentic aspects of hip-hop culture against inauthentic intruders. One example is during a discussion of World Star Hip Hop, a website which features regular content about the genre, from both contributors and users. One of the men, Les, was complaining about some girls fighting on the website, specifically referring to them as “white girls from The Hills”. “The Hills” was a series that focused on the lives of white, upper-middle class women in Los Angeles; by referencing them, Les positions them against the working class and non-white culture of the website. The men also reference cultural concepts within the UK to position things. For example, Les also complains about white kids from Oxford or Cambridge proffering extended opinions on hip-hop. Given the reputation of Oxford and Cambridge as wealthy university towns, this indexes the white person he is complaining about to a middle-class background that is at odds with his supposed knowledge about a predominantly black and working-class genre. This therefore renders the person and their opinions on the best hip-hop artists as inauthentic.

Pichler and Williams also note linguistic features used by the men that are just as important to the construction of their identities. For example, when discussing his brother’s membership in a South London gang, Les says dey and dem as opposed to they and them – a feature known as DH-stopping. He also uses yout and bruv; while the use of such lexical items is not specific to the Englishes typically spoken in hip-hop, they still index an authentic background, as they are features of MLE, or Multicultural London English. As a dialect usually spoken by working class people, often of colour, in inner-city London, it is not at odds with hip-hop culture, which often draws on local dialects.

These are just some of the ways in which the participants authenticated themselves. Now consider the conversations that you have – how do you position things against one another, and what features do you use if and when you do so? You may be doing the exact same thing.


Pichler, P., & Williams, N. (2016). Hipsters in the hood: Authenticating indexicalities in young men's hip-hop talk. Language in Society 45(4): 557-581.

This summary was written by Marina Merryweather

Monday, 28 January 2019

Bringing Research into the Classroom: New Resources for Teaching A-Level English Language

We're really excited to announce that we will be holding a half-term event to introduce our new A-Level English Language Resources! If you're a keen reader and are interested in making the most of our resources, click here to register. 

The workshop is designed to share the latest research as well as new teaching resources in the area of English Language (Sociolinguistics, Variation, and Language Change) with A-Level and other English Language teachers. The short talks will present recent research relevant to the national curriculum, helping teachers get a feel for where scholarship stands currently. The talks will also showcase a new free set of teaching resources -- English Language Teaching Resources -- with hands-on demonstrations. These resources package cutting-edge research into classroom-friendly content. This includes real audio clips, transcripts, background guidance for teaching, simple summaries of new research on hot topics, and guided student projects.

Date: Tuesday 19th February
Time: 2-5:30pm
Location: Queen Mary University of London (Mile End, East London)
Room: Graduate Centre (GC) 101

Provisional schedule and titles (subject to minor changes)

2:00 pm — 'Current trends in sociolinguistics, and new materials for A-Level English Language teaching' (Prof Devyani Sharma)

2:30 pm — 'Good or bad grammar? A practical approach to looking at changing attitudes' (Dr Carmen Ebner)

3:00 pm — 'Language use in social media' (Christian Ilbury, PhD student)

3:30pm — tea/coffee break

4:00 pm — 'Why don't we all speak Standard English?' (Prof Jenny Cheshire)

4:30 pm — Talk by Dan Clayton (AQA A-level senior examiner, co-author of the Nelson Thornes AQA A English Language AS textbook)

5:00 pm — Discussion and wrap-up

The discussion will reflect on the talks but also explore ways in which the new resources can support teachers, and identify areas of particular need. We hope to be able to follow up later with some of you on what has worked well or for any suggestions. Feedback via email or via the website is very welcome too!

Monday, 14 January 2019

Don't thank us for this post, it's really "no problem"

It’s probably not something you even think about. Someone asks you to pass salt or pepper at dinner, they say “thanks!” Someone is raising money for charity, and when you give a larger than expected donation, they say “thank you ever so much!” Or, maybe it’s Ariana Grande getting over Pete Davidson, and she says “thank you, next”. But what exactly would you say in response?

Aaron Dinkin of  San Diego State University decided to investigate exactly that. Aware that there is a perceived difference between older people using “you’re welcome” and younger people using “no problem”, and that prescriptivists are wringing their hands at the prospect of the latter replacing the former, he decided to take some results from an undergraduate sociolinguistic survey to see if this was really the case.

The methodology was quite simple. Students had to ask directions from people in the street or in shops, in and around Toronto. On receiving the directions they wanted, they had three levels of gratitude to give: “thanks”, “thank you”, and “thank you very much”. They were asked to note the response from a selection of categories, including a lack of response, “you’re welcome”, “no problem”, and other possible replies. They were also asked to note down demographic information about the person they asked, such as their ethnicity, rough estimates of their age, whether they were a native speaker, and whether they were someone in the street or a shop employee.

The results, not surprisingly, did not exactly match the stereotypes of “you’re welcome” versus “no problem”. While it was true that younger people were more likely to use “no problem” than their older counterparts, regardless of how they were thanked, there were more pertinent differences in the data. For one, 18% of the of the elicitations got no response at all, and this was found to correlate with using shorter forms – more people said nothing in response to “thank you”, and even more did not respond at all to “thanks”. However, if people did reply to “thanks”, they were more likely to use “no problem”. Meanwhile, when the students used “thank you” or “thank you very much”, all participants were more likely to say “you’re welcome” in response, irrespective of age.

There was also the response “no worries” – only younger participants used this, and they almost exclusively used it in response to “thanks” on its own. Dinkin concluded that in younger populations, “no problem” was beginning to lose its status as an informal response, and evolve as a broader reply while “no worries” was beginning to fill the informal gap left behind. However, “you’re welcome” still held its status as being pragmatically more polite to use with more elaborate forms of thanking.

He also wrote that more could be done to analyse the changes in response to thanks – for example, comparing the data here to responses in other communities, or even doing similar studies in the US to see how it compares to Canada. However, even the results as they stand leave a lot to consider. So how should we respond to “thank you, next”?


Dinkin, Aaron. J. (2018). It's no problem to be polite: Apparent‐time change in responses to thanks. Journal of Sociolinguistics 22(2): 190-215.

This summary was written by Marina Merryweather

Thursday, 8 November 2018

"The ting goes skrrra pap pap"

If you had turned on the radio even for a couple of seconds in 2017, it's highly likely that you would be familiar with Big Shaq's ironic Grime song, 'Man's Not Hot' and the now ubiquitous line 'the ting goes skrrra pap pap'. Big Shaq's pronunciation of thing as 'ting' in this line is an example of what linguists call TH-stopping - simply put, where the 'th' sound is pronounced as a 't' - and it's this variation that Rob Drummond decided to look at in the speech of adolescents in Manchester.

Drummond studied a group of adolescents at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) and looked at the variable pronunciation of 'th' in their speech. You may have heard 'th' pronounced as 'f' as in 'fing' or 'fink'. This is an extremely common pronunciation, particularly among young people. Drummond finds that the majority of word initial 'th' words (e.g., thing, think, thought) are pronounced with an 'f'. This is often referred to as 'TH-fronting'. However, he also finds evidence of 'th' being pronounced as 't' - often referred to as 'TH-stopping' - a somewhat unexpected finding.

Although TH-stopping occurs in some varieties of British English (e.g., Irish), 't' for 'th' isn't generally heard in the speech of English speakers living in mainland England. So it seems that 't' for 'th' is newly emerging in the speech of adolescents. 

To explain why 'th' words may be pronounced as 't', Drummond looks at the types of activities that the adolescents participate in. He finds that those who often rap and have strong identifications with 'urban' culture, such as listening to Grime music, use 't' (e.g., ting) more than their peers. This finding is interesting as TH-stopping has typically been associated with the ethnicity of the speaker. In fact, Drummond does not find any evidence to link the pronunciation of 'th' to ethnicity. 

Looking at the speech contexts where 'th' is pronounced as 't', Drummond shows that 't' is often deployed in contexts where the speaker is attempting to present themselves as 'tough' or to identify as part of a like-minded community who are interested in urban culture. 

So it seems that Roadman Shaq's 'Man's not Hot' was on to something or should that be someting?

Drummond, Rob. 2018. Maybe it’s a grime [t]ing: TH-stopping among urban British youth. Language in Society. 1-26.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Let's 'chew the fat' in ELF!

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is the English used by people who have different native languages and use English as a language of communication. It provides rich ground for research as its users are multilingual and are able to call on many different languages as they converse.

Marie-LuisePitzl decided to focus on the use of idioms in ELF. These are metaphorical phrases (e.g., too many cooks spoil the broth) which can’t be directly translated into other languages and keep the same meaning. She found that there are two main ways that idioms manifest themselves. Sometimes they seeped into conversation, without speakers or listeners being aware of them. At other times, however, they were explicitly mentioned by speakers; for example, at times a foreign idiom was directly translated into English and at others, the speaker used the language of the idiom to say it.

An example of the first type is don’t praise the day yet, said by a Polish speaker when in conversation with German speakers. It probably draws on the Polish expression Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem słońca ‘Don’t praise the day before the sunset’. As this saying is virtually identical in meaning to the German phrase: Du sollst den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben ‘you should not praise the day before the evening’, it becomes part of a multilingual idiom ‘pool’ shared by German and Polish speakers via ELF. The participants in the conversation understand these ‘translated’ idioms even if they don’t have equivalents in English.

An example of when the idiom is explicitly discussed is in the following conversation involving Maltese, Serbian and Norwegian speakers:

Speaker (Serbian): “the point of the whole things about quotas it’s a very good idea but in the same time it’s … how to say it in English like knife with double blade?”

The speaker draws attention to the idiom immediately by introducing it with how to say it in English…, the pronoun it suggesting that she’s thinking of an idiom in her own language. Indeed, both German, Serbian and English have similar idioms (in English a double-edged sword) to express something that has both advantages and disadvantages. The speakers don’t worry about the accuracy in English and show no insecurity about using this un-English version in their multilingual context.

Sometimes Pitzl found idioms being used in their original language within ELF conversations. In the following example, Maltese and Serbian speakers discuss their different cultures, specifically smoking habits. The Serbian speaker says that Serbians smoke a lot and comments, ...we have a proverb like Italians...fuma come un turco (= smoke like a Turk). It is interesting that the language the speaker chooses for the idiom is not her own or her Maltese listeners’, but Italian. Through this choice, she communicates not only that she is multilingual but also that she’s aware that her listeners know Italian (Maltese contains about 50% vocabulary of Italian origin), signalling her closeness to her listeners and drawing on their multilingualism.

So, ELF is incredibly creative and tolerant; there’s no need to mind one’s, how do you say it, “Qs and Ps”?

Pitzl, Marie-Louise (2016). World Englishes and creative idioms in English as a lingua franca. World Englishes 35(2):293-309.


This summary was written by Gemma Stoyle

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

What do hashtags mean?

Anyone who uses social media is probably aware of the ubiquitous hashtag. What started as a simple way to tag topics on internet chat rooms was then adopted by Twitter, and then spread to many other platforms, including Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. The way that the hashtag is used has changed a lot in that time, evolving from a tag into a way of deliberately communicating stances and ideas.

Barbara De Cock and Andrea Pizarro Pedraza found this to be the case when investigating the use of the #jesuis hashtag (‘I am’). You may recall that this hashtag came out of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. People on Twitter used the hashtag #jesuischarlie to express their support and solidarity with the victims after the incident. De Cock and Pizarro Pedraza wanted to investigate the phenomenon further, to see how the #jesuis hashtag construction changed its meaning in different contexts. To do this, they manually observed and monitored the #jesuis hashtag over the course of a year, to better understand how it was being employed. They then developed a script which gathered a sample of tweets using the #jesuis construction between March and April 2016.

They found 407 different constructions, with four broad different uses: one set referring specifically to terrorist attacks; one set to other disasters involving loss of life; one set to other sad news stories; and one set which did not express solidarity in the face of tragedy, but instead were critical or mocking of the whole concept. These were most often used in conjunction with proper nouns, such as Charlie, Belge, ‘Belgium’, or Panama, but occasionally with other kinds of nouns, such as in #jesuischien, ‘I am dog’ , after the death of a police dog during a raid on a flat occupied in Belgium that was occupied by terrorists.

While the original hashtag expressed solidarity with the loss of human life, De Kock and Pizarro Pedraza noticed a broadening of its use through the four categories. For example, the #jesuisEcuador hashtag was for a natural disaster, as opposed to a terrorist attack, but was still employed to express solidarity with a loss of life. The use of the hashtag changed further still regarding other causes; a French spelling reform inspired a hashtag #jesuiscirconflexe, or ‘I am circumflex’, the diacritic used above certain French letters such as ê. While there is nothing tragic about a change of spelling, the hashtag was still being employed as a way of expressing solidarity with those who were unhappy about the proposed change. This also occurred with events which concerned free speech, something that Charlie Hebdo was seen to represent for a lot of sympathisers; the hashtag #jesuisBoehmermann was not used to express solidarity with someone that had died, but rather with a comedian who was being charged by the Turkish president for criticising him in a stand-up routine.

As with many things that are shown to align with a stance, the hashtag has been used to criticise or show disalignment as well, often by using it ironically. For example, Charlie Hebdo themselves employed the hashtag when the Panama papers news broke: when multiple politicians were found to be hiding money to avoid tax. The #jesuisPanama tag was ironic, feigning solidarity with a class of privileged people to highlight their unethical behaviour. The research showed, then, that the hashtag was being used in a variety of ways.

The authors briefly mention the English #I am tag too, pointing to the use of #I am Leicester to express proud support after the unexpected win by the Leicester football team in the 216 Premier League competition So next time you are on any social media platform, and you see the #jesuis tag or the #I am tag, you could have a think about what kind of solidarity the author is trying to show, if any.

De Cock, B., & Pizarro Pedraza, A. (2018). From expressing solidarity to mocking on Twitter: Pragmatic functions of hashtags starting with #jesuis across languages. Language in Society 47(2):1-21.

This summary was written by Marina Merryweather