Thursday 1 December 2011

Multicultural London English - part 2

This is me ‘I’m from Hackney’

Researchers Jenny Cheshire, Paul Kerswill, Sue Fox and Eivind Torgersen report the use of a new quotative expression to introduce reported speech in spoken discourse. Of course, speakers use a variety of forms to introduce dialogue; the verbs SAY (e.g. she said ‘let’s go to the cinema’), GO (e.g. he went ‘let’s go to the cinema’) and THINK (e.g. I thought ‘Oh no, not the cinema again’) are among the most common introducers. In recent years there has also been an explosion in English varieties around the world in the use of BE LIKE (e.g. they were like ‘Oh, we love the cinema’). However, in inner London, the researchers have also discovered the use of the expression this is + speaker such as those given in the examples below.

this is them ‘what area are you from?’ this is me ‘I’m from Hackney’

this is my mum ‘what are you doing?’

Although the new form only accounts for a small number of the quotatives found in the London data it is nevertheless used frequently enough in young people’s speech generally for it to have been noticed by non-linguists. For example, you can hear it being used in this comedy sketch from the Armstrong and Miller show. The researchers found that the expression this is + speaker is used by adolescents and also by children as young as eight years old but none of the adults in their study used it. This points to the feature as being a fairly recent innovation but in fact there is some evidence to suggest that it has existed in the ‘feature pool’ (see our previous post) for some time; Mark Sebba found three examples in his recordings of London Jamaicans made in the 1980s and there are also examples in the Corpus of London Teenage Speech (COLT) recorded in the 1990s. The researchers say that in language contact situations such as that which exists in London, features which have been in existence for some time (but have perhaps been used infrequently) may get picked up from the feature pool causing the frequency of its use to increase. This seems to be a possibility for the increase in the use of this is + speaker.

Another interesting finding is that there is a difference in the way that the different age groups use this feature. The 12-13 year-olds and the 16-19 year-olds use this is + speaker almost exclusively to introduce reported direct speech (e.g. this is her ‘that was my sister’). However, the 8-9 year-olds use it to introduce both direct speech and non-lexicalised sound and gesture (e.g. this is me <followed by an action>). This function allows the young children to ‘perform’ the actions in the way in which they actually occurred. Furthermore, the 8-9 year-olds also use this is + speaker with non-quotative functions (e.g. he’s sitting on a chair this is him like he’s drunk or something) to describe someone’s state, feeling, action, gesture or expression.

The researchers state that the use of this is + speaker is in its early stages and that, so far, it is confined to inner London. Whether it is a short-lived phenomenon or whether it will continue to increase in frequency and spread to other regions remains to be seen. Comments welcome on the use of or further development of this fascinating language feature!
Cheshire, J., Kerswill, P., Fox, S. and Torgersen, E. 2011. Contact, the feature pool and the speech community: the Emergence of Multicultural London English. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15/2: 151-196.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9841.2011.00478.x

This summary was written by Sue Fox


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