In British English, there are two main ways of pronouncing the suffix -ING (in words like talking or going): [ɪŋ], ‘ing’, with a velar nasal sound following the vowel, the way it’s usually said by BBC newreaders, and [ɪn], ‘in’, which is what most British people also say in informal speech. In Manchester, and other places in Northwest England, there is another pronunciation, [ɪŋg], ‘inG’, with two distinct sounds following the vowel. Erik Schleef and Nicholas Flynn wanted to find out if Mancunians ascribe different meanings to these three different pronunciations.
|go-ing somewhere in Manchester?|
They recorded two male and two female voices three times, each with one of the three different pronunciations: ‘ing’, ‘in’ and ‘inG’. These were then used for an online survey within the Manchester community, which asked listeners to rate the different voices they heard in terms of ‘attributes’ like superiority, friendliness, education, etc. Of course, the listeners were unknowingly listening to the same speakers.
In general, the listeners thought ‘ing’ speakers sounded more confident, posher, better educated and more hard-working than the ‘in’ speakers, as well as more energetic than those using ‘inG’ (although less so than the ‘in’ users). ‘ing’ was thought to signal more prestige and superiority and was also rated as the most dynamic of the three pronunciations. ‘in’ was considered more casual, younger and less educated. ‘inG’ emerged as having its own unique social meaning: the ‘inG’ users were rated as much more uptight, formal and non-energetic than speakers who used the other two pronunciations.
Schleef and Flynn divided the respondents of their survey into two distinct age groups, over-22s and under-22s (based on the idea that UK students leave university and enter the ‘adult’ world at the age of 22), and this produced some other interesting results. For example, the over-22s thought that ‘ing’ speakers sounded the poshest, most articulate and most reliable, whereas the under-22s thought that ‘ing’ speakers and ‘in’ speakers were similar in relation to articulateness, and that ‘ing’ speakers sounded more common than ‘inG’ speakers, who they rated as the poshest and most reliable.
These interesting differences could be explained by the two age groups being in different ‘lifestages’. For example, ‘ing’ is the ‘standard’ British pronunciation, the form that is more usual and expected. Adults are at a lifestage where conforming to community standards is necessary to succeed in life and so sounding ‘standard’ is important. The standard form also indicates a polite and caring attitude on the part of the speaker towards their listener as it is the expected form: adults are at a lifestage where they are often in a carer role and thinking more of others’ needs.
In contrast, the under-22s are at a lifestage, often described as ‘adolescence’, which involves disassociating themselves from their parents and deliberately diverging from adult norms and standards. This may help to explain why they don’t agree with the over-22s that ‘-ing’ is the poshest of the three pronunciations. Their rating of ‘-inG’ as the most formal could also be influenced by the fact that young people have less experience of formal speech situations than adults. They could simply rate ‘-inG’ as the poshest form as this best reflects the suffix’s spelling and they instinctively think of the written form as formal.
Schleef and Flynn are keen to point out that these explanations are mainly conjecture but it’s definitely worth thinking about...or thinkin’ about...or even thinkinG about!
Erik Schleef and Nicholas Flynn (2015). Ageing meanings of (ing). Age and indexicality in Manchester, England. English World-Wide 36(1): 48–90. doi. 10.1075/eww.36.1.04sch
This summary was written by Gemma Stoyle