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...

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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

https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12128



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.

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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”?

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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. https://doi.org/10.1111/josl.12278

This summary was written by Marina Merryweather