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Case study: an example of a language attitude

Let’s look now at a real-life example of a language attitude.

The text below is taken from an email sent to BBC presenter Steph McGovern after one of her regular appearances on television:

Hi Steph,

Please don’t get me wrong, I like you and think you do a very good job and I’m not being patronising there. Your accent doesn’t bother me apart from one word that you mangle. “Here.” You say “heyah.” Sorry, but could you please just say ‘here’ as one syllable. You don’t have to put on a posh accent. Just say the word as it’s meant to be said.

Thank you

As linguists, what can we take away from this message? One thing worth noting is how the author of the email displays an awareness of accent variation and attitudes. In particular, the author understands that Steph’s speech sounds different from other accents more associated with television broadcasting. The author also seems to think that Steph is trying to adapt her speech to ‘better fit’ her profession by sounding ‘posh’.

Another thing to note is how the author believes that the word ‘here’ only has one acceptable pronunciation. This comment suggests that the author has a particular ideology, or belief, about language. Notably, more standard pronunciations may be thought of as more “accurate” than non-standard, or regional pronunciations. As we’ve already seen, in linguistics accents are treated as something which are inherently subject to change. Therefore, we would expect that words will be pronounced differently depending on the speaker’s background.

There are innumerable examples of language attitudes available to us as researchers - from our everyday interactions with others or comments posted online. By looking at real-world examples like this email, we can better understand the barriers that are faced by speakers when it comes to, for example, treatment in the workplace.

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An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity

University of York

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