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Looking at an example of a linguistic factor

In this video, Dr Sarah Kelly describes an example of a linguistic factor: the pronunciation of 't' in English words.
Before we examine some data ourselves, let’s take a look at an example of a linguistic factor. In English, speakers use a sound called a glottal stop. You can hear this sound in words like ‘water’ or ‘butter’. Crucially for native English speakers, this ‘uh’ sound cannot occur anywhere in a word – for example, it cannot be found at the beginning of a word in English like it can in dialects of Arabic. However, in English, this glottal stop sound can be found either in the middle of words (like ‘butter’ versus ‘butter’), or at the end of words (like ‘cat’ versus ‘cat’).
Crucially, English speakers can use either the glottal stop or ‘t’ in these words and the meaning of the word does not change. What can change, however, is how these pronunciations are perceived by listeners. It is often seen as ‘lazy’ or ‘uneducated’ to produce glottal stops in place of ‘t’. What is even more interesting, is that for many listeners, the glottal stop sound is more noticeable – or salient – when it is made in the middle of words, compared to when the same sound is made at the end of words.
This means that while people might have a strong dislike of glottal stop pronunciations in words like ‘matter’ – the same glottal stop, ‘uh’ sound found at the end of words is often not associated with any particular attitude or stereotype. What this tells us is that attitudes to particular sounds can be inconsistent, without listeners ever truly being aware of this inconsistency.

In this video, Dr Sarah Kelly describes an example of a linguistic factor: the effect of position in the word on how different variants of the ‘t’ sound in English words are perceived. Sociolinguists have to take account of linguistic factors – as well as social factors – when collecting and analysing data.

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An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity

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