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The importance of dialects

I’ve just finished listening to Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

I haven’t read any really enjoyable books recently so I’m so glad I ended the year with the audiobook of this one. I didn’t particularly enjoy My Fair Lady, the musical based on this play, so I didn’t have high expectations. However, I really enjoyed Pygmalion and thought it was a different entity to the musical (although I couldn’t help occasionally imagining the characters breaking into song when they said a line that some of the songs are based on!).

Great characters, nicely depicted setting and a good, humorous story. Plus it uses concepts from sociolinguistics and as a linguistics graduate I couldn’t help enjoying it! I’d certainly try to see it if there is ever a production of it at a local theatre.

I’m fascinated by accents and having lived in various places over the UK I’ve been interested to know how other people perceive my accent. I’m from South West England and although I have some identifying features, when I went to university in Scotland most people described my accent as ‘posh’. A friend later told me that when she initially met me she assumed I would be ‘stuck up’. At university, with a mix of accents from everywhere I blended in fine. However on a work placement as an Online Exhibition Assistant I felt very out of place among my Scottish work colleagues and longed to be able to tone down my ‘posh’ accent. While I’m thankful for my pretty standard accent most of the time, it would be nice to have the homeliness of non-RP accent sometimes, but maybe not quite as much of one as Eliza Dolittle’s!

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Neanderthals could talk

Findings fromĀ a new study suggest neanderthals were capable of complex language, like humans. An analysis was carried out on the hyoid bone of a neanderthal (a bone important for speech in humans) and found that there is very little difference between it and a human’s. The writers are cautious about making any outright claims to language, but their findings are consistent with neanderthals being capable of complex speech.

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Signing Christmas songs!

I’m getting into the festive spirit by watching British Sign Language videos of Christmas songs (well, in Sign Assisted English, which uses BSL signs, but is in the order of spoken English). I only have level 1 BSL so I’m not great, although I’d love to do level 2 in the future. I’m a bit rusty and my signing is as ‘out of tune’ as my singing is so I’m sure my boyfriend (who I met in my BSL class last year) won’t be that appreciative, but I’m enjoying myself! Here’s one of my favourites:

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Uptalk taken up by men

A study suggests that California men are adopting a rising pitch at the end of their sentences, which is typically used more by women. The study says that this use of pitch, called uptalk, is beginning to be adopted by more Californians.

Although the use of it is still used by more women than men, Young South Californian speakers of different genders are now using it, when before it had been primarily women.

I’ve read a few people’s comments on this story and people seem to be surprised at men adopting a women’s language feature. Maybe studying language means I’m aware that women typically lead innovative language change (although as Labov’s Gender Paradox observes, women are also the ones most likely to use established standard forms of language) so take for granted that women would be the ones using a language style before it’s picked up by men. Talking to a friend about this, I was surprised that they thought it odd that men were adopting a “girly” speech feature. Surely then most language changes would therefore be “girly”?