School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch | Shivonne Gates (QMUL)

7 February 2018

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Venue: ArtsTwo 3.16

The FACE of MLE: Sociophonetic variation, race, and ethnicity in East London.

Shivonne M. Gates



Multicultural London English (MLE) has been described as a new multiethnolect borne out of indirect language contact and group second language acquisition of English among ethnically-diverse adolescent friendship groups (Cheshire et al. 2011). Evidence of ethnic stratification was also found; for example, “non-Anglo” boys were more likely to use innovative MLE diphthong variants than other (male and female) participants. However, the data analysed by Cheshire and colleagues has limited ethnographic information, and as such the role that race and ethnicity play in language change and variation in London remains unclear. The present study, therefore, uses qualitative and quantitative methods to examine a different multi-ethnic adolescent community in order to shed light on the dynamics of race and ethnicity in relation to linguistic variation and change in diverse contexts.

Data was gathered at Riverton, a multi-ethnic secondary school in Newham, East London. I conducted a 12-month ethnography of a Year Ten (14-15 years old) cohort, collecting field notes, interviews, and group recordings with 27 students (19 girls, 8 boys). The quantitative data presented in this talk will focus on face and price. I examine F1 onset of face and F2 onset of price, as previous literature indicates these innovative features are part of an ongoing reversal of the diphthong shift in London (Kerswill et al. 2008). At first glance, multivariate analyses suggest that social factors ethnicity and peer group are not significant. However, there are stark descriptive and impressionistic contrasts. For example, White British girls’ realisations of face are very different to female adolescents of other ethnic backgrounds. Female peer groups are also segregated by ethnicity. This suggests that statistical analysis fails to fully capture the complexities of social factors in this community.

The results have two key implications. First, the results supplement research by Cheshire and colleagues, suggesting that ethnicity also has the potential to impact language variation and change in multi-ethnic communities. Secondly, it provides important insights into social dynamics in multicultural contexts, particularly with regards to ethnicity. When discussing multicultural communities in Europe, they are often referred to as melting pots; ethnicity is often glossed over or disregarded altogether (Valluvan 2013). The results of this study suggest that not only are there notable linguistic consequences, but that these can provide important insights into social dynamics of ethnicity as it emerges in interaction.