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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch | Christian Ilbury (QMUL)

14 May 2019

Time: 1:00 - 2:00pm
Venue: ArtsTwo 2.17

‘Beyond the Offline’: Social Media and the Social Meaning of Variation in East London

Recent sociolinguistic analyses have emphasised that a diversification of tools is needed to isolate the social meaning of variation (e.g., Campbell-Kibler, 2011; Drager, 2016). Yet to date, few studies have considered digital data in analyses of offline patterns of variation. Given that the current era is often described as a period of ‘digital culture’ (Gere, 2002), it seems necessary for variationist sociolinguistics to take stock of both the ‘offline’ and the ‘online’ practices of speakers to fully understand the implications of media for linguistic differentiation and its social meaning.

Taking this empirical gap as a point of departure, this thesis presents a ‘blended ethnography’ of a youth group that I refer to as ‘Lakeside’ based in a working-class neighbourhood in East London. Data were gathered over the course of a 12-month offline and online blended ethnography, resulting in a database comprising 40 hours of recordings (self-recordings and interviews) from 25 adolescents (aged 11-17) and over 850 social media posts (Snapchat Stories and Instagram posts) from a subset of participants and relevant entertainment channels.

To examine patterns of sociolinguistic variation at Lakeside, variationist analyses were conducted on three features that represent distinct levels of the linguistic system: Phonological variation in the interdental fricatives (TH/DH-fronting and TH/DH-stopping); grammatical variation in the use of the man pronoun; and discourse-pragmatic variation in the use of an innovative attention signal 'ey’'Whilst previous variety-based accounts of linguistic variation in East London have shown the distribution of some of these features to be largely constrained by ‘macro-level’ factors such as ethnicity and homophily of friendship networks (e.g., MLE: Cheshire et al., 2011; Cheshire, 2013), this thesis presents a more style-oriented account of the variation observed. Using distributional, statistical and interactional analyses to examine the three variables, I show that the use of these features can be largely accounted for by the individuals’ membership of a specific CofP – in particular the self-defined ‘gully’ – an exclusively male group that is characterised by an orientation towards an ‘urban’ subculture.

Interpreting these patterns, I then turn to the social media data (Snapchat Stories and Instagram posts) to examine the social meaning of the variation. Specifically, I examine the relevance of posts that explicitly reference ethnic varieties of English (e.g., Jamaican English) and translocal practices that are indirectly associated with ethnicity (e.g., Grime music) in relation to the variable patterns at Lakeside. Finally, I conclude by discussing the local category of the ‘gully’ in relation to issues of race, social class and masculinity in East London.

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