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  • Translator: Shanshan (Alice) Lin Reviewer: Denise RQ

  • As John said, I'm a sociolinguist.

  • What does that mean?

  • Sociolinguists study the role of language in society.

  • Yeah, but what does it mean?

  • What do they do?

  • Sociolinguists are professional eavesdroppers.

  • But unlike other eavesdroppers,

  • they're not so much interested

  • in what the people are saying, but how they're saying it.

  • For sociolinguists, language is neither good nor bad.

  • It's meaningful.

  • I was on the bus the other day,

  • and I heard two young girls chatting behind me.

  • So I was eavesdropping as usual.

  • And this is what I heard.

  • "And I was like, 'No way!'

  • And he was like, 'Well, it's only, like, two miles."

  • And the other one said,

  • "OMG. In your killer heels! Amazeballs!"

  • (Laughter)

  • And the first one goes, "Yeah, like, totes."

  • (Laughter)

  • There was an elderly lady sitting nearby,

  • and she's looking very disapproving indeed.

  • Us, linguists however,

  • we don't bother disapproving about language.

  • There are two reasons for this.

  • First of all, we can't stop language changing.

  • Language has a life of its own.

  • New stuff comes in, it moves. Nothing to be done.

  • The second reason is

  • that lady, when she was a young woman,

  • she was very likely the young woman who was using

  • the new cool stuff coming in.

  • Because research has shown that young women

  • are the movers and shakers when it comes to language.

  • They're the innovators.

  • They're the ones we should be listening to.

  • So, language is always changing.

  • However, not everything is variable.

  • Some things are invariant.

  • And word order is one of those things.

  • So, this baby, there,

  • let's say he's an English-speaking baby.

  • He comes wired.

  • His little brain is wired,

  • with an idea of word order in his language, whatever that is.

  • In this case, it's English.

  • Let's say he's an English-speaking baby.

  • So, he knows that it's subject, verb, object.

  • So, as English speakers,

  • if we see something like this or like that,

  • or like that

  • (Laughter)

  • Not good.

  • Something's wrong.

  • Because we know that the word order should be subject, verb, object.

  • We don't have a choice here.

  • However, there are many aspects of language where we do have a choice.

  • These are the variable aspects.

  • And these are the fun bits for the sociolinguists.

  • Just take two ways of saying the same thing.

  • So if you see a sentence like this

  • [ I have not the pleasure of understanding it ]

  • you could also say it like this

  • [Ya wha'?]

  • (Laughter)

  • It means the same.

  • You could say that means the same.

  • Well, some of the meaning is the same.

  • The referential meaning is what's similar.

  • The social significance is different.

  • And it's that social significance

  • that makes such a difference and gives us such knowledge

  • of the speaker, on the one hand, the hearer, on the other,

  • the social context they're living in, on the third.

  • And we really need to tune in to this stuff.

  • When I was studying at the University of Pennsylvania,

  • with William Labov, who's the founder of the field,

  • I was excited to think what we could do when we came back to Ireland

  • and looked at what we use here in terms of language.

  • So with my group of postgraduate students,

  • we decided to study the little word "like".

  • So, with a bunch of PhD students, we sat round the table,

  • and we said, "OK, we're going to do 'like'.

  • We're going to bring a little magnifying glass down on this

  • and we're going to see what it's like.

  • Not this 'like', "She was like her sister,"

  • which is standard 'like'.

  • But this 'like', "She was like, 'Cheers'."

  • They're the "likes" of the young women on the bus.

  • You might say that nonstandard "like" is all over the place.

  • That it's got no rules, it's lazy, it's chaotic, it's disorderly.

  • However, in fact, there are rules.

  • And there are very strict rules, in fact, around how nonstandard "like" is used.

  • Where it comes in the sentence, - syntactic constraints, as we call it -

  • the social context in which it's used,

  • all of that is very strictly controlled.

  • Now, these variable bits of language

  • are the stuff that actually does a lot of work for us.

  • So just as accessories, clothes, handbags, body language even,

  • is able to project an identity,

  • so language variation patterns do the same thing.

  • And they're very powerful tools, in fact,

  • in our identikit, as we call it.

  • One group for whom identity is very important

  • is the group of migrants or transnationals.

  • Transnationals work very hard at identity

  • because they're moving from place to place throughout the globe.

  • So we wanted to see

  • what transnationals or migrants do with this little word "like".

  • And we thought we'd look at the group in Ireland,

  • which are Polish speakers.

  • We've lots of Polish speakers here, I'm sure there's some in the audience.

  • So, imagine you're a Pole, you learn English in Poland,

  • you're in classroom, you learn nice standard English,

  • you come to Ireland and you hear this stuff.

  • What is it?

  • Well, it's Irish English.

  • What's "like" like in Irish English?

  • Well, first of all, it's clause marginal, we said, in our best variation as voices.

  • What's clause marginal?

  • It's at the beginning or at the end,

  • like this, at the beginning

  • [Sure these things happen like]

  • (Laughter)

  • or like this, at the end

  • [Like, he's never there]

  • OK, so, we do it different from the others.

  • Of course, we do, we're Irish.

  • So in other Englishes, Australian, Canadian,

  • British, American, they do something different.

  • They do clause medial.

  • Like this

  • [He was, like, way tall]

  • like this

  • [He was, like, never there]

  • or even like this

  • [Her fake tan was, like, really messed-up?]

  • (Laughter)

  • So now we've two sorts of "like".

  • We've this one, which is the global "like",

  • used by our valley girls all over the world,

  • not just in California.

  • And we have the local, which is the Irish "like".

  • At the beginning, at the end, "You know, like?"

  • The picture is more complicated within Irelanders' variation,

  • and what we find is that the people who use

  • a clause marginal, "You know, like?",

  • tend to be older, male, rural,

  • and local in outlook, at times.

  • Although, that we have to be careful about.

  • The global users, the ones in the middle,

  • "She'd like a Gucci bag", this is more female, East coast,

  • young, Dublin, even south Dublin

  • (Laughter)

  • and, as well as that, it's used as a tool to divide our city.

  • And those of us who are Dubliners know

  • that we have this imaginary line between the north side and the south side,

  • need I say more.

  • So, our Polish speaker arrives.

  • He wants to know what to do with all of this complexity.

  • We decided that we would do as good variationists do.

  • We would sit, we'd listen, we would record,

  • and we would analyze.

  • What did we find?

  • Our quantitative results were very interesting.

  • First of all, we found the Polish people were using "like".

  • Now this was interesting

  • because not only had they never heard "like" before in their classroom

  • but there was no equivalent of "like" in Polish.

  • So we found that they were looking at both.

  • They were looking at the Irish use, that's native Irish speakers,

  • what are they doing, they're doing Irish "like",

  • the green stuff on the left.

  • And they're doing a little bit of clause medial, the purple stuff.

  • And here are the Polish.

  • So the Polish people were doing something very interesting.

  • Not only were they using "like"

  • but they were actually patterning like the native speakers.

  • Now, the story wasn't quite as simple as that.

  • Some of them were doing clause medial, and we wondered why this was.

  • We dug down, we did qualitative analysis, we listened to their stories.

  • And we discovered that those people who were using the clause medial "like"

  • were more likely to have their eyes fixed on global worlds.

  • They wanted perhaps to move to another world,

  • an English speaking country outside.

  • The local "like" users were people

  • who were strongly identified with Irish people.

  • They were locally focused

  • and they had long term plans to stay in Ireland.

  • So by triangulating the two,

  • we were getting an interesting picture of the people and their identity focus.

  • In either case, whichever they used,

  • language was reflecting

  • their aspirations, their stances, their attitudes.

  • This isn't a one solved case.

  • We're going to move from Ireland to France.

  • In France, we looked also at some Polish people living in France.

  • And this is the tale of two people.

  • I call it the tale

  • of the basketball player and the book seller.

  • First of all, when French people are relaxed and talking quickly,

  • they tend to drop the first particle of negation.

  • My hypothesis was when Polish people are relaxed, identifying with the French,

  • they, too, will drop negation.

  • I was right, our hypothesis was confirmed,

  • the people were losing the "Ne".

  • Here are the figures

  • for the probabilities of people losing "Ne".

  • Two people stood out.

  • One was Mariusz,

  • and the other was Anna.

  • Mariusz deleted very little. Well, so did other people.

  • However, given his length of residence and given his proficiency,

  • he should have been deleting more.

  • Anna, given her length of residence and her proficiency, which was less,

  • should've been deleting much less.

  • As natural scientists, the tendency is to forget these outliers.

  • Just forget them and treat them as anomalies.

  • But I didn't want to do this,

  • I was intrigued by the difference.

  • I wanted to find out why these people were behaving linguistically in such a way

  • so, qualitative analysis [stood] for again,

  • we listened to their ethnographic details, their stories,

  • and something very interesting emerged.

  • Mariusz presented as a very well educated speaker.

  • He was somebody who took language seriously,

  • who took standards in language seriously, whether Polish or French.

  • He ran a Polish bookshop,

  • he was very standardsy, he liked good speech.

  • Anna, on the other hand, was the mother of two young children.

  • She was very fixed on their future in France,

  • and she had invested heavily in sports.

  • Where Mariusz had invested in intellectual and cultural domains

  • in his particular trajectory through migration,

  • she had invested in basketball, in fact.

  • She had, in fact, won a scholarship to the West.

  • The two people had very different, contrasting profiles.

  • And it was those stories which told us

  • why they were using language as they were using it.

  • Their use of "Ne" was both reflecting their profiles,

  • and it was also performing their profiles.

  • They were using language to express their evolving identities.

  • The lesson we took from it was