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On dialect spelling, social practice and sociolinguistic salience - LRDG seminar

Date: 9 November 2010 Time: 1.00 - 2.00 pm

Venue: County South Room C89 (Meeting Room 7)

Kevin Watson will speak on

Dialect spelling, social practice and sociolinguistic salience.

This talk reports on a recent investigation into a phenomenon in which non-standard spelling is common in professionally produced, published English. Specifically, we discuss a literary genre - which we label contemporary humorous localized dialect literature (CHLDL) - in which attempts are made at using semi-phonetic spellings to represent non-standard varieties of English in print. As we will see, there has been little systematic linguistic investigation of this particular genre of dialect writing, despite the fact that it represents an authentic linguistic and cultural phenomenon which is very popular throughout Britain and the United States. When similar writing has been investigated by linguists, it has often been criticized, in part because of its light-hearted nature and subjective, assumption-laden approach to the representation of linguistic detail (cf Preston 2002). In this paper, we show that the potential value of such writing has been overlooked. We argue that if orthography is conceived as a social practice in which spelling choices are the result of an author's meaningful decisions (cf Sebba 2007, 2009), then any respellings have the potential to shed light on those linguistic features which have become 'enregistered' in a given variety (Agha 2003). With this view, avenues are opened up which allow a range of issues to be considered, such as the notion of sociolinguistic salience, and in particular how linguists can tap into and explore the relative salience of certain linguistic variables. We explore these avenues in this talk by investigating a small, newly compiled corpus of 'folk dictionaries', each of which attempts to represent the variety of English spoken in Liverpool, in the north-west of England. This particular variety of English, popularly called 'Scouse', is well known in England because it has a number of phonological characteristics which distinguish it from surrounding accents (see Knowles 1973, Honeybone 2001, Watson 2007), and also because it is stigmatised (Coupland & Bishop 2007, Montgomery 2007). However, whilst we know that a Scouse accent is stigmatised as a whole, we know little about which of its phonological features contribute to that stigma. We show how CHLDL can help contribute to a discussion of this issue, and provide a number of suggestions for how such writing might be incorporated into future variationist sociolinguistic work.

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language

Keywords: Literacies, Literacy


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
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