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Identity and Varieties of English

  • Date Submitted: 02/17/2015 11:47 PM
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Language is closely related to identity as sociolinguists have found out language varieties including differences in pronunciation, lexis, grammar and even switching to another variety of the language can reveal speakers’ identity (OUUK, 2014). Hogg and Abrams (1988) define identity as “people's concepts of who they are, of what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others”. Identities are constructed in interactions based on several reference groups (Seargeant and Swann, 2012, p.266). Through the way individuals speak in various interactions, they signal something about themselves or about how they would like to be seen by others (Seargeant and Swann, 2012, p.265). In general, identity describes the way individuals and groups define themselves and are defined by others on the basis of individuals and the socials groups that the individuals belong to such as their social networks, regionality and ethnicity. Speakers can employ different varieties of English to display several aspects of their identity including individual, group, regional and ethnic identity.

Frist of all, speakers can negotiate their individual and group identity by using different ways of pronunciation. Labov (1972) looked at English spoken on Martha’s Vineyard. He investigated the pronunciation of the diphthongs /ay/ in the word like ‘side’ and /aw/ in word like ‘mound’. He found that people with positive attitude towards living on the Vineyard were more likely to pronounce the diphthongs /ay/ and /aw/ with a more raised and centralized onset which are pronounced higher and towards the center of the mouth, while people with negative attitude towards the Vineyard were less likely to use the raised and centralized form (Seargeant and Swann, 2012, p.294). The difference in their accents expresses their feelings to the island and signals which social network they belong to. People who were positive about living there felt connected with the traditional life on the island and tended to...

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