Constructing identity with L2: pronunciation and attitudes among Norwegian learners of English

Ulrikke Rindal

University of York, United Kingdom


Previous studies have shown that speakers use language to signal identity, group affiliation and self-image. They construct social meaning by exploiting linguistic alternatives, selecting forms which index social categories. The majority of research in this field has focussed on the choices made by speakers in their native languages. In this paper we report a study that investigates the relationship between language and identity in L2 (cf. van der Haagen 1998). We examine patterns of linguistic usage by Norwegian speakers of English, investigating their choices of American and British phonological variants and assessing how these choices relate to the speakers’ reports of their own identities.

The participants were a class of 23 students aged 17-18, who had studied English for 7 years. They were recorded reading a wordlist, and in paired conversational dyads for 10-12 minutes. Variant use was investigated in four variables: rhoticity, intervocalic /t/, GOAT, and LOT. A questionnaire was administered to establish information about academic commitment, career aims, and interests, as well as exposure to American and British media. Participants were asked which L2 accent they preferred when speaking English. A matched guise listening test assessed the students’ attitudes towards British and American accents.

Results from the matched guise test showed that the participants demonstrated different evaluations of British and American accents. For example, British English was considered more formal and educated, whereas American English was considered more likeable and popular. Results from the questionnaires revealed close connections between these evaluations and the speakers’ own lifestyles and ambitions: speakers who preferred British English associated themselves with formality and education, while the speakers who targeted American English used it as a symbol of ‘coolness’. Finally, the speakers’ phonological choices for all four variables were closely correlated with their lifestyle orientations: speakers with a positive evaluation of British English used significantly more British variants than those speakers who were oriented to American English.

The study shows that speakers are able to use linguistic resources to establish identity and self-image, not only in their native language but also in an L2.


Van der Haagen, M. (1998) Caught between Norms: the English Pronunciation of Dutch Learners. The Hague: Holland Academic Graphics.

Session: Paper session
Identity 4
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 12