Context influence on intra-individual dialect variation: the case of [r] and [R] in West Swedish teenager conversation

Nilsson, Jenny Svahn, Margareta

The Institute for Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research (SOFI), Sweden


Context influence on intra-individual dialect variation: the case of [r] and [R] in West Swedish teenager conversation

In some West Swedish dialects two different r:s are used: [r] and [R]. Traditionally [R] is used in certain positions, mainly word initial, as compared to [r] in all positions in Standard Swedish. Recordings made in 2007 within the project “Dialect levelling in West Sweden” confirm that there is an ongoing change regarding the use of [R]; among the younger generation [R] is no longer a common feature. The data consist of interviews and self made recordings with teenagers in both rural and urban settings. Only occasionally, [R] is used consistently by a speaker in a recording, and most speakers do not use [R] at all. We suggest that [R] is a highly salient feature.

Dialect speakers often display intra-individual variation depending on the social context, i.e. in a certain context one speaker might use [r] and in another [R]. However, in our data, some informants interestingly enough switch between [r] and [R] within the same social context. This is exemplified in the extract below where a group of informants are asked whether anyone ever commented on their dialect ([R] is marked).

1 A: inte [R]ätt upp i ansiktet

not [R]ight to your face

(three lines with agreements omitted)

2 B : inte så direkt [R]ätt upp i ansiktet men man ha ju hört de eller så

not directly [R]ight to your face but you´ve heard it so to speak

In the first line, A, who uses [R] throughout the recording, answers the interviewer’s question and uses [R]. In line 2, B, who usually uses [r] in the recording, reuses the phrase that A used in line 1. In doing this he also uses [R]. We suggest that this is due to the fact that A just used this salient feature and that this “triggers” B to use it as well.

In this paper we will present patterns of switching between [r] and [R] in conversation. We also argue that intra-individual variation can be the result of the immediate phonological, lexical as well as the conversational context (Coupland 2001, Lindström 2003). By doing a sequential analysis of extracts where [r] and [R] occurs we have surveyed the pattern of [r] and [R] in a given context. We argue further that a sequential data analysis (Sacks et al 1974) reveals that the use of certain dialect features is not random, but follows patterns that can be explained by the context in which they occur.


Coupland , Nikolas 2001. Dialect stylization in radio talk. In: Language in Society 30: 345-375.

Lindström, Anna 2003. Språklig variation och social praktik. Om en stiliserad dialektimitation i ett svenskt vardagssamtal. I: Nordberg et al 2003:113-124.

Sacks, Harvey, Schegloff, Emanuel & Jefferson, Gail, 1974. A simplest systematics for the organizaation of turn-taking in interaction. In: Language 50:696-735.

Session: Paper session
Levelling 1
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 15