Linking lifestyle and language: [R] as a marker

Anna Gunnarsdotter Grönberg

Institute for Language and Folklore: Dept of Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research in Gothenburg, Sweden


The project ”Dialect levelling in West Sweden” explores linguistic change after 1950 in the vicinity of Gothenburg, the second biggest city in Sweden. In this area there is an interesting situation with even the dialect of Gothenburg having an impact on surrounding dialects, and not only Standard Swedish as in most parts of the country. Eight urban and rural communities are studied, representing various degrees of expansion, migration, access to higher education, attitudes towards Gothenburg etc.

Interviews with teenagers were carried out in 2007. The recordings are compared with archive material from the fifties. At a later stage interviews with 40-50-year olds will be made in order to make comparisons between the youth and their parents’ generation. Results displaying linguistic stability or change in different directions (towards Standard, Gothenburg, regionalization or something else), will be discussed in terms of regional/local identity, traditionalism/modernity, urbanity/rurality, networks, and lifestyle.

This paper’s main focus is on connections between the variable /r/ and lifestyle. In some West Swedish dialects there is a combinatory distribution of front and back /r/, as opposed to use of either variant in Standard and South Swedish dialects. Uvular /r/ is mainly used word initially and after short vowels: rar [Rα:r] ‘nice’, barr [baR:] ‘pine needle’ (Standard: [rα:r], [bar:], South: [Rα:R], [baR:]).

Few young West Swedes use [R] today (Lindh 2006, Svahn 2007). There is an ongoing change where [R] may be reallocating from a position as an indicator of local belonging to becoming a marker of certain lifestyle choices. A small minority of our interviewees use [R] frequently and a somewhat larger minority use it sporadically in word initial position. However, when correlating /r/-frequency with social background data (gender, education, parents’ occupation, home town) there seems to be no expected or clear pattern. Explanations of connections between /r/ variants and social identity need to be sought for in other ways.

The interviewees filled out a questionnaire on lifestyle and values, concerning clothing, music, leisure, ties to the local community, plans for the future etc. Lifestyles have then been analyzed in a compound way by using questionnaire answers, attitudes expressed in the interviews and facts about the teenagers’ home communities. The method is inspired by models which are constructed for marketing analysis by commercial companies, but essentially originate from human geography and Bourdieu’s (1984) theories on taste. A similar analysis was made in Grönberg (2004) and within the project we continue developing models for sociolinguistic lifestyle analysis. This paper argues that exploring social identity through different layers of lifestyle on an individual and a societal level, can be a valuable complement to the study of relations between language and society.


Bourdieu, Pierre, 1984. Distinction. London.

Grönberg, Anna Gunnarsdotter, 2004. Ungdomar och dialekt i Alingsås. Göteborg.

Lindh, Jonas, 2006. A case study of /r/ in the Västgöta Dialect. In: Working Papers 52. Lund.

Svahn, Margareta, 2007. Götamåls-r på 2000-talet. Några tendenser. In: Från Drasut till brakknut. Uppsala.

Session: Paper session
Change / Variation
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 12