A Violent Vernacular?: Unpacking the Associations between Language and Violence in Glasgow

Robert George Lawson

University of Glasgow, United Kingdom


Glasgow has been long identified as a place where violence is a prevalent and destructive aspect of life in the city (Macaulay 1977: 94), and recent years have witnessed an emergence of stereotypical linguistic practices which are associated with violent and criminal adolescents, including nasalization and tense vowel production. This association of working-class language with violence has the effect that even working-class Glaswegian adolescents who are not engaged in violent or anti-social practices are often met with a degree of suspicion and mistrust. Thus, particular linguistic features have the potential to marginalise adolescents via an association with anti-social practices. Such negative views of adolescents continue to be propagated by tabloid and televised media outlets, reinforcing local stereotypes and prejudices.

Most recent research on working-class adolescent language in Glasgow, however, has generally fallen under the rubric of quantitative sociolinguistics, focusing particularly on the ongoing processes of linguistic change (e.g. Lawson & Stuart-Smith 1999). While these studies provide a detailed description of the linguistic landscape of Glasgow, there is usually no analytical focus on how the localised social meanings of linguistic variation are constructed within particular communities (a notable exception is Stuart-Smith 2007).

There is, ultimately, a shortage of research on Glaswegian which focuses on how urban adolescents use social and linguistic practices to negotiate and construct their social identity, and since it is through social and linguistic practices that such speakers are marginalised, analysis of the dynamics behind the linguistic and social practices of Glaswegian urban adolescents is vital to our understanding of how Glaswegian adolescents construct themselves as social beings.

From data collected from 25 working-class adolescent males (≈ 30 hours of spoken data) over the course of a three-year ethnographic study of a local high school in Glasgow (Banister Academy), approximately 100 tokens per speaker of (a) and (ɪ) were extracted from the dataset and analysed acoustically using PRAAT. For the consonantal variable, (θ), every token was auditorily transcribed and then tabulated using Microsoft Excel. In order to investigate if violent social practices interacted with linguistic practices across four distinct communities of practice within Banister Academy, the variables which occurred in ‘non-violent’ stretches of discourse were then quantitatively compared with those variables which occurred in ‘violent’ stretches of discourse.

I argue that orientation towards violent social practices are an implicit part of how the adolescents in this study construct their social identities, and that this orientation may not always be mediated through phonetic variation, calling into question the stereotypical associations between working-class adolescent language and violence in Glasgow.


Lawson, Eleanor, & Stuart-Smith, Jane

(1999) “A Sociophonetic Investigation of the ‘Scottish’ Consonants (/x and /ʍ/) in the Speech of Glaswegian Children” In: John J. Ohala (ed.), The Proceedings of the XIVth International Congress of Phonetic Sciences: Vol. 3, pp. 2541 – 2544

Macaulay, R.K

(1977) Language, Social Class, and Education: A Glasgow Study, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh


(2007) “‘Talkin’ Jockney’? Variation and Change in Glaswegian Accent” In: The Journal of Sociolinguistics, Vol. 11 (2), pp. 221 - 260

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 4
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 04