Adolescents and identity

Ronald K S Macaulay

Pitzer College, USA

TP143: Pragmatic variation: the interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors

Adolescents and identity

Adolescence is a time exploration in many directions. As they emerge from childhood, adolescents are involved in the process of developing an identity that will reflect their new social role. This identity may be manifested in a particular form of speech. In a stratified society adolescents will strive to adopt a form of speech that is appropriate for their social rank. In Britain, for example, one of the functions of the prestigious public schools (i.e., private boarding schools) was to eradicate any signs of regional or stigmatized speech that pupils might have brought with them and convert them into RP speakers. Similarly working-class speakers often enforced similar kinds of pressure against any of their peers who attempted to adopt prestige (or ‘posh’) features.

In Scotland it has always been easy for working-class speakers to assert their rejection of middle-class norms by using traditional forms such as doon and oot for down and out or ain and hame for own and home. However, many of the traditional forms are more frequently found in rural districts and there are signs that younger working-class people in Scottish urban areas are adopting different ways of asserting their social status.

The examples in the present paper come from a series of recordings of working-class adolescents made in Glasgow in 1997, 2003, and 2004. They show that these adolescents use few of the traditional working-class forms and instead are adopting new forms of speech, such as th-fronting and r-vocalization, that were not apparent from earlier studies. There are also new discourse features that seem to have developed locally, rather than having been imported from outside. Thus the adolescents are recreating on the micro level an equivalent to the stratification that exists on the macro level of their community. The present paper will deal with two of these features: quotatives and intensifiers.

For at least fifteen years, there has been evidence of non-traditional quotatives, such as go, be like, and be all, spreading quickly among younger speakers in the United States and elsewhere. In Glasgow the form be like was used occasionally by working-class adolescents in 1997 but they much preferred two variants, be like that and go like that. These forms continued to be used quite frequently in 2003 but by 2004 be like was used almost as frequently and a new form done that was gaining ground.

Previous studies had shown that Scottish working-class speakers make limited use of the intensifiers very and really. The Glasgow adolescents in 1997 used pure and dead (as in it’s pure funny and she used to be dead fat but she’s dead skinny now) as their main intensifiers. By 2003 dead was used much less frequently but pure continued to be used in many contexts, and this continued in 2004, though so was beginning to be used in certain contexts. Three new intensifiers, healthy, heavy and mad were becoming more popular in 2004.

There are also interesting gender differences in the ways these forms have evolved.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Pragmatic variation: The interplay of micro-social and macro-social factors
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 15