Sociolinguistic awareness and language attitudes among young people in multilingual Stockholm: perceptions of contemporary language variation

Ellen Bijvoet, Kari Fraurud

Stockholm University, Sweden

TP154: Youth, language practices and sociocultural change

The complex and diverse linguistic realities of young people in present-day multilingual urban settings presents a challenge to linguistics and neighboring fields that calls for a combination of a range of theoretical and methodological frameworks and data types (micro/macro, quantitative/qualitative, etc., cf. Garret et al. 2004). The study to be reported in this paper focuses on young peoples’ reciprocal perceptions of “one’s own” and “others’” ways of speaking – perceptions that play a vital role for their access to and use of different linguistic resources in positioning themselves and others in society. “Perception” is here seen as the amalgamation of sociolinguistic awareness of linguistic variation/varieties and language attitudes – formed in the continuous interplay between daily interactions at the micro-level and discourses in the society at large.

The paper starts with a brief discussion of the notion of language variety. In particular, it argues for the notion that varieties, just like languages (cf. LePage 1977: 223), are abstractions made “by individual speakers, by social processes, by linguists or other observers” and hence should be studied and analyzed as social constructions. It then moves on to a consideration of the methodological implications of this approach for the study of linguistic variation and varieties in current multilingual contexts. It is suggested that observational data on language and language use need to be supplemented by subjective data, such as lay peoples’ perceptions and constructions of linguistic variation in their environment (cf. the framework of Folk linguistics and Perceptual dialectology, e.g. Niedzielski & Preston 1999).

Finally, the paper reports on some findings from the on-going research project ’Sociolinguistic awareness and language attitudes in multilingual contexts’ (2006-2008, one of nine projects within the research program ‘High-Level Proficiency in Second Language Use’ at Stockholm University). In a listener experiment, speech samples of 20-25 seconds each were elicited from young speakers in Stockholm, 6 male and 6 female, with different linguistic, ethnic and social backgrounds. The method of elicitation developed was intended to produce speech stimuli that, as far as possible, were spontaneous and peer directed, and at the same time had a neutral and closely similar content. Groups of listeners, also with varying background and linguistic experiences, listened to the stimuli and were asked to (i) evaluate the speakers on semantic differential scales, and (ii) to label and describe the speakers’ “ways of speaking” and make guesses about their background. The individual questionnaires were followed by recorded group discussions. The data show how listeners diverge in the ways they construct and divide the linguistic space of (young) Stockholm, as reflected both in their labeling and description of different ways of speaking and in their attitudes towards speakers.

Garrett, P., Coupland, N. & Williams, A. (eds) (2003). Investigating Language Attitudes: Social Meanings of Dialect, Ethnicity, and Performance. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Le Page, R. (1977). Processes of pidginization and creolization. In: Valdman, A. (ed.), Pidgin and Creole Linguistics, 222-255. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

Niedzielski, N. & Preston, D. R. (1999). Folk Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Youth, language practices and sociocultural change
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 03