Attitudes and language change in real time: Evidence from Denmark

Tore Kristiansen Nicolai Pharao

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

WS133: The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions

Large scale studies of listeners’ subconscious attitudes towards different varieties of Danish, including their own, have shown, that they evaluate the Modern Copenhagen variety as the most “prestigious” variety of all, regardless of their own local background. Modern Copenhagen is also the variety that has spread most rapidly in the past century, leading to rather intensive dialect levelling throughout Denmark. This has led to the hypothesis that subconscious language attitudes are a driving force in language change.

However, the large scale studies do not reveal which features in the different varieties that trigger listeners’ responses. The speech samples selected as guises for the different varieties were selected on a “holistic” basis and were included if they could be taken, in the researchers’ opinion, as clear examples of the varieties they were intended to represent. That is, no specific linguistic criteria were used in selecting the samples.

This study aims to examine in detail the phonetic variation found in the guises in order to establish the underpinnings of the holistically based selection and the subconsciously offered evaluations in greater detail. Both prosodic and segmental features will be described and the characteristics of the speech samples will then be related to the results of the attitude studies in an attempt to get a clearer picture of which aspects of the Modern Copenhagen variety that can be considered to be the ones which listeners subconsciously deem “prestigious”, and consequently which features lead them to downgrade the local variety. The investigation will limit itself to the guises of Conservative and Modern Copenhagen, which were used in all language attitude surveys conducted in Denmark, and to the local guises used in Næstved, a mid-size town with Copenhagen as nearest city. The Conservative and Modern Copenhagen guises differ only at the segmental level, whereas the Næstved guise differs from both at the prosodic level as well.

The results will be related to previous apparent time studies of change in spoken Danish as well as to the results of on-going real time studies. In this way, we shall be able to examine the link between subconscious language attitudes and linguistic change. If only the Modern Copenhagen samples contain phonetic variants that are currently spreading in spoken Danish, this will support the hypothesis that subconscious attitudes are a driving force in linguistic change. But if the local guises also contain innovative features from the Modern Copenhagen variety, this must be seen as a sign that innovative segmental features must be embedded in a prosodically suitable speech stream in order to trigger positive evaluations. This would not falsify the hypothesis of attitudes being a driving force in language change, but it would indicate a more complex relationship between the two. If speech produced with local prosody is downgraded even when it contains innovative phonetic variants in proportions similar to the Copenhagen guises, this would suggest that prosody may overrule the effects of the segmental features which trigger positive subconscious evaluations.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 08