Professionals of the language? Intra-speaker malleability in the phonetic realization of the first-person possessive
This talk explores intra-speaker malleability in the realization of the first person possessive in the North East of England ([maɪ], versus [mi] and [mɑ]). Previous apparent time research on the possessive in Northern England has shown age-graded effects – older speakers realising higher rates of standard [maɪ] – which have been interpreted as a corollary of linguistic marketplace pressures (Childs 2013). The scociolinguistic enterprise assumes that post-adolescent speakers exhibit retrenchment towards the standard in middle age (Downes 1984), resulting in a U-shaped curve. My analysis relies on a panel corpus that covers the entire adult lifespan, providing novel insights into how individual speakers’ longitudinal linguistic choices pattern relative to observed community trends.
The dynamic set-up allows me to explore the workings of the linguistic marketplace, which to date have been mainly theorized based on apparent-time data or panel datasets covering short snippets of the lifespan (see Buchstaller and Beaman 2022). My data-set relies on 30 speakers aged 22-79, who are representing a wealth of socio-demographic trajectories and who were recorded two (or three) times at five-year intervals. I report on an analysis of more than 3000 tokens of the first person possessive that were analysed in R (Core Team 2022) using a variety
of statistical methods.
My data supports Sankoff et al.’s (1985) claim about the lifespan impact of pressures felt by professionals of the language, whose “lives and work would require them to have access to the language variety legitimized by the dominant ideology” (p. 108). Some speakers, however, do not converge with the traditionally assumed age grading as marketplace pressures model (Wagner 2012): Those in working-class occupations retain high rates of the reduced variants and there is little evidence of them changing towards the prescribed norm. In contrast, it seems as if they use the variant to project a locally authentic persona and to index a sense of belonging by foregrounding their roots in the local community (cf. Sundgren et al. 2021).
Overall, my research provides evidence of socially and linguistically differentiated patterns when speakers are traced across the entire adult life-span. The nuanced panel corpus reveals that the hypothesized U-shaped curve is an oversimplification of the complexities involved in change across the life-span. To paint a socially realistic model of linguistic malleability across the adult lifecourse we need to ask what being an adult means in terms of prescriptive pressures, presentation of self and social networks (Milroy & Llamas 2013, Tetreault 2017).