Language, Borders, …

I’d like to announce an upcoming talk as part of the CLCR seminar series on Wednesday October 13th at 4.30pm to (approx) 6.15pm (room 5.26 in the Humanities building). All welcome!

Language, Borders and Identities: investigating phonological variation, attitudes and perceptions on the Scottish/English border

Dr Dominic Watt and Dr Carmen Llamas
The University of York


In this paper we present findings from the Accent and Identity on the Scottish-English Border (AISEB) project.1 We take a three-pronged approach to the investigation of phonological features in four border towns, presenting detailed analysis of speakers’ production patterns, their attitudes towards linguistic variation and national identity, and their perception of linguistic features, demonstrating that this multi-faceted approach deepens our understanding of how speakers index social categories.

The data come from a subsample of the sociolinguistic interviews and questionnaires completed by 160 speakers (40 from each of the four localities: Gretna and Eyemouth in Scotland, Carlisle and Berwick in England). In the first part of the talk we present distributional patterns in speakers’ productions of (r), the Scottish Vowel Length Rule, and Voice Onset Time in voiceless plosives, which we find to vary geographically and socially.

We devote the second part of the talk to relating these production patterns to speakers’ self-classifications in terms of the available labels for local, regional and (supra)national groupings (e.g. Berwicker, English, Scottish, Borderer, British), and to how they classify and evaluate their accents as either ‘Scottish’ or ‘English’. We also consider speakers’ affective attitudes towards these labels and consider whether, for example, speakers who self-identify as Scottish and evaluate this identity positively use higher rates of coda (r) in words such as car, bird, etc. We will also consider the perceptual side of the study in order to assess the extent to which individual phonological features can be seen to index these identities on the border.

By presenting production, attitudinal and perceptual findings, we will demonstrate how our multi-faceted approach can shed further light on interspeaker phonological differences and allow a firmer foundation from which to interpret motivations for variable linguistic behaviour.

1 Supported by the UK Economic & Social Research Council, grant no. RES-062-23-0525.