A corpus-based study of invariant tags in London English

Eivind Torgersen, Costas Gabrielatos

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    This paper reports on the analysis of the use of a number of invariant tags in spoken London English, which formed part of the completed project Analysis of spoken London English using corpus tools (funded by the British Academy). The tags examined were: innit, okay, right, yeah, you get me and you know, as well as three semi-fixed expressions containing you know, which functioned as tags: do you know what I mean, if you know what I mean and do you know what I’m saying. The study used the Linguistic Innovators Corpus (LIC), a 1.4 million word corpus comprising the transcribed and marked-up interview data from the Lancaster/Queen Mary ESRC-funded project, Linguistic innovators: the English of adolescents in London (Kerswill et al. 2008), as well as the Corpus of London Teenage English (COLT) (Stenström et al. 2002). The research methodology combined approaches and techniques from sociolinguistics and corpus linguistics. Five variables were examined, four of which had two values: age (young: 16-19 / old: over 70), sex (male/female), ethnicity (Anglo/non-Anglo) and place of residence (Hackney/Havering). The fifth variable was a self-assessed measure of the multi-ethnicity of the friendship networks that speakers belonged to, with scores ranging from 1 (all friends same ethnicity as self) to 5 (60%-80% of friends different ethnicity as self). The analysis took into account the relative frequency of use of each tag, as well as the proportion of speakers in each sociolinguistic group that used each tag. The comparison of LIC and COLT revealed an increase in yeah and, in particular, innit, and a dramatic increase in you get me, but a decrease in the relative frequencies of right and okay. The analysis of LIC showed that all the innovative tags, such as innit and you get me, were clearly a feature of young people’s speech. In addition, the most innovative tag, you get me, was by far most frequent in Hackney (inner London), and the highest frequency was observed among the non-Anglo speakers. The ethnic minority speakers, and male speakers in general, are the most innovative tag users, particularly of innit and you get me, but the ethnic minority speakers also had high frequencies of yeah, okay and right, and they were therefore the highest users of tags overall. Overall, there is a difference in tag usage between inner and outer London: the more innovative tags are more frequent in inner London and the more traditional ones in outer London. The innovative tags you get me and innit were most frequent, and were used by a larger proportion of speakers, among male, non-Anglo, Hackney residents. The results indicate that young people, ethnic minorities, an urban environment, and dialect contact are of great importance in language change, a fact that can feed into an exploratory model of language variation and change.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages36
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2009
    EventMeeting of the Lancaster University Corpus Research Group - Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
    Duration: 2 Mar 2009 → …


    OtherMeeting of the Lancaster University Corpus Research Group
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Period2/03/09 → …


    • sociolinguistics
    • corpus linguistics
    • tags
    • linguistic innovation


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