Language Variation and Identity in Sunderland

  • Lourdes Burbano-Elizondo

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This doctoral dissertation reports a study of language variation and identity conducted in Sunderland. The City of Sunderland, in North-east England, is situated about 15 miles to the south of Newcastle. As a result of this proximity to the dominant urban centre in the region, Sunderland people are often identified by outsiders as ‘Geordies’ and their dialect as ‘Geordie’. Even existing accounts of dialect variation in North-east England have often subsumed Wearside into Tyneside. Such representations of Sunderland, its people and dialect, however, are rather problematic given the deeply-rooted rivalry that exists between the inhabitants of the two localities, which have led to a clear divide between Newcastle and Sunderland in terms of identity. Moreover, folk-linguistic evidence also appears to point to the existence of a linguistic ‘divide’ as well. For the study of the language and identity of the Sunderland community, a corpus of data has been collected using the Survey of Regional English methodology (Llamas 1999). This method enables the quick and efficient elicitation of linguistic and attitudinal data. The population sample consists of 32 native informants from Sunderland who are stratified by age and gender. The five accent variables analysed have been selected by exploring the informants’ perceptions of linguistic difference, with the intention of ascertaining whether their awareness of variation between the two varieties is reflected in their actual linguistic usage. The usage of these variables is investigated across the gender and age groups to identify any evidence of change over time and gendered patterns. Furthermore, this study employs a language ideological framework which enables a locally meaningful account of the identified patterns of variation. This entails a close examination of the local identity and the symbols and ideologies whereby Sunderland people establish themselves as a cohesive community. The findings suggest that there are indeed differences between Newcastle and Sunderland in the usage of the variables identified by the speakers; also, it appears that language usage bears a strong link to the way in which speakers identify with, and position themselves in, the community.
Date of Award2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Sheffield Hallam University

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