Ethnicity, friendship network and social practices as the motor of dialect change : linguistic innovation in London
Abstract: In this paper we consider whether different ethnic ways of speaking can be distinguished in the spoken English of young people aged 16–19 in London. We base our analysis on a corpus of 1.4 million words of informal speech from 100 young people aged 16–19, from one inner London and one outer London area. The socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds of the young speakers reflect the social composition of the two areas: both groups of speakers are predominantly working class, but the inner London speakers are from a wide range of ethnicities while the outer London speakers are predominantly of white British (‘Anglo’) heritage. Many (mainly white) Londoners moved from the inner city (the ‘East End’) to the outer London area and further afield, particularly Essex, in the 1950s; by contrast, the inner London area has a high proportion of recent migrants from overseas. Our conclusions so far suggest that the nature of a speaker’s friendship group is a key factor in the diffusion of linguistic innovations, and that this interacts with ethnicity. Although speakers who are part of multi-ethnic friendship groups make greater use of certain linguistic features, and the non-Anglo speakers have the largest proportion of the innovative features, all speakers draw on a range of linguistic forms that cannot necessarily, or at least can no longer, be attributed to specific ethnic groups. Together, these features constitute a variety which we have dubbed ‘Multicultural London English’ (MLE). We illustrate our conclusions with qualitative and quantitative analyses of phonological variables as well as one grammatical feature. We also try to identify who the (potential) linguistic innovators are, i.e. the (types of) individuals who are in the lead in language change. We show that the young person’s ethnicity is a factor in itself, but that this interacts with their friendship patterns: membership of a dense multi-ethnic friendship network determines their choice and degree of use of certain linguistic features. Secondly, we identify a cluster of life-style indicators which seem to be shared by most of the individuals we identify as potential linguistic innovators.