“Y’all come back now, ya hear?” – Ellie May, The Beverly Hillbillies
“No one ever lived after he’d decided ter kill ‘em, no one except you, an’ he’d killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age — an’ you was only a baby, an’ you lived.” – Hagrid, Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Whether you realize it or not, you may judge each of these phraseologies and their accents based on where you live.
If you’re from America, you might associate certain stereotypes with the South, and the obvious Southern drawl might trigger prejudice, whether consciously or subconsciously.
One example of this appears in The Routledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics Around the World, wherein a detailed study was conducted by Bucholtz, Bermudez, Fung, Edwards, and Vargas on the perceptual dialectology of California in 2007.
The study found:
“that the most salient linguistic boundary is between the northern and southern regions, although, reminiscent of Clopper and Pisoni (2006), category labels ranging from ‘surfers’ to ‘hicks’ played a role in the social map.”
Essentially, the way you speak – often regionally-based or relative to your sub-culture – may result in a label of some kind.
If you’re from Britain, a coarser accent, like the one spoken by Hagrid above, might be associated with lower-class stereotypes, as opposed to those considered “posh.”
As mentioned last week, the wealthier classes have always attempted to distinguish themselves through their language’s social patterning. The lower class accents and phraseology, therefore, are often distinctly different from those of the aristocracy.
Either accent might trigger conscious or subconscious prejudices as well. As soon as a person’s mouth opens to speak, their class may be revealed, and the prejudices associated become sharp and glaring.
Sociolinguistics visits all of this and more.
What is sociolinguistics?
Sociolinguistics is “the study of language in relation to social factors, including differences of regional, class, and occupational dialect, gender differences, and bilingualism.” – Oxford
The sociolinguistics of a country are often nationally-based.
Funnily enough, Americans, who speak English, might not be able to differentiate between the stereotypically “posh” accents and the stereotypically lower- or middle-class ones in the UK.
They may not feel the same prejudices against the person speaking as their British counterparts, whose ear is attuned to these differences and mind is attuned to the prejudices associated with them in their country.
Likewise, those from other English-speaking countries likely don’t have the same associations with the American Southern accent and the South as Americans do.
Therefore, for foreigners, specific social patterning might not reinforce the regional prejudice related to these stereotypes, such as a person’s level of education or intelligence.
Whether the regional values, norms, traits, and behaviors have evolved or not, the linguistic stereotypes remain.