Inverted style-shifting in Anglo-Cornish
The study in a sentence
This study compares lexical choices in speech data collected from speakers of the variety of English spoken in Cornwall, in two speech styles: a picture naming task (careful style) and a spot-the-difference picture description task (casual style).
Although we typically see more use of standard vocabulary in careful speech styles, in this study the speakers showed the reverse pattern, known as inverted style-shifting. Speakers use more local vocabulary if they are encouraged to pay greater attention to their speech and their (Cornish) self.
Most sociolinguistic studies have shown that use of local, traditional or non-standard features is greater in less formal speech styles that are less formal. This is known as style-shifting. In speech styles where speakers pay more attention to how they are speaking (i.e. , in formal styles), they typically use a greater proportion of standard features and words. Figure 1 illustrates a 'classic' example from Trudgill's study of the use of different variants of (t) in English as spoken in Norwich.
Is this pattern seen in the lexical choices made by speakers from Cornwall, in two speech styles?
Two key concepts principles underpin this study, originally proposed by the sociolinguist William Labov:
style-shifting: "there are no single style speakers" (Labov 1972 p112)
attention: "styles can be ordered along a single dimension, measured by the amount of attention paid to speech" (Labov 1972 p112)
Do speakers with strong identity as being from Cornwall show more use of local lexical items?
And, do speakers with strong Cornish identity project their identity more strongly in casual speech or in careful speech?
Methods: elicitation tasks
Older speakers and speakers with strong local identities were more likely to use local words.
Anglo-Cornish dialect words were much more likely to be used in careful, not casual speech.
This inverted style pattern was previously reported in Cornwall also for pronunciation of 'bath' (bath~baaath) and rhoticity (pronouncing your 'r's).
When speakers pay greater attention to their language they also pay greater attention to the social identities that they are constructing. When speakers with strong Cornish identities were paying attention to their speech, they projected these local identities by using local words:
"‘to assert my own pride in being Cornish and my sadness that the dialect is dying out’."
In more detail
Pre-workshop taster video (3 mins)
Workshop talk slides
Live Workshop talk video (25mins)
Meet the author
Rhys is Associate Lecturer in Sociolinguistics at York, teaching modules in sociolinguistics and in language variation and change.