Why the Long FACE?: Ethnic Stratification and Variation in the London Diphthong System

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Gates, Shivonne M.

This study attempts to challenge the monolithic representation of race and ethnicity in multicultural contexts in the UK. Whilst there are various descriptions of ethnic varieties of British English (e.g., Kirkham 2012, Rampton 2006, Sebba 1993, Sharma 2011), our understanding of race and ethnicity in the UK and its role in language variation and change is still rather limited. Recent work on Multicultural London English (MLE) found some evidence of ethnic stratification; for example, "non-Anglo" boys were often more likely to use innovative linguistic features (Cheshire et al. 2011). Despite this, MLE is described as an "ethnically-neutral variable repertoire" (Cheshire et al. 2013). In order to shed light on the dynamics of race and ethnicity in multicultural contexts, the present study uses qualitative and quantitative methods to examine a different diverse inner London adolescent community. Data were gathered at Riverton Secondary School, a multi-ethnic school in a diverse borough of East London, from 27 Year Ten students (aged 14-15). Sociophonetic analyses of FACE and PRICE reveal stark gender differences in vowel production, as well as some ethnic stratification. For example, White British girls have much longer FACE trajectories, as well as a lower, more centralised onset. However, the picture is complicated by the fact that adolescents’ constructions of ethnic identity are inextricably linked to friendship networks, orientation to school, and notions of localness and Britishness. Results complement previous findings in London, but also shine an important light on the relevance of ethnicity in multicultural British contexts.

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