11th Sept 2014: 'How Accents Work' By Lauren Hall-Lew

An Accent is Made up of many things

Come along to The Counting House at 7pm to listen to Lauren’s talk. Share a crust of bread, and hear the reflections she has to share…

Title of talk:
How Accents Work by Lauren Hall-Lew
Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • How accents are documented and analysed
  • How an accent cues an aspect of a person’s identity
  • The key findings from linguistic studies of accents of English
  • An uncharted area of accent and identity: politics
  • What politicians’ accents can tell us about their politics
  • What politicians’ accents can tell us about ourselves

A few paragraphs on your subject:
The way we speak tells the world something about who we are: where we come from, what our gender is, what age group we’re in, and even what kind of job we might have. The parts of our identity that most define us are often marked most strongly in our accents and voices (whether we want them to be or not). In trying to understand how this works, I’ve been drawn to less-studied aspects of identity, such as what political party a person belongs to. While most of us may not convey our politics by the way we talk, some recent research shows that politicians present an interesting case.
The talk will begin with a crash course in sociolinguistics – the study of language and society – with a focus on accent variation in different dialects of English. I’ll focus on what we think we know about how accents signal social identities, and provide some fun and unexpected examples of just how deeply ingrained these associations are in all of us.
In the rest of the hour I’ll introduce you to two of my projects on politicians: Members of the US House of Representatives and Scottish Members of the UK Parliament. We’ll consider how differently ‘political party’ is defined in those two contexts and then think about what that means for predictions about these politicians’ language use. I’ll present some results showing how politicians’ political party membership corresponds to the way they pronounce their vowels, and I’ll finish by discussing what this means for our understanding of how language works, in all of us.
A few paragraphs about you:
I’ve been studying accent and identity since 2000, as a student, researcher, and lecturer (Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh). As an American from the Western United States (Arizona and California) I have mostly focused on documenting and analysing variation and change in the accents of those regions, specifically seeing how people’s lifestyle orientations are reflected in the way they say their vowels. What drives my interest in this topic is the fact that very subtle differences in voice can signal very powerful social meanings. I find it interesting that this is true both for speech patterns that are ingrained and automatic as well as those that are within our conscious control. What does this tell us about language? What does this tell us about society?
What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?
“Sociolinguistic Variation,” an article by Dr David Britain



My personal website (see below)
What are your weblinks?

Website – http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~lhlew/index.html

Blog – http://vocalised.wordpress.com/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/dialect

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/lauren.hall.lew

Public Email – [email protected]