What your speaking style, like, says about you | Vera Regan | TEDxDublin

What your speaking style, like, says about you | Vera Regan | TEDxDublin


Translator: Shanshan (Alice) Lin
Reviewer: Denise RQ As John said, I’m a sociolinguist. What does that mean? Sociolinguists study
the role of language in society. Yeah, but what does it mean? What do they do? Sociolinguists are
professional eavesdroppers. But unlike other eavesdroppers, they’re not so much interested in what the people are saying,
but how they’re saying it. For sociolinguists, language
is neither good nor bad. It’s meaningful. I was on the bus the other day, and I heard two young girls
chatting behind me. So I was eavesdropping as usual. And this is what I heard. “And I was like, ‘No way!’ And he was like,
‘Well, it’s only, like, two miles.” And the other one said, “OMG. In your killer heels! Amazeballs!” (Laughter) And the first one goes,
“Yeah, like, totes.” (Laughter) There was an elderly lady sitting nearby, and she’s looking
very disapproving indeed. Us, linguists however, we don’t bother disapproving
about language. There are two reasons for this. First of all, we can’t stop
language changing. Language has a life of its own. New stuff comes in, it moves.
Nothing to be done. The second reason is that lady, when she was a young woman, she was very likely
the young woman who was using the new cool stuff coming in. Because research has shown
that young women are the movers and shakers
when it comes to language. They’re the innovators. They’re the ones
we should be listening to. So, language is always changing. However, not everything is variable. Some things are invariant. And word order is one of those things. So, this baby, there, let’s say he’s an English-speaking baby. He comes wired. His little brain is wired, with an idea of word order
in his language, whatever that is. In this case, it’s English. Let’s say he’s an English-speaking baby. So, he knows
that it’s subject, verb, object. So, as English speakers, if we see something
like this or like that, or like that (Laughter) Not good. Something’s wrong. Because we know that the word order
should be subject, verb, object. We don’t have a choice here. However, there are many aspects
of language where we do have a choice. These are the variable aspects. And these are the fun bits
for the sociolinguists. Just take two ways of saying
the same thing. So if you see a sentence like this [ I have not the pleasure
of understanding it ] you could also say it like this [Ya wha’?] (Laughter) It means the same. You could say that means the same. Well, some of the meaning is the same. The referential meaning is what’s similar. The social significance is different. And it’s that social significance that makes such a difference
and gives us such knowledge of the speaker, on the one hand,
the hearer, on the other, the social context
they’re living in, on the third. And we really need
to tune in to this stuff. When I was studying
at the University of Pennsylvania, with William Labov,
who’s the founder of the field, I was excited to think what we could do
when we came back to Ireland and looked at what we use here
in terms of language. So with my group
of postgraduate students, we decided to study
the little word “like”. So, with a bunch of PhD students,
we sat round the table, and we said, “OK,
we’re going to do ‘like’. We’re going to bring
a little magnifying glass down on this and we’re going to see what it’s like. Not this ‘like’,
“She was like her sister,” which is standard ‘like’. But this ‘like’,
“She was like, ‘Cheers’.” They’re the “likes”
of the young women on the bus. You might say that nonstandard “like”
is all over the place. That it’s got no rules, it’s lazy,
it’s chaotic, it’s disorderly. However, in fact, there are rules. And there are very strict rules, in fact,
around how nonstandard “like” is used. Where it comes in the sentence,
– syntactic constraints, as we call it – the social context in which it’s used, all of that is very strictly controlled. Now, these variable bits of language are the stuff that actually does
a lot of work for us. So just as accessories, clothes,
handbags, body language even, is able to project an identity, so language variation patterns
do the same thing. And they’re very powerful tools, in fact, in our identikit, as we call it. One group for whom identity
is very important is the group of migrants
or transnationals. Transnationals work very hard at identity because they’re moving from place to place
throughout the globe. So we wanted to see what transnationals or migrants do
with this little word “like”. And we thought we’d look
at the group in Ireland, which are Polish speakers. We’ve lots of Polish speakers here,
I’m sure there’s some in the audience. So, imagine you’re a Pole,
you learn English in Poland, you’re in classroom,
you learn nice standard English, you come to Ireland
and you hear this stuff. What is it? Well, it’s Irish English. What’s “like” like in Irish English? Well, first of all, it’s clause marginal,
we said, in our best variation as voices. What’s clause marginal? It’s at the beginning or at the end, like this, at the beginning [Sure these things happen like] (Laughter) or like this, at the end [Like, he’s never there] OK, so, we do it different
from the others. Of course, we do, we’re Irish. So in other Englishes,
Australian, Canadian, British, American,
they do something different. They do clause medial. Like this [He was, like, way tall] like this [He was, like, never there] or even like this [Her fake tan was, like,
really messed-up?] (Laughter) So now we’ve two sorts of “like”. We’ve this one,
which is the global “like”, used by our valley girls
all over the world, not just in California. And we have the local,
which is the Irish “like”. At the beginning, at the end,
“You know, like?” The picture is more complicated
within Irelanders’ variation, and what we find
is that the people who use a clause marginal, “You know, like?”, tend to be older, male, rural, and local in outlook, at times. Although, that
we have to be careful about. The global users, the ones in the middle, “She’d like a Gucci bag”,
this is more female, East coast, young, Dublin, even south Dublin (Laughter) and, as well as that,
it’s used as a tool to divide our city. And those of us who are Dubliners know that we have this imaginary line
between the north side and the south side, need I say more. So, our Polish speaker arrives. He wants to know what to do
with all of this complexity. We decided that we would do
as good variationists do. We would sit, we’d listen,
we would record, and we would analyze. What did we find? Our quantitative results
were very interesting. First of all, we found
the Polish people were using “like”. Now this was interesting because not only had they never heard
“like” before in their classroom but there was
no equivalent of “like” in Polish. So we found
that they were looking at both. They were looking at the Irish use,
that’s native Irish speakers, what are they doing,
they’re doing Irish “like”, the green stuff on the left. And they’re doing a little bit
of clause medial, the purple stuff. And here are the Polish. So the Polish people were doing
something very interesting. Not only were they using “like” but they were actually patterning
like the native speakers. Now, the story wasn’t quite
as simple as that. Some of them were doing clause medial,
and we wondered why this was. We dug down, we did qualitative analysis,
we listened to their stories. And we discovered that those people
who were using the clause medial “like” were more likely to have
their eyes fixed on global worlds. They wanted perhaps
to move to another world, an English speaking country outside. The local “like” users were people who were strongly identified
with Irish people. They were locally focused and they had long term plans
to stay in Ireland. So by triangulating the two, we were getting an interesting picture
of the people and their identity focus. In either case, whichever they used, language was reflecting their aspirations,
their stances, their attitudes. This isn’t a one solved case. We’re going to move
from Ireland to France. In France, we looked also
at some Polish people living in France. And this is the tale of two people. I call it the tale of the basketball player
and the book seller. First of all, when French people
are relaxed and talking quickly, they tend to drop
the first particle of negation. My hypothesis was when Polish people
are relaxed, identifying with the French, they, too, will drop negation. I was right, our hypothesis was confirmed, the people were losing the “Ne”. Here are the figures for the probabilities
of people losing “Ne”. Two people stood out. One was Mariusz, and the other was Anna. Mariusz deleted very little.
Well, so did other people. However, given his length of residence
and given his proficiency, he should have been deleting more. Anna, given her length of residence
and her proficiency, which was less, should’ve been deleting much less. As natural scientists, the tendency
is to forget these outliers. Just forget them
and treat them as anomalies. But I didn’t want to do this, I was intrigued by the difference. I wanted to find out why these people
were behaving linguistically in such a way so, qualitative analysis
[stood] for again, we listened to their ethnographic details,
their stories, and something very interesting emerged. Mariusz presented
as a very well educated speaker. He was somebody
who took language seriously, who took standards in language seriously,
whether Polish or French. He ran a Polish bookshop, he was very standardsy,
he liked good speech. Anna, on the other hand,
was the mother of two young children. She was very fixed
on their future in France, and she had invested heavily in sports. Where Mariusz had invested
in intellectual and cultural domains in his particular trajectory
through migration, she had invested in basketball, in fact. She had, in fact,
won a scholarship to the West. The two people had
very different, contrasting profiles. And it was those stories which told us why they were using language
as they were using it. Their use of “Ne” was
both reflecting their profiles, and it was also performing
their profiles. They were using language
to express their evolving identities. The lesson we took from it was that people aren’t simply representatives
of social, structural categories. And if you were a sociologist,
no age, sex, social class, but agencies involved as well. Choices involved. People work on identity, on the place they are, on the plans they have. So these two little bits of speech
that seem so unimportant is expressing a lot in terms of reflecting and performing. So getting back
to our young women in the bus. Instead of saying they’re lazy, or sloppy, or superficial, or whatever we tend to say
about young users of speech, we need to know
that these young women are using language to show lots of stuff about who they are, who they are becoming. And next time
you hear somebody saying “like”, you can say, “Oh, it’s like here’re
the movers and the shakers. They’re our future, like.” Thank you. (Applause)

37 thoughts on “What your speaking style, like, says about you | Vera Regan | TEDxDublin

  1. In my country LGBTQ+, mostly gays, are the innovators of language than young girls. Every Miss Universe season, words are also invented. Even straight people gets influenced to use it because it really sells, it's catchy, full of fun and colourful.

  2. What I have found on YouTube, especially in the last couple of years, is that certain words/phrases are repeated quite frequently.

  3. I didn't watch the video but why do I feel like most of these videos about ourselves literally just come down to being ourselves. Like why do I need to watch a video on what my speaking style says about myself when I already know myself?

  4. I need to point out (only because it's funny) that she, as a linguist, almost couldn't pronounce "sociolinguist". 🙂 0:13

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  10. No for God's sake ,she dropped the "Ne" more because it just happened for her to be more exposed to people deleteting the "ne" or maybe she wanted to learn french better and found out on some youtube tutorial that french speakers tend to delete the "ne" ,so just like that she started to mimic this tendency WHILE the other guy doesn't delete "ne" as much because he s a grumpy man not using internet as a tool and he learned french from books,simple as that.

  11. This video is smart, but it kinda feels like she runs the language police. Nobody speak when she's around, you might be doing it wrong. 🤐

  12. Wow it’s almost like Krashens input/output hypothesis was spot on… 30+ years later and people are still trying to reinvent that wheel

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