has a rich social, cultural and linguistic history. Numerous texts
have been written in the local dialect to reflect this - both for
performance art and individual reading.
Local language variety has been neglected by both historical linguists and sociolinguists:
- Research by historical linguists
has focused on the development of ‘standard English’ and on the
retention of older forms of the language among isolated members of
- Research by sociolinguists has looked at linguistic variation in the UK - but has largely neglected the Midlands region.
Studies have also focused on the relationship between linguistic
variation, socioeconomic class, gender and race. However, in modern
society, it's more relevant to look at class, gender, race, ethnicity
and audience as resources that speakers use to create unique voices,
rather than determinants of how they will talk and write.
In this project we aim to address the lack of linguistic research on the varieties of English associated with Birmingham.
In addition, the notion of geographical place has
become of central concern (Johnstone 2004, Beal 2007) and several
studies have also explored the relationship between physical space and
meaningful place (Johnstone 2004, Macaulay 2006). These studies show
that it is through a commonality of linguistic practices associated
with talking, writing and performing, that shared sets of ideas about
what places mean to people who share a common space are evoked,
maintained, imposed, challenged or transmitted.
They also show how the ways in which a set of
linguistic features that were once not noticed at all by speakers, came
to be heard by them and others, and subsequently used primarily as
markers of socioeconomic class. Such features then come to be used more
self-consciously by speakers and writers, thus linking them to place.
Such features then become ‘enregistered’ as a specific dialect – in
this case that of the Black Country or Birmingham - which cut across
boundaries of socioeconomic class.
social problem, relating to an under-researched aspect of the above
debate, involves the balance between regional diversity and national
identity. Traditional sociolinguistic research, for example, has tended
to point towards sociocultural homogenisation, linguistically
observable in discourse as well as in phenomena such as dialect
levelling. Such effects may adversely affect many members of local
communities, since those who do not conform, or who find it hard or
impossible to do so, may be disadvantaged. At the same time, various
aspects of a dialect become selected for use by writers, artists and
performers in a more iconic way, particularly in performance of poetry,
plays and comic acts targeted at the local community.
This research is supported by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust.