Lexical variation

Lesson rationale

Most native speakers have a range of words for expressing the same notion and we vary our lexical choices according to context and audience. We tend, for instance, to avoid words like knackered (meaning ‘tired’) when speaking to young children or foreigners, but most of use it without hesitation among friends. Individuals vary as to whether they use knackered in the presence of older family members or in front of strangers or to superiors at work. In such cases we might subconsciously favour one of several more mainstream colloquial terms like shattered, done in or whacked. And then there are other variants like jiggered, wabbit and cream-crackered that tend to occur among speakers from the same or similar geographic background. The tasks here are designed to encourage students to explore lexical variation captured in sound recordings on this site and to investigate lexical variation in their own community.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • How do factors like age, gender, ethnicity, geographic background and/or social context affect the words we use?