Social variation

Lesson rationale

People from different places clearly speak differently, but even within the same small community, people might speak differently according to their age, gender, ethnicity and social or educational background. All native speakers also adjust their speech according to context: from relaxed conversation in familiar surroundings to more formal situations. In a job interview, for instance, or when delivering an important presentation to an unfamiliar audience, most of us consciously seek to avoid overtly stigmatized features such as dropping the initial sound in words like help and hot. In more relaxed environments, such as when chatting with friends and family, individuals vary as to how frequently they drop initial <h>: some speakers consistently omit initial <h>; others never drop a <h> sound; most of us do so occasionally. These tasks are designed to encourage students to explore social variation captured in sound recordings on this site and to investigate social variation in their own community.

Key questions in this lesson:

  • How do factors like age, gender, ethnicity, and/or social context affect our linguistic choices?