Friday, July 8, 2016

Ashamed of an Accent: Linguistic Insecurity

Languages are as varied and interesting as the people who speak them. Every language has plenty of different accents, and depending on the culture or place where languages are spoken, some are considered more "correct" or "standard".

This must mean that some dialects, accents, and ways of speaking a language are considered to be inferior. The idea that a certain way of speaking is considered inferior can lead to something known as linguistic insecurity.

Linguistic insecurity is when a speaker adjusts the way they use their language due to feeling anxious (either consciously or subconsciously) about the way they use their language. This can manifest in a number of ways, depending on which elements of language are considered to be non-standard.

One way to alleviate this anxiety is to shift registers. Speakers with linguistic insecurity sometimes will speak in a higher register than they would normally, often by using a formal register. This can also lead to hypercorrection. This is when the speaker, in an attempt to correct their language, applies a "rule" where they don't really have to.

As a speaker of Geordie (the dialect of Northern English spoken around Tyneside), I have been guilty of hypercorrection. For example, in my dialect, I would usually pronounce the end of the word "master" like the letter "a" in "hat". However, when adopting a more standard dialect, I have found myself altering the pronunciation in the word "pizza" and correcting the "a" to the sound of "er" and pronouncing it like "pizzer".

So who does linguistic insecurity affect? As you can imagine, it tends to be those who speak a variant of the language which is considered to not be the standard. Studies have shown that those of lower socioeconomic classes also tend to be more susceptible to linguistic insecurity, but not the very lowest classes. The lower middle classes tend to exhibit high levels of linguistic insecurity.

Linguistic insecurity isn't an issue if you're toiling in the fields.
So why the lower middle classes? It is thought that since the lower middle classes are stuck between the lower and upper classes, they are exposed to the speech patterns of the lower classes, but also consider the attitudes and speech patterns of the upper classes to be correct. Studies tend to show that the second tier of socioeconomic classes (especially those who aspire to be a member of the top tier) show greater levels of linguistic insecurity.

Studies also show that linguistic insecurity affects more women than men. Of course, linguistic insecurity is a very personal thing, too. I personally love the varied nature of languages and can sometimes be very stubborn and refuse to bow to linguistic prescriptivism when it comes to how I talk. However, some days, like most people, I just want to fit in and find myself speaking in a way that would probably embarrass my friends back home!

Do you use a non-standard dialect of your language? Have you ever felt anxious about the way you speak? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

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