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Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study

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Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the well-known sociolinguist Peter Trudgill conducted a large-scale sociolinguistic investigation looking at the relationship between social class and language use. The study took place in the city of Norwich, where Trudgill himself was actually born – go figure!

Trudgill's study would come to be very well-known throughout the world of sociolinguistics, and, although his research was based on individuals from Norwich, his theory can be applied to many different communities.

In this article, we'll look at what Trudgill's aims were (what did he want to find out?), as well as his methods, results, and conclusions.

Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study Norwich StudySmarterNorwich is Peter Trudgill's hometown and was the location for his investigation, Pixabay

Peter Trudgill's Theory of Language Variation – Accents and Dialects

Being born and bred in Norwich, Peter Trudgill would have been very familiar with Norwich accents and dialects and would have been a part of various social networks there. It subsequently makes sense that he would choose his hometown as a base for his investigation. After all, doing a project is usually a lot easier when you're at least a bit familiar with the subject!

Trudgill's primary aim was to investigate whether social factors impacted how the people of Norwich speak. He was primarily interested in:

  • social class
  • gender
  • speech consciousness (whether people felt scrutinised while talking or not)

Peter Trudgill's theory

Trudgill believed that people belonging to higher social classes would use more standard language forms, and the higher the social class, the closer to prestige varieties their language would be.

Prestige varieties in a language are the forms of that language that are generally viewed as being the most 'correct'. They are often more highly regarded than non-standard forms.

A key example of a prestige variety in the English language is Standard British English.1 If you speak Standard British English and do so with Received Pronunciation, you're essentially speaking the way the Queen does!

Trudgill also assumed that language use would change depending on how conscious a person was of their speech. If you've ever amped up the poshness when delivering an oral presentation, you'll know exactly what Trudgill meant!

William Labov, an American linguist who pioneered variationist sociolinguistics, carried out an investigation into overt and covert prestige. Labov looked at how different social classes used language on a spectrum from non-standard English to prestigious varieties of English.

As the Norwich study took place after Labov's study, Trudgill was aware that the concept of overt and covert prestige may impact his investigation, so he needed to figure out a way to control that.

Overt and covert prestige

The idea of prestige being split into two subcategories, overt and covert, was spearheaded by Labov in his New York Department Store study (1966).1 In this study, he spoke to sales assistants in three different department stores considered to have different levels of prestige. These stores were Saks Fifth Ave (high prestige), Macy’s (mid prestige), and S. Klein (low prestige).

Labov's study aimed to see if social class affected how people pronounced the rhotic /r/ sound in words such as 'fourth', 'car', and 'floor'. The results of the study showed that the sales assistants working in more prestigious stores pronounced the /r/ more distinctly as opposed to those working at less prestigious stores.

The fact that more overt prestige was present in the more prestigious stores demonstrates how standard forms of language are deemed as being more socially acceptable than non-standard forms. This also links to the factor of self-consciousness in Trudgill's study, as when people from lower social classes felt more watched, their pronunciation became more standard.

The term overt prestige refers to more standard language forms and is often associated with status and higher classes whereas covert prestige refers to non-standard and vernacular language forms and is more associated with community identity.

Peter Trudgill's methodology

Before selecting and interacting with his informants (the participants of the study), Trudgill needed to set up an index against which to measure social class based on a range of factors including:

  • occupation

  • education

  • location/ housing type

  • income

Once he had effectively collated these variables into his social class index, he then chose 60 informants randomly from the electoral register, ensuring an even spread across different areas of Norwich. The informants were then presented with a series of questions about their jobs, education level, income, etc, and Trudgill recorded the information.

Trudgill noted each instance of the linguistic variables he was observing and studied this data in conjunction with the social class index he had devised. By doing this he was able to draw correlations between different social factors (education, occupation, income, location) and the type of language used (standard or non-standard).

Linking back to the concepts of overt and covert prestige and conscious speech, Peter Trudgill created various scenarios of ranging formality and paid attention to speech to ensure his results were more balanced and reliable. Some examples of the scenarios he used included:

  • Interview-style questioning.

  • Getting informants to read passages of text.

  • Asking informants to tell a funny anecdote.

Norwich Study linguistic variables

Rather than trying to find patterns across all linguistic features used by the informants, Trudgill decided to pay particular attention to a few specific ones. This would have made it much easier to track the changes across different social classes and identify any potential reasons for speech differences.

Two of the key variables Trudgill looked at were:

  • Subject-verb agreement with the third-person singular e.g. 'she say' compared to 'she says'.

  • The pronunciation of the -ing ending of words e.g. 'walkin' compared to 'walking'.

Norwich Study results

Trudgill divided the informants into five definitive social classes depending on the factors included in his social class index. The classes Trudgill devised were as follows:

  • Middle middle class (MMC)

  • Lower middle class (LMC)

  • Upper working class (UWC)

  • Middle working class (MWC)

  • Lower working class (LWC)

Trudgill then looked at how frequently the informants used non-standard forms of the English language. He used data gathered across all of the different scenarios in which he placed the informants, to make these social class judgements.

The study's results clearly showed that people of lower social classes used significantly more non-standard forms (such as saying 'walkin' or 'eatin' instead of 'walking' and 'eating'), whereas people in higher social classes had speech much closer to prestige varieties.

Peter Trudgill was also able to determine that people adopted more standard language forms when they felt more scrutinised, for example, when being interviewed. On the other hand, they tended to use more non-standard English when simply telling funny stories.

The Norwich study also showed that men were significantly more likely to use non-standard forms of English than women, regardless of social class.

The Norwich Study - results and gender

Here's a little Peter Trudgill quote that sums up his conclusion regarding the results of his Norwich study and gender

One reason for this is that working-class speech has favourable connotations for male speakers. 2

Of course, this will not be the case in all communities or social circles, but Trudgill's general idea is that non-standard features in the English language are widely more accepted and celebrated when they're used by men than when they're used by women.

If you think back to the 40s and 50s, a woman's place was in the home, raising the children, and carrying out other so-called womanly duties. Women were expected to dress nicely and make an effort, as well as to conduct themselves in a manner deemed 'proper' by society at the time.

Although the times have certainly changed a lot since then, the results of the Norwich study still illustrate a clear divide between the sexes and a significant influence of traditional gender roles in society, particularly where occupations are concerned. As with many sociolinguistic studies, even though Trudgill was not primarily concerned with gender, the impact of gender in society trickled down into the Norwich study and became a secondary factor after social class.

The results of the Norwich Study illustrate a clear divide between the sexes and a significant influence of traditional gender roles in society, particularly where occupations are concerned. As with many sociolinguistic studies, even though Trudgill was not primarily concerned with gender, the impact of gender in society trickled down into the Norwich study and became a secondary factor after social class.

Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study + Gender + StudySmarterWorking class speech holds gendered connotations, Pixabay

Peter Trudgill Norwich Study criticism

As we said at the top of this article, Peter Trudgill is a very well-known and well-respected sociolinguist, and his work influenced many later sociolinguistic investigations. As valuable as the Norwich study is, like everything else in this world, it is not without flaws.

One of the most important criticisms of the Norwich study is that it gives little credit to the informants. Trudgill doesn't seem to acknowledge that the linguistic choices made by the speakers could have been conscious ones.

More recent sociolinguistic research has placed more emphasis on how speakers purposefully use and adopt different language features to create a sense of identity and integration within their communities.

Penelope Eckert carried out a study looking at language variation across different social classes from 1989–2000 (the Belton High study, also commonly known as the Jocks and Burnouts study). Her research concluded that the speakers she monitored used language variation as a social practice. In other words, the speakers were 'actively constructing the social meaning of variation'3, or were using language purposefully to fulfil a social function.

The English language is such a rich and varied resource for people to utilise for different societal purposes, yet Trudgill makes little mention of any potentially active selection of language features.

Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study - Key Takeaways

  • Peter Trudgill's Norwich study was a large-scale sociolinguistic investigation into the effects of social class on language use.

  • Trudgill theorised that the higher the social class, the closer to prestige forms of English speakers would get.

  • Trudgill wanted to find out how social factors such as social class and attention to speech would impact language use.

  • The Norwich study looked at various linguistic variables such as the pronunciation of the end of -ing words such as 'running' and 'eating'.

  • The results of the study concluded that people of lower social classes are more likely to use non-standard forms whereas those in higher social classes use language closer to prestige varieties.

  • Men were found to use more non-standard language forms than women generally, regardless of social class.


References

  1. A. Mooney et al. Language, Society & Power: An Introduction. 2011
  2. P. Trudgill. Sex, Covert Prestige and Linguistic Change in the Urban British English of Norwich. 1972
  3. J. Snell. Social Class and Language. 2014

Frequently Asked Questions about Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study

Peter Trudgill studied the speech of people in Norwich to find out how gender and social class affected pronunciation. 

Peter Trudgill found that people from lower classes were more likely to use non-standard pronunciation, and men were more likely to use non-standard forms than women. 

Men were more likely to use non-standard word forms and pronunciation than women, regardless of social class. 

  • Subject-verb agreement in third-person singulars (eg "She say"/ "She says")
  • Pronunciation of the -ing ending of words

Cover prestige refers to non-standard and vernacular forms of language and is commonly linked with community identity.

Final Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study Quiz

Question

What was the aim of Trudgill's Norwich Study?

Show answer

Answer

To investigate the relationship between social class and language variation.

Show question

Question

Why did Trudgill choose to base his study in Norwich?

Show answer

Answer

Trudgill was born and raised in Norwich and would therefore have been familiar with Norwich dialects and accents.

Show question

Question

What is a prestige variety in language?

Show answer

Answer

A prestige variety is a form of language that is generally viewed as being more "proper" or "correct" than non-standard forms. 

Show question

Question

What are two examples of prestige varieties in English?

Show answer

Answer

Standard British English

and

Received Pronunciation

Show question

Question

How does language use change if the speaker feels scrutinised?

Show answer

Answer

Generally, people use more standard forms than non-standard forms if they feel scrutinised. 

Show question

Question

Who carried out the New York Department Store study, and when?

Show answer

Answer

William Labov, in 1966

Show question

Question

What four variables did Trudgill include in his social class index?

Show answer

Answer

  • location
  • income
  • occupation
  • education

Show question

Question

What was the conclusion of the Norwich study?

Show answer

Answer

The higher the social class, the closer to prestige forms a person's speech becomes. Men use more non-standard forms than women, regardless of social class. 

Show question

Question

How many informants did Trudgill use in the Norwich study?

Show answer

Answer

60 informants

Show question

Question

True or False: working-class speech holds more positive connotations for men than it does for women.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What is one criticism of Trudgill's study?

Show answer

Answer

He does not acknowledge that people often make active language choices for different societal purposes.

Show question

Question

What two key linguistic variables did the Norwich study look at?

Show answer

Answer

  • use of third-person singular forms without accompanying third-person singular markers ( "she say" instead of "she says")
  • pronunciation of the -ing ending of words such as "walking" and "eating".

Show question

Question

What three social factors was Trudgill primarily interested in?

Show answer

Answer

  • social class
  • gender
  • speech consciousness

Show question

Question

What does 'speech consciousness' mean?

Show answer

Answer

Speech consciousness refers to feeling watched or scrutinised while you speak, which can influence you to speak use language differently than you normally would.

Show question

Question

What is overt prestige?

Show answer

Answer

Overt prestige is the use of more standard language forms and is often associated with status and higher social  classes.

Show question

Question

What is covert prestige?

Show answer

Answer

Covert prestige is the use of non-standard and vernacular language forms and is more associated with community identity.

Show question

Question

How did Trudgill ensure his informants were representative of the population of Norwich?

Show answer

Answer

The informants were randomly selected, and were selected from across many different areas of Norwich. 

Show question

Question

What three scenarios did Trudgill put his informants in, in order to get a range of speech examples from them?

Show answer

Answer

  • Interview-style questioning.

  • Getting informants to read passages of text.

  • Asking informants to tell a funny anecdote. 

Show question

Question

List two key variables that Trudgill looked for in the Norwich study.

Show answer

Answer

  • Subject-verb agreement with the third-person singular e.g. 'she say' compared to 'she says'.

  • The pronunciation of the -ing ending of words e.g. 'walkin' compared to 'walking'.

Show question

Question

What were the five social classes that Trudgill devised and put his informants into?

Show answer

Answer

  • Middle middle class (MMC)

  • Lower middle class (LMC)

  • Upper working class (UWC)

  • Middle working class (MWC)

  • Lower working class (LWC)

Show question

Question

For which gender does working class language have positive connotations in Norwich?

Show answer

Answer

Men

Show question

Question

Which of these was a criticism of the Norwich Study?

Show answer

Answer

Trudgill makes no mention of how people might have been actively selecting the kind of language features they used.

Show question

Question

What did Penelope Eckert conclude from her Jocks vs Burnouts study?

Show answer

Answer

That speakers use language variation as a social practice, and therefore actively construct their language.

Show question

Question

Which gender was more likely to use non-standard forms in the Norwich Study, regardless of social class?

Show answer

Answer

Men used significantly more non-standard features than women.

Show question

Question

Name three topics the informants were questioned about during the study.

Show answer

Answer

  • jobs
  • education level
  • income 

Show question

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