Class, Gender and Rhoticity: The Social Stratification of Postvocalic /r/ in Edinburgh speech

Victoria Dickson, Lauren Hall-Lew

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Scottish English has long been described as a rhotic variety (Wells 1982: 10-11). However, recent research has demonstrated increasing evidence of non-rhoticity in urban Scottish speech, in both Glasgow (Macafee 1983; Stuart-Smith 1999, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008) and Edinburgh (Romaine 1978; Speitel & Johnston 1983; Lawson et al. 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014; Scobbie et al. 2008, 2013; Schützler 2010, 2011, 2013). Acoustic and articulatory features of postvocalic /r/ are reported to be socially stratified in urban Scottish English, with the highest rates of derhoticisation occurring among speakers of lower socioeconomic status (e.g. Lawson et al. 2014: 53). Despite this growing interest in the relationship between social class and non-rhoticity in urban Scottish English, there is a lack of research on postvocalic /r/ by speakers whose socioeconomic status has changed over the course of their life. Previous studies on the social stratification of non-rhoticity have defined socioeconomic status in terms of a dichotomy between working class (WC) and middle class (MC) speakers. In addition to these groups, the present study considers the production of postvocalic /r/ in speakers from a third new middle-class (NMC) group, consisting of speakers whose socioeconomic status, as defined by education and occupation, has transitioned from WC to MC over the course of their life. The inclusion of this intermediate socioeconomic group allows an investigation of the correlation between rhoticity and upward social mobility in Edinburgh speech. Spontaneous speech data were collected from 16 Edinburgh natives, aged 57-69 years. Auditory analysis of postvocalic /r/ demonstrates that patterns of non-rhoticity and realisations of /r/ have a significant correlation with socioeconomic status, and that the effect of class further interacts with gender. Both men and women from the NMC group demonstrate a very high level of rhoticity, with higher proportions than either the MC or WC groups, suggesting hypercorrection towards a superstandard speech style. In contrast, WC men show extensive derhoticisation, which points to non-rhoticity as a marker of Scottish working class identity. The auditory data examined here support the findings of greater non-rhoticity among WC men than among WC women as was shown articulatorily by Lawson et al. (2011), but here the evidence is even more striking. However, further investigation of the realisation of /r/ when it is articulated (as an alveolar or retroflex approximant, alveolar tap or trill, or a rhoticised schwa [ɚ]) reveals that WC men employ a small but significant proportion of strongly rhotic traditional variants (taps and trills) in addition to high rates of non-rhoticity. Overall, the findings illustrate that speakers can employ both rhotic and non-rhotic variants of postvocalic /r/ in the linguistic construction of an Edinburgh working class identity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event10th UK Language Variation and Change - University of York, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Sept 20153 Sept 2015


Conference10th UK Language Variation and Change
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • linguistics
  • sociolinguistics
  • Edinburgh
  • Scotland
  • social class
  • variation


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