Language and Linguistics Seminar Series: Week 8 with Christian Ilbury, Queen Mary University of London

"‘Beyond the Offline’: Social Media and the Social Meaning of Variation in East London"

  • Thu 21 Nov 19

    12:00 - 14:00

  • Colchester Campus


  • Event speaker

    Christian Ilbury, Queen Mary University of London

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Language and Linguistics Seminar Series

  • Event organiser

    Language and Linguistics, Department of

  • Contact details

    Professor Peter Patrick

In week 8, Christian Ilbury, Queen Mary University of London, joins us to talk about their recent research.

12-1pm Christian Ilbury will take to the stage to deliver their talk, followed by a lunch provided by Language and Linguistics from 1pm-2pm.

We look forward to seeing you there: this event is open to all students and staff! 


Recent sociolinguistic analyses have emphasised that a diversification of tools is needed to isolate the social meaning of variation (e.g., Campbell-Kibler, 2010; Drager, 2016). Yet to date, few studies have considered the relevance of the digital practices of speakers in their accounts of offline patterns of variation. Given that the current era is often described as a period of ‘digital culture’ (Gere, 2002), it seems increasingly necessary for variationist sociolinguistics to take stock of both the ‘offline’ and the ‘online’ practices of speakers to fully understand the complexity of linguistic differentiation and its social meaning.  
Taking this empirical gap as a point of departure, this thesis presents a ‘blended ethnography’ (Androutsopoulos, 2008) of a youth group that I refer to as ‘Lakeside’ based in a working-class neighbourhood in East London. Data were gathered over the course of a 12-month offline and online blended ethnography, resulting in the collection of over 40 hours of recordings (self-recordings and interviews) from 25 adolescents (aged 11-17) and over 850 social media posts (Snapchat Stories and Instagram posts) from a subset of participants and entertainment channels. I first examine patterns of spoken language variation at Lakeside, by analysing phonological variation in the interdental fricatives (TH/DH-fronting and TH/DH-stopping); grammatical variation in the use of the man pronoun; and discourse-pragmatic variation in the use of an innovative attention signal, ey.  
Although previous variety-based accounts of linguistic variation in East London have shown the distribution of some of these features to be largely constrained by ‘macro-level’ factors such as ethnicity and homophily of friendship networks (e.g., MLE: Cheshire et al., 2008; 2011; Cheshire, 2013), this paper presents a more style-oriented account of the variation observed. Focussing on one feature here: the discourse-pragmatic variable ey, I demonstrate how this variable coalesces with other grammatical and phonological features to form a recognisable stylistic identity. Using distributional, statistical and interactional analyses, I show that the use of ey (and other features) can be largely accounted for by the individuals’ membership of a specific CofP – in particular the self-defined ‘gully’ – an exclusively male group that is characterised by an orientation towards ‘urban’ culture.  
Interpreting these patterns, I then turn to the social media data (Snapchat Stories and Instagram posts) to explore how the social context of Lakeside becomes (re-)imagined in digital space. I focus on the ways in which entertainment channels on Instagram and individuals’ Snapchat Stories facilitate the enregisterment of the ‘digital road’ – the digital manifestation of a Black British interpretation of Street culture. Here, I focus on the ways in which the ‘road cultural aesthetic’ becomes reconfigured in the online context, examining the ways through which the gully aligns with this culture. Concluding, I link the gully to their macro-level social reality, suggesting that this CofP adopt and emulate the physical, ideological and personal characteristics of an enregistered characterological figure that has become commodified in common culture (Agha, 2003; 2011) – the ‘roadman’.  





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