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D4 accents: 'Yes, kids speak differently from their parents. But why should this be a bad thing?'

Using elements of D4 speech does not necessarily mean rejecting the region you come from, writes Prof Vera Regan.

Prof Vera Regan Professor of Sociolinguistics, UCD

THE OPINION PIECE by Michael Fortune about Irish accents last month got us all thinking about the way we talk.

He was particularly exercised about the way youngsters in South Dublin talk and he is unhappy that other youngsters are adopting their way of speaking. He thinks this speech is fake, a “makey–up” sort of accent.

A new way of talking

Michael is right in thinking there is a new way of talking in Dublin, and we know what he means. After all, Ross O’Carroll Kelly is a native speaker of Dort, roysh?

This new variety is liberally besprinkled with “like”, has peculiar vowel sounds like “Dort”, “bor”, and has a question mark at the end of every declarative sentence (rising intonation). And perhaps he is right that this way of talking is spreading out into the country, and reaching other cities like Cork and Galway.

He may even be right that some other speakers of English in Ireland are losing the more noticeable bits of their local speech – those salient features which show they are from Ballyferriter or Ballinrobe. This is a phenomenon known as levelling: varieties lose some of those noticeable features, as the more neutral variety spreads out from the urban centres they start in.

It happens all the time, with every language. And finally, he is right that the mass media and social media probably help the spread of this new supra regional pronunciation.

All of us index things by the way we speak

However, it is not so clear why some accents should be more fake than others. In fact, all of us index different things by the way we speak. We highlight different bits of our identities, at particular times, with particular people, in relation to any specific topic, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Adolescents are particularly keen on trying out lots of new identities; they try on new makeup, new piercings, new body language and new speech. Little wonder young people, and especially young women, are in the vanguard of innovation in language.

Yes, kids speak differently from their parents. But why should this be a bad thing? Kids need to separate from their parents and speech is a powerful means of doing this. Little children imitate their parents, but pre-teens are influenced by their peers. Sociolinguistic research has found that this is the case all over the world.

White kids in a London school were found to use features of black speech because these were perceived as cool; “nerd” girls in a California school used their own speech style on the other hand, to reject coolness. In all cases, these multivocal kids moved creatively, and with ease, through their multiple repertoires and used bits from these repertoires according to constantly evolving requirements.

Aspirational?

Fortune contends that the D4 speech style is “aspirational”. In a sense, all speech aspires to perform some identity. And what is perceived as desirable is not fixed, but can change in a quite arbitrary way.

RP (received pronunciation, or ‘posh English’), formerly seen as desirable, is no longer cool. One journalist called it “the accent that dare not speak its name, a posh voice is seen as naff and unfashionable”.

To see a Wexford accent, for instance, or a Kerry one, as somehow intrinsically imbued with essential characteristics like authenticity or honesty, on the one hand, and this Dublin 4 or South Dublin accent, on the other, as “makey-up”, is to ignore the fact that all speech interactions are contingent and emergent. Using elements of D4 speech does not necessarily mean rejecting the region you come from. People highlight different aspects of a multiplex identity all the time.

Identity is not fixed for life but is an ongoing project, constantly under construction. And no simple correlation between speech and any social class or region positioning can circumscribe the individual’s negotiation of place within this project.

Dr Vera Regan is Full Professor of Sociolinguistics at University College Dublin, and can be seen here talking briefly about sociolinguistics.

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About the author:

Prof Vera Regan  / Professor of Sociolinguistics, UCD

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