How You Talk Is Who You Are
The title of this chapter is an overstatement; deliberately so. Analysts of ethnicity and culture working in the fields of Cultural studies and Sociology in Britain have tended to understate or ignore the role played by people’s prosaic patterns of language use; that is, scant attention has been paid to one of the central constituent components of human existence – the fact that in most waking moments and during most everyday activities human beings either speak, or listen to the speech of others. Moreover, how people talk in routine unselfconscious speech is a remarkably tenacious marker of place, particularly in the dimension of pronunciation. It is an index of identity which belies the symbolic pull of the racial phenotype and transcends rhetorical tokens of allegiance to languages, religions and cultural practices emblematic of distant places. Paying attention to the way in which people use language, and to their perceptions of how they and their peers use language, is fundamental to developing an understanding of how cultures and ethnicities are constituted and enacted. What follows sketches some of the repeated patterns in the interactions of the Blackhill youth within their local environment, and gives some idea of the structures of the kind of linguistic ecology which they inhabit.
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