In my last entry, I made the assertion that, given the opportunity, people speak up about what they know about the language they use. And now, thanks to the Internet, we can bear witness to that speaking up—and learn something important about language from these Citizen Sociolinguists.
Take Kelly and her YouTube performance of her own “English” and “Konglish” ways of speaking. Here she performs the Accent Tag inventory—a list of words to pronounce (caramel, aluminum, mayonnaise…) and lexical prompts (“How do you address a group of people?”) that was developed by Serious Dialectologists decades ago, but has since been taken over by Internet People. Please take a look by clicking on this link:
While the list of words and lexical prompts could take about 60 seconds to recite, Kelly’s video lasts longer than eight minutes because, as a Citizen Sociolinguist, she takes time to contextualize her performance. She mentions that she grew up in North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, that she was raised by Korean-speaking parents, and that at the age of 10, “when kids develop that whole language thing,” she went to Korea to live. Then, she moved back to Southern California as a teen. Because of her varied experiences with language, she performs the Accent Tag both in her “American” accent, and as a “Konglish” speaker.
One look at this video illuminates at least five critical and liberating points:
- A speaker does not necessarily orient to one standard pronunciation, but selects between many possibilities.
- The more experiences one has in different contexts, the more choices one has available—Korean? Texan? Californian?
- How one pronounces or selects words can be an aesthetic choice—While Kelly does not (yet) use “Ya’ll” when she addresses a group of people, she has observed Texans say “Hey, how y’all doing,” and says she’d “like to pick up on that.”
- How one pronounces or selects words can be a social choice—“People always picked on me,” she says, when she spoke English in Korea. And so she spoke differently there.
- Speakers have awareness of what they want to sound like and why they say things in certain ways.
This video also yields one ominous observation: Despite these liberating aspects of Kelly’s performance, a sense of a judgment looms; A Standardizing Big Brother lurking somewhere, wanting to say someone sounds way off, really weird, FOBy, or jumbled up (all words Kelly uses to describe her own fluid language use).
As Kelly’s video exemplifies, under the imagined gaze of Standardizing Big Brother, sometimes people on line speak apologetically about their own language—voicing comments they have heard from other people. Other times, people speak out about more nuanced features of their own language. Usually, the same person does a little bit of both. Have you performed an accent tag video? Have you found one you appreciate? What did you think of Kelly’s? Post your comments and findings here!