The role of dialect in the era of standardisation – dialect shifts in interaction
2022-04-12, 12:30–13:00 (Europe/Vienna), Room 4

Dialects of Sweden are generally levelling towards standard (Nilsson 2017). In this era of standardisation – what is really the role of dialect? In places where dialect is still used, it might serve as a resource helping to establish a feeling of belonging as well as enable the display of local identity (Nilsson & Nylund Skog 2019). But what about the standardised areas? Has dialect lost its function as a common identity marker?
In the first wave of sociolinguistics (Eckert 2012), social variables such as age, gender, and class, were considered representations of identities; language variation and change has often been explained with the concept of identity. In more recent years, however, several scholars have problematized the relation between language and identity. A growing body of studies now focus on the role of language in identity work (Bucholtz & Hall 2005, Bassiouney 2018).

The premise for this study is that individuals have numerous identities – along with a linguistic repertoire enabling the expressing of these identities in different contexts. To understand how identities and roles are constructed in talk we can benefit from an interactional perspective; interactional analyses (in the vein of conversation analysis and interactional linguistics) can help to explain how different identities are constructed in conversation (see, e.g., Antaki & Widdicombe 1998). Within these interactional traditions, the main question is: why this now? That is, why does a speaker say this precise thing at this very moment?

In a corpus consisting of five hours of recorded material of different groups of more or less standardised speakers, it is apparent that dialect is sometimes used to do something. Every so often, the participants shift briefly to dialect. These short dialect shifts are often just a phoneme, morpheme, or lexical item, but sometimes a short utterance. Dialect shifts have, since Coupland’s (2001) seminal study, been discussed in terms of stylization, even though Coupland’s stylized speech usually consisted of longer stretches of talk. Stylization is used to perform different persona (see also Johnstone 2013). By using semiotically loaded linguistic forms, whose indexicality is easily recognized by co-participants, dialect shifts can perform personas from different places, social classes, occupations, and ages. An interactional analysis of why dialect now shows that the short dialect shifts are used to handle potentially face threatening situations, to make jokes and, in some cases when shifts are reused, to show affiliation and solidarity (e.g. Schegloff 1996). Above all, it seems that the role of dialect in standardised areas can be to display different stances and how we relate to our own and others’ speech and actions. In other words, dialect is still a resource to standardised speakers to perform identities.

In this presentation, I will discuss when, how and why standardised Swedish speakers use dialect in conversations, and tentatively what this may tell us about the relationship between language, place, and identity.


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