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Ethnicity and Social Networks

Preface This chapter illustrates the relevance of ethnicity and social networks in accounting for people’s speech patterns, as well as briefly introducing the related concept, the community of practice.

Ethnicity Where a choice of language is available for communication, it is often possible for an individual to signal their ethnicity by the language they choose to use. Even when a complete conversation in an ethnic language is not possible, people may use short phrases,

verbal fillers or linguistic tags, which signal ethnicity. For example: 1.


In New Zealand, Maori people routinely use Maori greetings for example ‘kin ora’ and a conversation between two Maori people may include emphatic phrases, such as ‘e ki’. Softening tags such as ‘ne’ and responses such as ‘ae’ even when neither speaks the Maori language fluently. Bargaining with Chinese retailers in the shopping centers, Singaporeans Chinese similarly often signal their ethnic background with linguistic tags, such as the untranslatable but expressive ‘la’.

African American Vernacular English African American in United State developed a distinct variety of English known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE). There are few features which clearly distinguished the AAVE with the English of the white American. a.

Omission of the verb ‘be’


Distinct meaning of ‘be’ c.


Multiple negotiation

Consonant cluster simplification

Omission of the verb ‘be’ -

Standard English use shortened and reduced forms of the verb ‘be’. Usually they will reduce or contract the ‘is’ to ‘s’. -

In AAVE, they completely omit verb ‘be’ Example:

African American Vernacular English She very nice He a teacher That my book The beer warm

American Standard English She’s very nice He’s a teacher That’s my book The beer’s warm

Distinct meaning of ‘be’

The grammar of AAVE has some features which do not occur in the grammar of white Americans.


African American American Standard Vernacular English English She be at school on She’s always at school on weekdays weekdays The children do be messin’ The children do mess around a lot around a lot I run when I bees on my I always run when I’m on way to school my way to school The beer be warm at that The beer’s always warm place at that place Multiple Negotiation -

Features in English used by lower socio-economic groups in the US also occur in AAVE. In every social group interviewed in Detroit, African Americans used more multiple negotiation than the white Americans. -

Consonant cluster simplification -

All English speakers simplify consonant clusters in some contexts. For example: ‘Last time’ They would pronounce both [t]s distinctly. Most people drop the first [t] so the consonant cluster [st] at the end of last becomes simply [s]. AAVE speakers also simplify the consonant clusters at the ends of words, but they do so much more frequently and extensively than speakers of standard and regional dialects of English. -

British Black English Different ethnics’ minorities speak Gujerati, Panjabi, and Turkish. People of West Indian or African Carribean origin used a range of varities depending where and how long they lived in Britain. They are known as British Black community and speak mostly Jamaican Creole. The variety of Jamaican Creole used by British Black is known as Patois that derived from number of features which differentiate from Jamaican variety.

From example 6: Polly’s verbal repertoire includes standard English spoken with West Midlands accent. ( informal variety of English with some Patois features. )

Polly’s parents use Patois to her and her brother. (She is expected to response in English.

At home, she uses Midlands Black English, but uses more standard variety with her teachers at college. In most shops, she uses Standard English with the local accent. (unless she knows the shop owner then she will use Midlands Black English) Polly’s uses the varieties in her linguistic repertoire not by the way of her knowledge of any particular variety. 

Many young Black British uses Patois for ingroup talk as symbol of their ethnicity, but not all are proficient users.


There are number of linguistic features which characterise Patois. It is creole and quite distinct from standard English. Many features of pronunciation including stress and intonation pattern. There are number of regional varieties of British Black English such as Polly’s Midland and London variety, and Patois varieties. The function of these varieties as symbols of ethnicity among the British Black English.

Maori New Zealanders

There has been a debate whether a Maori dialect of English exists. Many people believe that there is such a variety but there is little evidence which occur only in the speech of Maori people. In general, Maori people use Maori words more frequently in their speech, along with the presence of grammatical features as compared to the Pakeha people. It is also found that Maori women were more likely to use vernacular past tense forms of some verbs, present tense forms with s and much more likely to omit have.

Social Networks

Social networks move the focus from social features of the speaker alone (status, gender, ethnicity) to characteristics of the interaction between people. Networks in sociolinguistics refer to the pattern of informal relationships people are involved in on a regular basis. There are four types of networks; density, plexity, uniplex and multiplex. Density refers to whether members of a person’s network are in touch with each other. Plexity refers to the range of different types of transaction people are involved in with different individuals. Uniplex refers to one where the link with the other person is in only one area. Multiplex involve interactions with others along several dimensions.

Communities of practice and the construction of social identity Community of practice gives a meaning of belongs to social groups like the burnouts (who reject the school values) and the jocks (who accept the school values). They develop around the activities in which group members engage in together, and their shared objectives and attitudes.

We use language to construct different identities in different social interactions. For example, Jo exhibits her burnout identity in school and not at home or during her after-school job.


All language varieties are equal; there is no significant difference in the complexity of their linguistic structure. The barriers are social and cultural. The features which happen to characterise the standard dialect and those features which occur in vernacular dialects is entirely arbitrary.

Done by; Shafiah binti Abdullah – D20111047719 Rina Petronella Rajim – D20111047765 Joeyce Jill Juanis – D20111047710

Ethnicity and Social Networks  

Summary of Chapter 8 - Ethnicity and Social Networks

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