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Che Guevara
Che Guevara

The Idiolect Project

5th November 2009

Introduction
 
by Joe Nicholas -  Tutor in English
 
Idiolect is one of a number of words ending in -lect. These include dialect and sociolect, which are both words for the varieties of language spoken by groups of people. Idiolect, however, describes the language of an individual. It is the technical term in linguistics for what makes your own personal language what it is (or your languages what they are).
 
You are probably wondering what relevance all this has to the image above. Well … A famous example for an individual’s idiolect is Ernesto Guavera who frequently used the word "che" – meaning roughly "hey you" - (and got his nickname through that).

Idiolect describes the unique and different characteristics of your variety (or varieties) of language. These include your voice; your vocal and verbal habits; your attitudes to your speech and writing, your personal language history, and how these affect your personal language. Of course, your idiolect is also influenced by language you share with others: your sociolects, your family sociolect, whether you use an occupational sociolect, and whether you can speak in non-standard dialect or other languages.
In order to become more aware of your idiolect you need to extend your language awareness. Are you curious about language? Do you have any words you tend to use very frequently? Do you have any 'favourite' words? What is the most beautiful word in English? Do you like certain words because of their sound, their use, their meaning or their associations? What about idioms or expressions? Are any expressions particularly linked to family or family members?
 
I would now like to introduce some writing by my AS students on this topic. I’d like to start with Rhys who like a number of students at Hereford Sixth Form college is bilingual. Rhys is studying AS English Language and I’ll let him tell you something about himself and his unique idiolect.

My Personal Idiolect.
 
I am someone who speaks both Welsh and English, but I tend to think in Welsh rather than English. I use a lot of Welsh words in my own personal idiolect such as: “ond” which is “but” and “a” which is “and”, I also use “felly” which is “therefore”. I don’t think I have a favourite filler, but the one I think I say the most is “um” as I am constantly thinking in Welsh.
 
I know of a few people in Hereford Sixth Form College who do speak Welsh, so that is giving me the chance to keep my Welsh up. As I said before I use many Welsh words in my idiolect. For good and bad I use Welsh words. For good I tend to use “da” and for bad I would normally use the word “drwg”. So when I am talking with my friends they are constantly asking me what these words mean as they do not know what they mean.
 
For different groups of people, I tend to use a variety of different dialects. For example, if I’m with my peers or my friends and something is happening I would say “Wass appatainin?” which in the Queen's English means “what’s happening?” On the other hand when I’m talking to my parents, I would tend to use what some people would call “proper” English, because my parents are always correcting me on my grammar.
 
Following on from how I speak when I’m with my friends, according to some of my family and some of my friends, apparently I have a different tone of voice when I’m speaking to different people on the phone. For example if I am talking to family and friends from the area where my family comes from, Merthyr Tydfil, I talk with a very strong Merthyr accent. On the other hand, if it is a number I do not recognise or do not have saved in my contacts, apparently I put on a “posh” accent and I tend to use this accent when I ring important establishments like Hereford Sixth Form, for example.
 
When I am talking to my friends on the phone, instead of saying “Where are you?”, I tend to say “Where you too ‘en?” in a very strong Merthyr accent. My friends always ask me why I say this, but I think it is influenced by one of my grandmothers as she is from what she likes to call the “posh end” of Merthyr Tydfil.
 
Moving on from accents and dialect, both Gaelic Welsh and Scottish Gaelic have existed in the United Kingdom longer than English, because when the Anglo Saxons invaded in the 5th century, that is when English was brought into the country. Most of my social groups only speak English, therefore I do not have the chance to practise my Welsh as someone who comes from a Welsh-speaking family. In conclusion I do not get the chance to practice the art of Welsh.
 
As you may know either Spanish/English is the second most spoken language in the world following behind Mandarin, but on the other hand, English has the largest vocabulary worldwide.
 
There is only one word in the English language I have trouble pronouncing and that is “Abergavenny” as I pronounce it “Abergagenny”.
 
I do not know how to describe my voice, but I would say I talk with a very soft Welsh accent. When I pronounce certain English words, my friends have told me that it comes out with a very strong Merthyr accent. I find this amusing because I am doing it unconsciously.
 
I do not tend to avoid certain words as I like to speak my mind, but one word I cannot stand in the English language is the swear word that begins with the letter “C”. If people use it around me, I tend to shout at them as it is such a vile and disgusting word and not many people do like it as I’m sure you will agree.
 
When I am in my place of work, which is a really posh restaurant, I speak loud and clear as it is compulsory and it is to ensure that the customers can hear what it is I have said, rather than the usual grunt you get off a normal teenager.
 
Rhys
 
Now for Chris who is repeating AS as things did not go according to plan for him last year. He is a monolingual English speaker with a slightly different take on this task.
 
My Idiolect
 
My idiolect is quite complicated; I have picked up many unique aspects in my language. For example I often say “like” at the end of some sentences depending on the people I am talking to. For example,  if they are family friends I have to ‘speak well’, whereas if I am having a conversation with my friends I usually do use fillers including “like”.
 
I feel I have picked up fillers such as “like” from my friends, and possibly from where I grew up in a rural area of Ludlow, in which the dialect is different from a Hereford accent. For example, phrases and words are used such as: Oh a, you know, etc. These are just a few different phrases that are used in the Ludlow area. Again I also use the word ‘like’ for reassurance in awkward situations or if I am in trouble trying to explain the reason for something.
 
I found using taboo language or slang language was a more masculine thing to do where I lived. It is a feature apparently of Hereford dialect, but also of my idiolect to stick ‘like’ on the end of sentences – different from using like in the middle of things as a filler. In my view this is quite ‘cool’ and masculine - as it is not very ‘lady like’ to end all my sentences in like.
 
I went to primary and secondary schools in Shropshire, in which the dialect and accent ranged between a Hereford ‘farmer accent’ all the way to a classic Midland accent, or even close to a ‘Brum’ accent. Often at school my friends would say words and I would pick up on them almost like a habit my parents weren’t too fond of. However, personally at the age I was I found this cool.
           
Another more male influenced aspect was putting on a deeper voice to be perceived as tough, when I was younger. I did this to impress girls or make me look tough in front of other lads.
 
I feel my idiolect changes dramatically depending on the social group I am with. For example,  with my parents I would talk with an RP accent and more maturely. Whereas, if I'm with friends, I would use far more taboo and general slang lexical terms. I think if I am with older family members I would talk in a ‘received’ manner, and pronounce my words on an RP basis. On the other hand, with my mates my accent would be ‘more relaxed’ and missing certain letters and words alike, e.g. dropping ‘h’s’. (This is a natural feature of speech known as ‘elision’.)
 
My idiolect would transform dramatically if I was going to attend a job interview for example, as I would speak very formally and speak much more softly in contrast with my loud outspoken voice.
 
Generally speaking, when I am talking or trying to think of something, I would use ‘fillers’ such as hmm… and ‘like’ etc I pick these from my sociolects.
 
Another key aspect of my idiolect extends beyond speech even to my writing or being on the internet e.g. social networking sites such as Facebook, MSN, etc. where everyone talks by shortening words and abbreviating words. For example, ‘isn’t it' turns to the definitely non-standard - INNIT!
 
In conclusion, I suppose my idiolect is part of my identity: who I am. I have features that reflect my family, my masculine identity (gender) and where I am from, but also I hope me as a ‘unique’ individual.
 
Chris
 
It’s time we heard a female voice. Lauren also has an interesting take on this task. Over to you, Lauren.
 
My Personal Idiolect
 
England has such a wide range of accents and dialects. Where I live, due to my background and being brought up in the countryside on the outskirts of the small city of Hereford, I have picked up many interesting features in my idiolect. For example I have a strong accent, which causes me to emphasise the phoneme ‘r’ in words in my utterances. (This is known as a ‘rhotic’ pronunciation.)
 
I tend to change my language and idiolect in the different scenarios that I find myself in. For example, one trait of my age group is to replace the word ‘really’ with ‘proper’ e.g. ‘that’s proper bad’.
 
Another word I have picked up is ‘like’. I use the word 'like' as a filler when I am struggling to use the appropriate words in the appropriate context. So instead of using it more in the standard form; (‘I like cake’) I use it in a more non-standard context (‘there was like, so many people in the crowd’).
 
My favourite fixed expression that I am always repeating in my utterances is: ‘the thing is’. I use it all the time. When it is clearly not needed, it really aggravates my friends, but not as much as my voiced pauses ‘umm’ and ‘err’ which I am forever uttering to stop myself from stumbling over my words. This really drives them crazy.
 
When I’m with a group of people I tend to change my language and even my accent, dependent on who I’m with. I find that I pick up new words and phrases, like the word ‘well’, which I use as an intensifier like the word ‘very’. E.g. ‘she was well ill’.
 
I also adjust my accent when I’m with those from other areas, which can be hilarious. It occurs most frequently when I’m with Welsh people or Northerners. I pick up their accents and speak like them. This is technically known as accommodation. I think this is to do with my love for acting, but it can sometimes get me in to serious trouble, as they think I’m ‘taking the mick’ and mocking them.
 
I think generally my syllables are well enunciated, especially when with my parents. For example, when I’m with my friends I might say; ‘I’m goin’ to play hockey’, but when I’m with my parents I would pronounce the ‘ng’ phoneme as in so called RP. I’d say I’ve got quite a loud and clear voice, because I always like to be heard.
 
Not only is my language forever changing, but also my body language and gestures. I am a very ‘bubbly’ and animated person so when I’m explaining or describing something I shake and move my hands a lot, and I tend to talk over people and interrupt stories without thinking, which I’m really embarrassed about. It is perhaps an English trait to worry about gestures. They are natural and other cultures such as Italian speakers are said to be unable to speak if they are carrying burdens in both hands. (Perhaps an exaggeration.)
 
My biggest feature and most famous idiolectal habit is definitely my tone and pitch. When describing something I raise my pitch towards the end of the sentence with a slight inflection, as if I’m asking a question, which is always confusing people. This is sometimes known in linguistically aware circles as ‘upspeak’ (but some people just call it - ‘annoying’).
 
We’d like to add to this article on idiolect with more students’ linguistic self portraits. Send any comments or ideas, or even articles to me. Watch this space!
 

Joe Nicholas, Tutor of English

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