Giving yourself away

Posted by on January 14, 2011

Not only can the way we speak mark us out as a native speaker or a learner, it can, of course, also indicate our social class. Whilst the area we come from is marked by our dialect, social class is indicated by sociolect. When this concept was first mentioned in the 1950s, it gave rise to an interesting distinction between U (upper class) and non-U (non upper, or middle class) speech. The upwardly mobile, of course, tried using ‘U’ speech, to sound more upper class than they actually were.

Nothing has really changed; people still try to make themselves sound ‘posh’ by talking about ‘napkins’ rather than ‘serviettes’ and ‘the sofa’ instead of ‘the settee‘, but now we have another angle too – the language people use to try and make themselves sound more tech-savvy (=understanding technology). If someone is talking about their ‘home entertainment system’, you can be pretty sure they either have no idea how it works, or they want you to know how expensive it was (it’s not just a TV, after all…). And telling you they’ve bought a ‘centrino laptop’ probably means they have no idea what the centrino chip does, but they think it makes them sound good.

I guess if you don’t want to fall into this trap, it’s best to remember that less is generally more (=it’s better to keep it simple than to overcomplicate things).

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