University of Sheffield

School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

Cooper, Paul (2013). Enregisterment in Historical Contexts: A Framework.  PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

I am a historical sociolinguist exploring how regional dialect features are enregistered in English.  Enregisterment is a process whereby a repertoire or set of language features becomes overtly linked with social values.  These social values can include class membership, regional origin, or personality traits such as ‘friendliness’.  Evidence for enregistered features can be seen in metapragmatic discourse or ‘commentary’ on language in forums where language is discussed (newspapers, or online chat-rooms for instance); or where dialect features are used on commodities such as dialect dictionaries or t-shirts.  Further evidence of this kind can be gained from conducting interviews to elicit speakers’ knowledge of which language features are linked to what social values.

My PhD thesis studies the phenomenon of enregisterment in the nineteenth century.  I focus on the Yorkshire dialect and make use of a corpus of nineteenth century dialect material.  I also examine contemporary metapragmatic discourse to create a framework for the historical study of enregisterment.  My research highlights how the Yorkshire dialect was enregistered in the nineteenth century and allows for the identification of a repertoire of enregistered nineteenth-century “Yorkshire” features.  This was achieved via a comparison of Yorkshire dialect represented in dialect literature (works written entirely in dialect for a predominantly local audience – ballads, songs, pamphlets) and literary dialect (dialect in novels, written for a wider audience; Brontë’s use of dialect in Wuthering Heights, for instance) with the dialect commentary of the period (dialect dictionaries, essays, public lectures).  In order to ensure this repertoire’s accuracy, I conducted an online survey of modern speakers asking the respondents to list which features they thought were representative of Yorkshire dialect.  I then compared this data with modern Yorkshire dialect writing and commentary.  A significant number of the features listed in the modern dialect material were listed by the survey respondents as being representative of Yorkshire.  This suggests that textual evidence can serve as a reasonably accurate substitute for metapragmatic data elicited from current speakers.  The resulting pattern in the data suggested that although there is only textual evidence of metapragmatic discourse for nineteenth-century Yorkshire dialect, the evidence is sufficient to postulate a repertoire of features that would have been enregistered to a nineteenth-century audience.
This work provides a historical perspective on the phenomena of indexicality and enregisterment; it also shows how through the use of analogous modern data, we can use the present to explain the past (following Labov 1977).  This research also highlights how enregistered terms have changed over time, from data gathered from a survey of modern speakers’ perceptions of the features of the Yorkshire dialect.  This suggests that enregistered features exist on a continuum, ranging from ‘currently enregistered’ to ‘de-enregistered’.

Conferences and publications

I have presented papers based on my research at several conferences, including large international conferences, such as Methods in Dialectology 14, University of Western Ontario, Canada, 2nd – 6th August 2011, for which I was awarded £900 funding from the University of Sheffield’s Petrie Watson Exhibition (this is a competitive fund allocated by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities).  The paper given at Methods is forthcoming in the peer-reviewed conference volume.  I also presented at the International Conference on Dialect and Literature, University of Sheffield, 11th – 13th July 2011, where I gave the paper: “It takes a Yorkshireman to talk Yorkshire”: towards a framework for the historical study of enregisterment’.  Additionally, in September 2012, I presented a paper based on the results of my PhD entitled ‘Historical Enregisterment and the use of the present to inform the past’ at the Regional Varieties, Language shift and Linguistic Identities conference at Aston University in Birmingham.  In summer 2013, I will be presenting at the second International Conference on Dialect and Literature at the University of Sheffield; the 5th Later Modern English conference at the University of Bergamo; and the 9th UKLVC conference at the University of Sheffield.

Public engagement
My research has also had impact beyond academia. I was involved with the Sheffield Voices Project, organised by Dr Jane Hodson of the University of Sheffield, and gave a public presentation in Sheffield City Library in June 2010.  I presented a paper based on my research: ‘If they'd squasht corn bill; that ad be't foinest thing for't pooar fooaks: Definite Article Reduction in Nineteenth-Century Dialect Literature’.  This paper formed part of a larger discussion about the evolution of the Sheffield dialect over time.  I was able to focus on several of the writers I had studied in my own research who discussed or represented the Sheffield dialect in the nineteenth century.  In May 2013 I was also part of an interview on local South Yorkshire radio station Hallam FM to discuss my research in relation to the subsequent Yorkshire Voices Project; this project grew out of Sheffield Voices and explores what it means to write in the local dialect.

At the University of Sheffield I convened the second-year undergraduate module ‘Issues in Language Change’.  I designed the module’s curriculum; wrote and presented lectures; designed and marked the assessments (a 10-minute group presentation and a choice of one of three 2,000-word essay questions); created the module’s seminars; and taught both seminar groups each week.  Overall this module was well-received by students.  Also at Sheffield, I have delivered lectures and seminars on the first year undergraduate module ‘Varieties of English’ since the spring semester of 2010-11.  This is an introductory module designed to introduce students to variationist study.  The module deals with issues regarding varieties of British English, RP and Standard English, the north-south divide in England, dialect levelling and diffusion, language attitudes and perceptions, and world Englishes.  I am also a seminar tutor on the first year undergraduate module ‘Sounds of English’, which is designed to introduce students to phonetics, phonology, transcription and the IPA, syllable structure, and connected speech processes.
At Sheffield Hallam University I convened the postgraduate module ‘Language Variation and Perception’.  This module deals with topics such as sociolinguistics; dialectology; enregisterment; language change; attitudes to British English; folk linguistics and perceptual dialectology.  I also teach as a lecturer and seminar tutor on the first-year undergraduate module: ‘History and Development of the English Language’.  This module addresses issues such as lexical, orthographical, morphological, and semantic change from the Old English period to the present day; it also covers such topics as the standardisation of English and the development of RP, as well as considering the influence of new media on English, and English as a global language.