Amanda Cole: Sociolinguistic Research on Dialects of Southeast England
Updated: Feb 7
Amanda Cole is a lecturer in sociolinguistics at the University of Essex whose research focuses on the dialects of Southeast England, language variation and change, and language attitudes. She gave a presentation entitled “What is a linguistic variety? Linguistic coherence, variation and nominalization processes in Cockney” at the Linguistic Data Consortium on November 30th, 2022. In this blog, Amanda answers questions about her interest in languages, her education and teaching experiences, and what she hopes to achieve with her research.
What sparked your interest in dialects of Southeast England?
I became interested in dialects, especially those of Southeast England, based on my family's experiences. Both sets of my grandparents were moved to estates in Essex (the county that borders North London) and I was brought up in Debden (a council estate in the south of Essex that was built after WWII where many East Londoners were relocated) so I was always interested in the linguistic and sociocultural processes that have happened within these places. Specifically, I work with Cockney, which is spoken all over in the sense that Cockney's linguistic features appear in many different parts of Britain and beyond. My work has been looking at the way that people speak in Essex and a lot of the time what people think of now as an Essex accent is very similar to previous ideas held about Cockney, and Cockney has almost kind of been transplanted to places in Essex from East London.
What is your education and teaching background?
I did my PhD at the University of Essex and I am now a lecturer there. My PhD research focused on language variation and change, and language attitudes in Southeast England, particularly in Essex and Cockney accents. I’m especially interested in how people speak and how language is spoken about in society. I'm now continuing my work on language variation and change, and language attitudes in Southeast England and beyond.
I teach a few different courses in sociolinguistics, for instance I teach a module on the basic theory, methods, and principles of sociolinguistics, and as well as that, I teach topics relating to language in the media. I also teach about sociolinguistic perception, which examines different ways language is evaluated, categorized and perceived. I really enjoy teaching and find it a very rewarding process, as I really care about sociolinguistics. To be able to share that knowledge and to see it spark interest in other people, I find that a real gift. Even if the students don’t go on to study more sociolinguistics or stay in academia, I think just learning a bit of sociolinguistics is a really useful skill since language is all around us, and the way we speak is an important part of who we are. So just understanding those basic principles really equips the students throughout their careers and throughout their lives.
What do you hope to achieve by presenting about Cockney and language variation?
I guess it depends who I’m talking to. I can share my work with other academics and I hope that my work, as well as spreading knowledge about Cockney, feeds into more general theory and methods of how we understand language in society. I suppose as linguists we don't want our theories to apply to just a single community, but we hope that in some way we’re feeding into broader ideas and understandings in the field. But also, I like to engage a lot with members of the public, as language is used by all of us, and it doesn’t belong to any one of us. Sharing knowledge, theory, and understanding of language with people who use it is a really important part of being an academic, so in a way we’re sharing our findings with the very same communities we’re talking about. So for instance I like to talk about my work to people in Essex to cultivate pride, knowledge and interest in its dialects, because Essex is very stigmatized, especially the accent. I think just talking to people about variation and helping broaden the idea that there’s no incorrect way of speaking is really important particularly in Essex where people have an internalized sense that their dialect is lesser or incorrect. I think we really see the rewards of that and it helps people understand that the way that they speak is perfectly legitimate and not something that they need to feel any shame about.
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