LINGUIST List 14.1736

Thu Jun 19 2003

Review: Corpus Ling:Stenstrom, Andersen & Hasund (2002)

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  1. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and Findings

Message 1: Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and Findings

Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 13:23:49 +0000
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and Findings

Stenstrom, Anna-Brita, Gisle Andersen and Ingrid Kristine Hasund
(2002) Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and
Findings. John Benjamins Publishing Company, xi+229pp, hardback ISBN
1-58811-252-7, $57.00, Studies in Corpus Linguistics 8.

Announced at

Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India


The book presents brilliant description on the generation, processing,
and analysis of the Corpus of London Teenagers (COLT). The volume
consists of two parts. The first part (Chap. 1-3) deals with the
process of COLT generation and processing while the second part
(Chapter 4-8) is devoted to analysis of linguistic features unique to
teenage talk.

Chapter 1 (pp. 1-11) informs about the development of corpus in
CD-ROM. It includes orthographically transcribed texts, and tagged
words, a sound file, and a searching program. Chapter 2 (pp. 13-26)
provides detail demographic information of the speakers selected as
informants for data collection. Chapter 3 (pp. 27-61) contains
information about the general contents of the normal conversations of
the teenagers. Chapter 4 (pp.63-106) is engaged in critical analysis
of 'slanguage'. It includes proper and dirty slang along with vogue
and 'small words' (ok, like, sort of, yeah, etc.), which are present
in large numbers in teenage speech. Chapter 5 (pp. 107-129) discusses
variation in the use of reported speech in teenage talk. It employs
various linguistic methods to manifest speech spoken by
others. Chapter 6 (pp. 131-163) deals with non-standard grammar and
the trendy use of intensifiers. Chapter 7 (pp. 165-191) is devoted to
the discussion of use of tags (e.g., don't you, innit etc.), which do
occur quite frequently in their talk. Chapter 8 (pp. 193-209) presents
a lively discussion on the teenagers' intersectional behavior in terms
of ritual conflict to show how the young generation uses language to
fight verbally among themselves. Chapter 9 (pp. 211-214) sums up the

Chapter 1 presents detail information about the conceptualization and
initiation of the project as well as the methodology of tagging and
transfer of data into CD-ROM version. It also carries information how
the fieldworkers are selected, and what instructions are given to them
for collecting data from the target groups. The scheme adopted for
transcription is a simple one that involves a broad orthographic
transcription with little prosodic information. However, the
deployment of this system does not distort the actual image of the
text because the transcription scheme has been able to preserve all
typical features (e.g., ellipsis, repetition, new starts, anaphora,
intonational contours, etc.) by which a speech corpus can be accepted
for a linguistic research. The words in the corpus are tagged in the
same way as has been done for the British National Corpus (BNC).

Chapter 2 deals with various non-linguistic parameters relevant to the
study of teenagers' conversations. The well-known social parameters
(age, gender, class, ethnicity, occupation, etc), that are often used
in field linguistics and dialectology are aptly used here for good
representativeness of the corpus. Speakers are divided in six
different age groups including both male and female: pre-adolescence
(0-9), early adolescence (10-13), middle adolescence (14-16), late
adolescence (17-19), young adults (20-29), and older adults (30+)
coming from three different social class: high, middle and low. The
corpus also contains talks of the teenagers coming from various ethnic
minority groups (Black Caribbean, Black African, Black other, Indian,
Bangladeshi, Chinese, etc.) living in London. The total 31 recruits
are taken from five different school boroughs in and around London:
Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Barnet, and Herfortshire. The map
no. 1 (p. 4) provides a good idea where the boroughs are located in
the city. Though the chapter presents an insightful overview about the
demographic and geographic parameters in selection of recruits and
location for the collection of data, it seems that the data would have
been much more balanced and representative if some more recruits and
places would have been included in the study. It would have provided
some more information of the target age group as well as of their
language. In spite of such limitations on selectional parameters, the
present study is highly creditable because of its insightful
observation, which rightly marks out the special trends practiced in
teenage talks.

Chapter 3 presents thoughtful analysis of some representative samples
of teenage talks occurring at various social settings. The
conversations are divided into three broad types: (i) Peer Talk
(conversation among the teenagers and their peers) includes social
networking, romance (first love, girls about boys, boys about girls),
sex talk, partying and drinking, the body, past times and hobbies (pop
culture, cinema and TV, music, computers), 'bad' things, drugs and
addiction, and race relations; (ii) School Talk includes classroom
interactions involving students and teachers, as well as chats among
the teenagers themselves; (iii) Family Talk includes interaction of
the teenagers with their parents, siblings and other relatives. While
the peer talk clearly highlights how the world of the teenagers
revolves around their speech, action and life; the school talk shows
how do they maintain a good balance with teachers and classmates with
regard to their content and manner of speaking; and the family talk
exhibits how do they expand their vision of life and enrich their
knowledge with regular inputs from the people of other generations.
Together, they give a broad picture of their language and life showing
how they talk in different situations and with different
co-participants. What surprises us is the absence of talks related
with sports particularly when both cricket and football are so popular
among Londoners. However, we are relieved that the majority of the
teenagers live 'normal' happy lives, and are eager to make the best
out of their lives, whatever their situation and background. With the
researchers we also ''admire their youthful optimism and their
openness to the future that lies ahead of them, and we see no reason
to worry about leaving 'the English language' into the hands of the
next generation.'' (p. 61).

Chapter 4 is really interesting with good analysis of the use of
'slanguage' by the teenagers - probably a universal phenomenon among
the young people in all ages and countries. Teenagers are more prone
to slang but why do they incline towards this is a real question to
the sociolinguists. However, it is rightly observed that the young
generation is full of vigor and energy, which motivate use of slang as
a means of violating social taboos subjugating older generation. Slang
is also used for provocation, keeping the older people outside,
strengthening bonds within own group (p. 67), exhibiting one's pseudo
adulthood, threatening others about one's verbal strength, displaying
command over the vocabulary of slang, exchanging secret information
among the criminals (Andersson and Trudgill 1990: 77, Allen 1998: 878)
and others. After theoretical analysis of slanguage the chapter gives
informs how slang, swearing, and vague words are used in the
COLT. Slang includes both proper slang and dirty slang, swearing focus
on the nature of oath taking and cursing, while vague word includes
placeholders and set markers. In all cases, analysis of the use of
such words is authenticated with various statistics and observations
derived from the corpus. Some findings are really interesting to note
such as: the male speakers use both slang and dirty slang relatively
more often than the female speakers (p. 73), swearing is more frequent
in the 17-19 female age group than in the male (p. 82) while it is
most common among boys in the 10-13 age group; the male members use
more vague words than their female counterparts (p. 93) etc. The study
shows that contrary to stereotypical assumptions, use of slanguage by
a speaker is mostly controlled by the degree of his/her exposure to
various sociolinguistic environments.

Chapter 5 investigates the range of linguistic items that teenagers
have at their disposal when their talk contains reported speech. It
highlights four major techniques the teenagers usually employ: (a)
various paralinguistic cues (voice modulation, gesture, hand movement
etc.), (b) verbal humor, mimicry and zero-quotations, (c) 'like' as a
quotative marker, and (d) 'GO' and 'SAY' as reporting
verb. Paralinguistic cues ''serve a dual function of making a segment
as a speech report as well as providing attitudinal or other
information concerning the (fictitious) character in the story''
(p. 109); use of zero-quotatives indicates speaker's attitude echoed
by another speaker (Mathis and Yule 1994: 63); use of mimicry
(primarily by early male adolescents) represents pseudo speech pattern
of another speaker with whom the reporter consciously wants to
maintain a line of distinction. On the other hand, 'like' is mostly
used as an interpretive marker (p. 119) while 'GO' and 'SAY' are used
in past tense. Overall, statistics shows that the girls use more
quotative verbs than the boys as there is a considerable female
predominance in the use of 'GO', but no significant difference in the
use of 'SAY', which suggests that it is the adolescent girls who are
in the forefront as regards the use of the 'new' quotative verb, as
with many other innovative linguistic features (p. 126). The study,
however, points out two important features of teenage talk. First, the
reporting speech itself, which is rare among adults but typical to the
teenagers. Second, various factors govern teenagers' choice of lexical
items in contexts.

Chapter 6 presents survey on various non-standard grammatical features
manifested in the conversation of the teenagers such as use of
multiple negation (you cannot use nothing), non-standard pronominal
forms (youse, theirselves), negative concord (we was, he don't),
auxiliary deletion (Linda sit), simple for complex preposition (out
the cinema), double comparatives (they are much more better),
participle for imperfect (and this is the one we done last week)
etc. These are compared with the results of the Reading teenage
conversations reported in Cheshire (1982) to find out that ''not much
seem to have changed during the ten-year period, which shows that
grammatical features are fairly stable'' (p. 133). The assessment
ends with the reference to the non-standard features representing
teenagers with different social and ethnic backgrounds. Next, follows
the discussion of teenagers' unorthodox, excessive and offensive use
of adjective intensifiers with respect to their gender and
socio-economic status. It shows that a few specific lexical items are
''far less commonly used as adverb intensifiers than as adjective
intensifiers, and that a quite a few are not used as adverb
intensifies at all'' (p. 161). In comparison to the adults, the
teenagers use adjective intensifiers less frequently, which is
compensated by their heavy use of 'really' and dirty
intensifiers. However, girls are found to use intensifiers
significantly more often that the boys. While girls mostly incline
towards 'really', boys use 'absolutely', 'completely', 'bloody' and
'fucking'. Finally, it argues that use of 'well' as an adjective
intensifier, and 'enough' as a premodifier have resurged in the
teenage talks of the present generation after their disappearance
before the end of 19th century (p. 163).

Chapter 7 investigates frequent use of tags in teenage talk, which
emphasizes on 'invariant tags' (eh, okay, right, yeah, and innit)
ignoring the highly common 'ordinary' tags found in English. Tags are
discourse markers as they are interactional in nature involving some
sort of hearer-orientation. They serve to involve the hearer in some
way or other although they do not always ask for or even allow for his
contribution in the discourse (Holmes 1984, Andersen 2001). The COLT
supplies many more functions (epistemic, facilitative, softening,
peremptory, aggressive, imagination-appealing, concept-retrieval
helping, response-urging, irony-marking, continuation-checking,
proposal evaluating, etc.) (p. 184) of tags besides those three
functions (subjunctive, interactional, and textual function) generally
found in conversations. The purpose of their use is to ''engage the
hearer or invite his response in the form of a confirmation,
verification or corroboration of a claim, they may express a tentative
attitude on the part of a speaker, or they may be polite expressions
or signals of the common ground between interlocutors'' (p. 167). The
study observes no significant difference between girls and boys with
respect to the use of invariant tags (p. 172), and the use of tags
drops off dramatically after late adolescence or young adulthood
(table 7.4, p. 185). The study also indicates that with the notable
exception of the age parameter, the use of invariant tags does not
always follow clear sociolinguistic patterns. Each tag item,
therefore, needs to be considered separately with respect to various
social parameters.

Chapter 8 deals with an interesting aspect of teenage talk. The COLT
shows how the teenagers are apt in 'ritual conflict', i.e. how do they
use their language as a tool for fighting verbally among
themselves. Ritual conflict, which is normally correlated with gender,
social class, and race, is nothing but ''a playful, non-serious verbal
disputes that are not aimed at conflict resolution. The most
well-known form of ritual conflict is ritual insult, a kind of verbal
dwelling in which speakers exchange insults about each other or each
other's relative - most importantly, the opponent's mother - in a
series of reciprocal counters'' (p. 194). Young adolescents mostly
tend to use ritual conflicts for developing their self-defense
strategies and competitive skill, so that they are able to defend
themselves in social interaction in childhood, and later in adulthood
(Kochman 1983). The COLT corpus is quite rich with many examples of
ritual conflicts where they are found to use 'tough talks' to give
impression of their intelligence, degree of intimacy, and depth of
friendship. In respect to the social parameters the study shows that
'race may be an important factor for some speakers and in some
situations, where speakers label themselves members of a 'black
culture' (p. 209). As regards to gender, girls' ritual conflict
generally differs from that of boys because girls do not seriously
compete for status in the ways boys do as their the main purpose seems
to be 'the communication of normative information' (Eder 1990: 82). In
essence, in conflict talks while the boys tend to engage in direct,
rude and competitive verbal disputes, the girls prefer a more
indirect, polite, and cooperative approach.


Many new findings and their subsequent introspective analysis have
generated interesting insights about the London teenagers in general,
and their linguistic skills in particular. To attain this, the
investigators have deployed an intelligent method for data collection
both from formal and informal speech sequences, and used a method to
process and analyzes the whole corpus to arrive at the final outputs
not known before. The work is a good contribution to the corpus based
studies into language (Stubbs 1996), spoken discourse analysis
(Selting and Couper-Kuhlen 2001), conversational analysis (Coates
1996), dialogic interaction analysis (Weigand and Dascal 2001), and
sociolinguistics where intricate interface of language and people is
an important issue for investigation (Coates 1998, Talbot 1998,
Litosseliti and Sunderland 2002).


Andersen, G. (2001) Pragmatic markers and sociolinguistic variation: a
relevance-theoretic approach to the language of
adolescents. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Cheshire, J. (1982) Variation in an English Dialect. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Coates, J. (1996) Women talk: Conversation between women
friends. Oxford: Balckwell.

Coates, J. (ed.) (1998) Language and Gender. Oxford: Blackwell.

Eder, D. (1990) ''Serious and playful disputes: variation in conflict
talk among female adolescents'', in A. Grimshaw (ed) Conflict talk:
sociolinguistic investigations of arguments in
conversations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 67-84.

Holmes, J. (1984) ''Hedging your bets and sitting on the fence: some
evidence for hedges as support structures''. Te Reo. 27: 47-62.

Litosseliti, L. and J. Sunderland (eds.) (2002) Gender Identity and
Discourse Analysis. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Mathis, T. and G. Yule (1994) ''Zero quotatives''. Discourse
Processes. 18: 63-76.

Selting, M. and E. Couper-Kuhlen (eds.) (2001) Studies in
Interactional Linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing

Stubbs, M. (1996). Text and Corpus Analysis -- Computer-Assisted
Studies of Language and Culture. Oxford: Blackwell.

Talbot, M. (1998) Language and Gender. London: Polity Press. 

Weigand, E. and M. Dascal (eds.) (2001) Negotiation and Power in
Dialogic Interaction. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.


Niladri Sekhar Dash works in the area of corpus generation and
processing for the Technology Development in Indian Languages at
Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of Indian Statistical
Institute, Kolkata, India. His research interest includes corpus
design and development, discourse and pragmatics, lexcology, lexical
semantics, lexicography, etc. Presently he is working on speech corpus
generation, corpus based lexicography and lexical polysemy.
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