Soap Vox Lecture | Wed 28 November | Lauren Hall-Lew

at 18:00 in Appleton Tower

Political Identity and Phonetic Variation

Abstract: Social factors such as speaker age, sex, region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class have long been shown to be significant variables in quantitative models of linguistic variation. These factors appear to be significant because they are all important aspects of a speaker’s identity (to varying degrees, depending on the context), and linguistic variation constitutes a set of a symbolic resources for indexing aspects of identity. However, they are not the only factors that comprise a person’s identity, and one promising area of sociolinguistic research is uncovering what other identity factors may be important to speakers, and how those factors might further account for variability in patterns of linguistic production.

In this talk I focus on some work that shows how political persuasion can be a linguistically significant aspect of personal identity. These project focus on professional politicians, speakers for whom this identity factor is most salient. In the first half of the talk I present data from members of the US House of Representatives (Hall-Lew et al. 2010, 2012b), and in the second half of the talk I discuss recent results from Scottish Members of the UK Parliament (Carr & Bruland 2006; Hall-Lew et al. 2012a). In both cases, the speakers’ political affiliation accounts for their phonetic variation above and beyond the other social factors normally tested for. I conclude with a more general discussion about the challenges in understanding how to think about political persuasion as a new social factor, and how it ultimately interacts in complex ways with all other aspects of speaker identity.


Carr, P. and I. Brulard. 2006. Anglo-English influences on Scottish Standard English Speakers: TRAP / BATH / PALM / START and LOT / CLOTH / THOUGHT / NORTH / FORCE. Scottish Language, 25:31-45.
Hall-Lew, Lauren, Elizabeth Coppock and Rebecca L. Starr. 2010. Indexing Political Persuasion: Variation in the Iraq Vowels. American Speech, 85(1): 91–102.
Hall-Lew, Lauren, Ruth Friskney, and James M. Scobbie. 2012a. Political party affiliation and phonetic variation in the vowels of Scottish politicians. Paper presented atSociolinguistics Symposium 19, 21-24 August, Berlin.
Hall-Lew, Lauren, Rebecca L. Starr and Elizabeth Coppock. 2012b. Style-Shifting in the U.S. Congress: The vowels of ‘Iraq(i)’. In Juan Manuel Hernandez Campoy and Juan Antonio Cutillas Espinosa, eds. Style-Shifting in Public: New Perspectives on Stylistic Variation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 45-63.


RSVP on facebook

Entry is £1 and FREE to active members. Membership can be purchased on our EUSA profile ( or otherwise at that night.

The talk will start at 6:00 p.m. and last about 1 hour. It will be followed by a Q&A session (about half an hour). We will then go to a pub for food and drink with the speaker.

Our talks are public lectures open to all, regardless of whether you are a student or not or what or where you study if a student. We aim for all of our events to be accessible to all; please feel free to contact us beforehand if you require assistance or further information.

Leave a Reply