Example of an Ethnolect Based Essay

The speech of an individual is a linguistic map of their identity and an indication of how they would like to be perceived. Migrants who come to Australia already possess the linguistic structures of their mother tongue, and these will affect the way they speak English, forming an ethnolect. Consequently, a person’s language is a clear indicator of their past ethnic origins, and the English they choose to speak will also indicate how they would like others to perceive them. This latter is true for everyone, as we all vary our language according to context.

Bill is a young Chinese student who has come to Australia two years ago from China to further his education. His lexical field is wide and varied, he is able to use complex syntactic structures and his accent and prosodic features show a good familiarity with standard Australian English. However, it is still possible to find linguistic features which demonstrates that he is from a Chinese background, that he is male, that he has travelled, can appreciate humour, and that he would like to be perceived as an educated person with further academic goals.

The phonological features of a person’s speech are the most obvious signposts to his or her origins or mother tongue. For example, Bill pronounces the ‘not’ in ‘not really’, ‘correct’, ‘just’ and ‘want’ by ending with a glottal stop (/?/), rather than the voiceless consonant (/t/). This occurs as final consonants are much less frequent in Mandarin than in English and thus they are normally dropped or replaced by a glottal stop. This could give linguists a clue on his origins or mother tongue.

Bill also values the Australian accent, but there are also traces of American English in his speech, notably his pronunciation of ‘currently’, with the sound ‘ker’ (American) rather than ‘kar’ (Australian). This shows the subtle ways that every experience can affect a person’s identity as Bill has stayed in America for a short period of time, making his English slightly different from another Chinese student that has not had that experience. Local idioms and foreign borrowed words are also used in a non standard way by Bill.

An example would be the way he pronounces ‘gourmet’, by analogy; he assumes that all letters are pronounced in English. However, since this word is of French origin, its final‘t’ should not be pronounced. Through the way a subject speaks, we could pinpoint his ethnic group. Although Bill has a wide and varied lexical field, he does not use many idiomatic Australian expressions. This could mean that he is either still a newcomer and has not become familiar with colloquial language, or he may not value these expressions (such as Aussie, veggie, mate…etc) as he might view them as low status words.

This could show that he wants to be perceived as an educated, cultured person, instead of a rough Aussie. Even though English is not the subject’s mother tongue, he still has a fairy large lexicon, using lexemes such as “lucrative”, “environment” and “gourmet”, this could show that he has been exposed to English even before he migrated to Australia. Bill also uses the word “reckon” and “heaps” which shows that he has tried to fit into his peer group and that he has a good grasp of the type of language used by the people around him.

A subject’s syntactic structures are another indication of his ethnic origins. The use of modal verbs is sometimes difficult for Chinese learners as there aren’t any tenses in Mandarin, and this is evident in Bill’s speech. For example, in his sentence ‘Basically, I can choose from a lot of country’/ The lack of plural is evident here ( country/countries), but also the verb ‘can’ is used in a non-standard way, it is used in its base form rather than the more accepted past tense, as in ‘I could choose from a lot of countries’.

Leaving verbs in their base form is a feature of many Mandarin speakers, as in Mandarin, tenses are indicated by other means…. Another syntactic feature is the plural, which is sometimes not formed as shown before. For example, ‘my family member’, ‘at those stage’, ‘a lot of country’ and ‘different background’. Such non-standard usage also pinpoints Bill’s identity as a Chinese speaker as there are no plurals for nouns in Mandarin. Bill’s word order too is sometimes non standard, especially when expressing more complex ideas.

For example, ‘aging population faces in Japan’ rather than ‘Japan too faces an aging population’. All these syntactic features contribute to his identity as a young Chinese student still in the process of mastering the English language. A subject’s attitude can also show what kind of speaker he or she would like to be perceived. For example, Bill states that he prefers the Australian accent over the Singaporean accent. This would show that he puts a high value on the Australian English and would like to be perceived as a English speaker

From this, it can be seen that many features contribute to a person’s ethnolect, and from it we can deduce the subject’s identity and the way he or she wants to be perceived. Furthermore, migrants who come to Australia know that they must learn English, as ‘Nothing unites a country more than its common language. ‘(John Howard). However, each migrant, such as Bill, brings his own variation of English which is linked to his first mother tongue (in this case Mandarin). In this way, each person contributes to the rich tapestry of sounds, words and syntactic structures which make up Australia’s history, culture and identity. ‘

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