Style Shifting

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 14-26, which are based on Reading Passage 2 below.

How do we recognise an individual's personal style? We may initially think of the way people dress, their hairstyle, or even the vehicle they drive. But a crucial part of a person's style is the way they speak. How we_ talk can tell other people a lot about our self or who we would like to be. It can be a strong indication of where we are from, our level of education and our age, and it can also reveal a lot about how we view the situation in which we are speaking. Because we are largely unaware of our language production and language behaviour, we are often not conscious of features in our language that give away which social groups we belong to or even which values we hold. On the other hand, we may be very aware of the linguistic features that are characteristic of another social group, and we may consciously choose to adopt those language features to indicate that we are part of that group - or would like to be, at least. One thing is clear: an individual can change their linguistic style just as easily as they can change their fashion style or hairstyle, if not more easily. This ability to change language style is called style shifting and it happens all the time.

Style shifting is not an addition to how we normally speak; in fact, you could say that it is impossible to speak without any style. When we speak, we are making several choices within fractions of a second; choices regarding vocabulary, pronunciation, intonation, grammar, sentence length and dialect. Mostly these choices are unconscious and have been learnt in childhood. The most noticeable of the language features that we learn unconsciously are determined by the place where we grow up and may include the vocabulary and grammar patterns of the dialect spoken in that area.

Other choices are conscious and may be tied to our work; newsreaders or teachers, for example, may speak in a certain way due to their jobs. Personal language style is therefore an individual version of the typical behav!our of a social group and is acquired along with the culture of the group. Moreover, as we grow up and come into contact with other social groups, we continually adjust our speech to the audience, situation and topic.

 So, style shifting is the change we make, consciously or unconsciously, to our personal language depending on the circumstances. And how do we shift our linguistic style? The most common moves are from casual to formal or vice versa. Casual to formal shifts happen in specific contexts and in certain social groups. They are marked by a reduction in certain features of casual speech, such as the use of double negatives or slang words. They are also marked by hypercorrection. Hypercorrection is the overuse of a perceived rule from a more 'prestigious' variety of the language. An example from English is as follows: instead of saying 'There's no difference between you and me', a style shift to more formal speech would be 'There's no difference between you and I'. Conversely, a shift from formal to informal will be marked by greater use of informal speech features. Another type of style shift occurs when we change our style in response to our audience. An example is when an adult speaks to a baby in 'baby language', or again, when a newsreader stops using their personal speech style and begins to use their 'newsreader' style.

There are a number of theories for why people change their personal speech style. The first was put forward by William Labov in the 1960s. Labov studied the speech patterns of people in New York, and in particular the pronunciation of Ir/ - the inclusion of this sound being seen as high status. Labov found that because people were aware of the higher status of this sound, when they were asked to do a task that needed their attention such as reading aloud, they were more likely to produce the sound. On the other hand, when asked to do something which involved their emotions, like telling a story, they paid less attention to the sound. This is called the Attention to Speech model. Another theory, the Communication Accommodation Theory, developed by Howard Giles in the 1970s, says that style shift may be convergent, i.e. it moves closer to the speech style of the person or people with whom we are talking, or it may be divergent, i.e. it moves away from the other person's speech style. The shift is most commonly convergent when people find similarities in their background, social class or even shared interests and likes. In a later theory, the role of the other speaker or audience is emphasised further. In 1984 Allan Bell proposed the Audience Design Model. In this theory, individuals shift their style to win the approval of the people they are speaking to.

Whatever reason is closest to the truth, whether we pay more attention to how we say something, express social solidarity or seek the approval of our audience, it is clear that everyone possesses the ability to change their language identity according to who they are speaking to and how they would like to project themselves.

Questions 14-19
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 2? 
Write TRUE if the statement agrees with the information, FALSE if the statement contradicts the information,  NOT GIVEN if there is no information on this

14 We are usually aware of the way we use language in our speech.
15 If we wanted to, we could speak in a neutral style.
16 Our language choices happen virtually instantaneously.
17 Some people use certain styles of speech as part of their job.
18 Informal to formal style shifting features a greater use of personal pronouns.
19 Labov·s experiments included asking people to read a text out loud.

Questions 20-25
Classify the following as part of
A Attention Theory
B Communication Accommodation Theory
C Audience Design Model
Write the correct letter, A, B or C, next to Questions 20-25.

20 reading aloud
21 showing you are similar to someone by shifting your speech style to theirs
22 narrating
23 trying to gain your listener's acceptance
24 including a particular sound
25 moving your speech style away from the other person's

Question 26
26 Which of the following is NOT an example of style shift?
A being unaware of your speech style
B changing pronunciation features
C using unusual sentence patterns
D using dialect words in your speech

How do we recognise an individual's personal style? - IELTS
How do we recognise an individual's personal style?

Text: HarperCollins Publishers

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