- Teen talk. The language of adolescents by Sali A. Tagliamonte
Teen talk. The language of adolescents is a new addition to Sali A. Tagliamonte's broad-ranging work in variationist sociolinguistics. In it, she offers a comprehensive account of features associated with and found in teenage speech and situates them more generally within variationist models of language change. According to the author, "Teen language is one of the most creative forms of talk and a key source of what is coming in the future of English." (p. 40). Observations of and musings on teenage speech are common – at dinner tables, in the mainstream media, as well as in academic literature. This book addresses questions raised in all these contexts through careful, data-driven analyses, most of which come from four main corpora of Toronto English collected by Tagliamonte and her team of associates and students. These corpora span the late 1990s through 2010, although throughout, her analyses compare and contextualize results from other contemporary and historical studies. The author attends to variation in both vernacular speech and several written registers of language including computer-mediated communication such as texting (SMS), instant messaging and email. Through this work, she also addresses larger popular claims about the impact of technology on language as part of her treatment of the role of adolescents in language change at the turn of the 21st century.
Teen talk focuses on a number of frequent features, characteristic of the teenaged speakers in Tagliamonte's corpora, and her self-stated goal "is to explore the origin, pathways and impacts" of words and collocations in both teenage speech and English more generally (p. 40). The primary theoretical question of Teen talk is the extent to which its analyses support Labov's (2001) incrementation model of language change. In the book, speakers' rates of use of incoming forms increase through childhood and youth until they stabilize in early adulthood and remain constant (p. 4). What is the contribution of younger speakers to language change? As Tagliamonte and other scholars underscore, adolescence is a time for innovation and development. Youth distinguish themselves from previous generations, creating different styles of presenting themselves, [End Page 267] including, of course, their language. In fact, as the author notes, change cannot be attributable to teenagers' speech alone. She often quotes older speakers using the innovative forms they themselves disparage (see p. 34 and p. 256, for instance).
The first three chapters of Teen talk establish questions, and describe methods and corpora, integrating an introduction to the language of adolescents with a presentation of methods in language variation and change entirely suitable for non-experts. Analyses of external and internal constraints on variation are grounded in the standard methods, principles and perspectives of variationist sociolinguistics. These chapters also provide context for the study of teen language and compare previous work on this topic. Tagliamonte focuses on changes in grammatical, discourse-pragmatic and lexical variables in contemporary English. In order to ground this work, she outlines patterns and principles of grammatical and lexical change.
The seven chapters that follow offer high-resolution snapshots of these features, contextualizing their use historically, presenting their variable context and the linguistic and social factors contributing to their use in a variety of corpora (including data from contemporary television scripts). The author chooses features based in part on her driving "principle of curiosity" (p. 34), as well as their rise in frequency in her corpora. Some are well-documented features of contemporary English such as quotatives (chapter 4), intensifiers (chapter 5) and general extenders (chapter 7), while other lexical items and set collocations are heretofore less investigated but potentially relevant to language change: sentence starters (chapter 6), generic stuff (chapter 8) and just (chapter 9). Chapter 10 is devoted to a discussion of adjectives, focusing on the rise in prominence of weird at the expense of its synonyms. In each case, Tagliamonte shows the trajectory of the feature from its first appearances outlining changes in its meaning, use and frequency with distributional analyses of social (speaker...