Dr. Suzanne Wagner, Michigan State University – Non-Standard Speech and Higher Education

Feb 22, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Suzanne Wagner of Michigan State University explores the connection between the use of non-standard English and choices about higher education.

Suzanne Wagner an assistant professor of linguistics at Michigan State University where her research is primarily focused on the field of sociolinguistics. Her work in the MSU Sociolinguistics Lab examines the extent to which individuals do or do not participate in ongoing community linguistic change across their lifespan. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

About Dr. Wagner

Dr. Suzanne Wagner – Non-Standard Speech and Higher Education

Although the English language has undergone many changes through the centuries, some of its features have actually stayed the same. One of these is the pronunciation of a final –ing ending as –in’, as in Dunkin’ Donuts or finger-lickin’ good. The –in pronunciation has existed in the language since Old English, even though it is popularly reviled as “g-dropping”.
Studies show that g-dropping is most frequent in the speech of the least educated. Listeners hear it as low-class and lazy. Why do unpopular linguistic phenomena like g-dropping survive? And now that a college education is becoming the norm in America, does this mean the end for g-dropping?
I’ve been recording informal interviews with some young American women since they were in high school. They’re now in their mid-twenties. They grew up in a neighborhood where g-dropping is very common. All of these women went to college, but none of them stopped g-dropping. The women who went to prestigious colleges that draw students from across the nation did decrease their use of -in. But the women who went to local colleges continued to use the –in pronunciation at a high rate. This effect of college choice was even stronger than the effect of the women’s social class background.

Mixing with students from all over America increases the social pressure to use more standard speech. The social pressure isn’t as strong at a local college, even though you're getting the same academic qualification. So g-dropping probably isn’t going to go away, even though the nation is becoming more educated. And that’s because g-dropping, like double negation and many other features of non-standard speech, is also a marker of local identity, sincerity and being down to earth.