Friday, February 24, 2012

High language competence among young people

The language that adolescents use is often described as sloppy, with an air of 'What's going to happen to all these kids who can't even talk properly?' Yet research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that young people indeed possess a high level of language competence, and also a good ability to adapt to different persons and situations. However, there are also features of their language that do not change according to the situation and that indicate that they have a specific identity style that also affects their communication.

'Young people adjust their language depending on who they are talking to. This difference signals a high level of language competence rather than sloppiness,' says Elin Almér, who has explored differences and similarities in young women's stories depending on the situation in which they are told.

She found that when the young women spoke in a group where the group members were same-age schoolmates, they mainly told anecdotes and stories that exemplify a standpoint. When interviewed by an adult they did not know, they instead tended to tell retellings and narratives. She also found that while the young people used a lot of small words such as 'du vet' and 'sån' (Eng. equivalents 'you know' and 'like') in the group situations, they used hardly any of these expressions when interviewed.

'The differences imply that it is not correct to talk about one single adolescent language, since there are in fact several,' says Almér.

Almér also analysed the young women's stories from the perspective that you can have different approaches depending on how you relate to yourself and others. The approach can also give a good idea about to what extent the individual has reflected on why she believes and thinks the way she does regarding issues that concern her. The way language users relate to and express themselves regarding these aspects can reflect different identity styles. Yet, within this framework, young people clearly use different varieties in different contexts.

'The young women's language use indicated that they had different identity styles, meaning that their different language use had features that didn't change with the context. This is interesting since it implies that we already when starting a conversation have different abilities to position ourselves in relation to others,' says Almér.

The thesis has been successfully defended.

EurekAlert. 2012. "High language competence among young people". EurekAlert. Posted: February 6, 2012. Available online:

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