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Neds - it’s all in the voice

Last Updated: Thursday, 20 January 2011

robert lawson

A new study has found that you can tell who is a ‘Ned’ just by listening to how they pronounce words.

Scottish-born academic, Dr Robert Lawson, has found that young men who are identified as ‘Neds’ (Scottish working-class adolescent males stereotypically linked to hooliganism and anti-social behaviour, seen as the equivalent of the English ‘Chav’) pronounce some words differently to other young men growing up in Glasgow.

He said: “Although there exists in Scotland a stereotypical idea of the ‘Ned voice’ in shows like Chewin’ the Fat, in reality we know very little about how adolescent males in Glasgow actually sound. This study is one of the first to try and provide a quantitative analysis of adolescent male speech and the results show that young men make fine-grained adjustments to their speech which generally demonstrates alignment with membership of a particular group in the school”.

Dr Lawson, an English Language lecturer at Birmingham City University, carried out the research between 2005 and 2008 in a high school in the south side of Glasgow. In one of the first fully ethnographic studies of linguistic variation in the city, he interviewed 25 students and discovered that those classed as ‘Neds’ pronounced words like man, bar, and cat in a different way to other groups of adolescent males in the school. For the purpose of the study, He categorised the young men in the high school into four groups: Alternative (sometimes identified as ‘Goths’ or ‘Moshers’) Sports (interested in watching and playing sports, wears casual clothes) Schoolies (academically conscientious) and Neds. In his analysis, he found that although adolescents categorised as ‘Neds’ sound different to other young men, other groups of adolescent males also had their own way of speaking.

Dr Lawson said: “Adolescents who were identified as ‘Neds’ in the study pronounced the vowel of man, bar and cat in a markedly different way to other adolescent males in the school. The way they say certain sounds or ‘tokens’ were lowered and fronted compared to the other speakers. However, the results of the study suggest that ‘Neds’ are not the only adolescents in Glasgow to have a particularly characteristic way of speaking.

“Simply listening to the way someone says cat, however, isn’t enough to determine membership of a particular group. Someone’s social identity is constructed through a number of different practices, including dress and other social activities, and speech is only a part of this.”

The other strand of his research was to examine the relationships between language, identity and violence among young men in Glasgow. He found that violence (especially physical violence) was a central issue for all of the adolescent males in the study. Although violence was often viewed negatively by the participants, many considered it to be a part of life in Glasgow. He also found that the participants in the study had different orientations towards violence and anti-social behaviour depending on which of the four groups they were a member.

“We are usually presented with this image of working-class adolescent males, especially ‘neds’, terrorising local areas and engaging in a range of anti-social behaviour. But it’s often the case that such activities are carried out by a very small minority of adolescents. In reality, the participants in the study were concerned about violence and crime in Glasgow and many tried to distance themselves from the stereotypes which surround adolescent male behaviour.”

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