UrBEn-ID was a two year project undertaken at Manchester Metropolitan University to explore the role of language in the construction, negotiation and performance of identities by young people growing up in Manchester’s inner city.
Narratives circulating recently in British politics and in the mainstream media have tended to stigmatise some young people, particularly in England’s urban centres, as ‘uneducated’ or ‘unemployable’ because of how they sound when they talk. How do these discourses come about, and are they necessarily accurate? Could there be other ways of talking about the language practices of young people? These are some of the questions that this project has been addressing as it investigates how language and narratives about language are generated in the everyday lives of young people in Manchester, a major city in the north west of England.
Taking an ethnographic approach, this project explored the language of young people (aged 14-16) as they interact with their peers and with adults in different contexts. Working with pupils who have been excluded from mainstream education as well as with pupils in a mainstream inner city high school, the project will provide a description of youth language forms, sounds and meaning-making devices in Manchester in the early part of the 21st century. Having been relatively neglected by linguists in the past, this will not only put Manchester squarely on the sociolinguistic map, it will also provide a resource for potential employers, policy-makers and practitioners involved in youth work and education.
From an academic perspective the project draws on, and will in time inform, areas such as linguistic ethnography, interactional sociolinguistics, variationist sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, (socio)phonetics, dialectology, and pragmatics.
The project ran from July 2014 to JUly 2016 and was funded by The Leverhulme Trust – Research Project Grant: Expressing inner-city youth identity through multicultural Urban British English. It was highlighted in the Leverhulme Trust newsletter.
As of Autumn/winter 2016/2017 we are busy analysing data and writing about what it all means!