Suburban Swedish Maturing, 2014

Examining variation and perceptions among adult speakers of
Swedish contemporary urban vernacular
Master's Thesis, Stockholm University, Supervisor: Dr. Kari Fraurud

Abstract  |  Up to now, adolescent speakers have been the primary focus when researching contemporary variation in the language of Sweden’s urban areas. This study contributes to the growing body of research on the topic by examining and reporting on adult speakers of what is here referred to as förortssvenska(English: Suburban Swedish). This study focuses specifically on formal speech registers of eight young working-class men from Stockholm along with the perception and reception of their speech by two independent native-listener groups. 

     The paper is the first to present quantifiable data on what has been previously referred to as a “staccato” rhythm in Suburban Swedish. Strong correlations are shown between prosodic rhythm as measured by the normalized pairwise variability index (nPVI) and speech speed to mean listener attitudes (R2=0.9). A strong correlation is also shown for nPVI’s influence on mean listener-projected ethnicity (R2=0.8). Alongside variation in rhythm, we also see phonemic variation that trends toward specific indexes of social identity as revealed by speaker interviews and native-listener assessments. Alongside linguistic variation among speakers, there is also significant variation within speaker peer groups. 

     In addition to identifying specific linguistic features, the study examines social mechanisms revealed in interviews with and qualitative observations of speaker and listener participants. In exploratory fashion, ideas on variation, register ranges, meta-pragmatic stereotyping, and ethnic boundary-making are presented to make a case for treating contemporary urban variation in Swedish as a habitual semiotic extension of speaker identity. Indicators that contemporary urban variation in Swedish may be heading in the direction of sociolectal entrenchment are also discussed.