Teens Headed To College Pressured To Speak More ‘Properly’ Than Those Who Stay Home

Somewhere between freshmen and senior year, teens are expected to start acting — somewhat — like adults. As adolescents transition into adulthood, there is added pressure to meet adult expectations in many areas. One such area is speech.

A new study by a Michigan State University researcher asserts that teens are pressured to speak ‘properly,’ and that college and post-high school ambition play a huge role in teens’ speech progression.

Suzanna Evans Wagner, assistant professor of linguistics in the College of Arts and Letter, has reportedly “proven for the first time that language changes with age in addition to community pressures.”

It seems as if in high school, students who want to go to a good college are the ones who early on begin to dial back their use of nonstandard language,” Wagner said. “And the ones who have no aspirations to leave their local community, or who have no particular aspirations to raise their social class, are the people who have no obvious social incentives to change the way they speak.”

Wagner’s study was published in the journal Language Variation and Change and is based on the language trends of a group of teenaged females, ages 16-19 years old. Wagner measured how often they used “ing” vs. “in” in words such as “runnin” vs. “running” from their high school senior year into their college freshman year.

Wagner found the students who attended or planned to attend a national research institution increased their use of the more socially acceptable “ing” pronunciation — rather than “in” — the most. Those who attended a community college, a liberal arts college or a regional small school showed only a slight increase in the use of “ing,” if at all.

The researcher believes that students who attend major research institutions are more likely to find a speech pattern that is socially acceptable. They want their speech to fit in with others, rather than stand out as a regional dialect. However, notes Wagner, in a regional or a two-year college, most students are drawn from the local area and “often feel pressured to sound, and remain, local.”

“When you track people across their lives ­- even if it’s only a short space in between — as long as that time frame involves a lot of upheaval, it seems you really can see linguistic change,” she said.

When you moved away from home did your speech change?

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