In Labov's 1966 study on English in New York City, what conclusion can be drawn from his research?

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obrienk4 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Labov is one of the most famous and notable sociolinguists. In particular, he has focused his research on dialects in the US. He was a pioneer of the field in many ways.

One of his most well known studies is the one he conducted in 1966 on the socioeconomic differences of speech patterns in New York City. The study was published as The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1966. 2006. Second edition: Cambridge/Cambridge U. Press.

In his study, Labov conducted primary research in three NYC department stores: Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, and S. Klein. Saks is the most expensive, Macy's is more middle-class, and S. Klein is the least expensive and more working-class.

Labov created a survey to elicit certain responses and words so that he could analyze the speech of the employees of these three different stores. In particular, he was focused on the pronunciation of the /r/.

Conclusion drawn: What he found was that speech, and specifically the pronunciation of the /r/, changed according to socioeconomic class. In wealthier classes, i.e. those at Saks, the /r/ was pronounced more frequently, whereas in more working-classes, i.e. those at S. Klein, the /r/ was pronounced less.

Labov wrote in his study that,

"...we may conclude that (r) stratification is an integral part of the linguistic structure of the New York City speech community."

In other words, a person's social stratification can be reasonably determined according to his or speech patterns in New York City according to the pronunciation of the /r/.

In addition, Labov's methods of study led to new ways of studying linguistics.