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‘Ey, wait, wait, gully!’ Style, stance and the social meaning of attention signals in East London adolescent speech

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2021

Department of EnglishUniversity of SuffolkIpswich IP4 1QJ


Recent accounts of discourse-pragmatic (DP) variation have demonstrated that these features can acquire social indexical meaning. However, in comparison to other linguistic variables, DP features remain underexplored and third-wave perspectives on the topic are limited. In this article, I analyse the distribution, function and social meaning of the ‘attention signals’ – those features which fulfil the explicit function of eliciting the attention of an individual – in just over 35 hours of self-recordings of 25 adolescents collected during a year-long sociolinguistic ethnography of an East London youth group. This leads me to identify an innovative attention signal – ey. Distributional analyses of this feature show that ey is associated with a particular Community of Practice, the self-defined and exclusively male ‘gully’. By examining the discourse junctures at which ey occurs, I argue that this attention signal is most frequently used by speakers to deploy a ‘dominant’ stance. For gully members, this feature is particularly useful as an interpersonal device, where it is used to manage ingroup/outgroup boundaries. Concluding, I link the use of ey and the gully identity to language, ethnicity and masculinity in East London.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant no. 1645508). I am extremely grateful to the reviewers and editors of ELL who provided detailed and incisive comments on earlier versions of this article. A special thanks also to the audience of UKLVC12 for their helpful remarks. I am indebted to the young people and staff at Lakeside, without whom this research would not be possible. I alone am responsible for any remaining errors or shortcomings.


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