Volume 34, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0172-8865
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9730
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The English quotative system (featuring forms such as say, think, zero, go, all and be like used in direct speech reproduction and thought) has been the subject of vigorous, in-depth sociolinguistic investigation, particularly in the past two decades. However, with the notable exception of Winter’s (2002) study of quotative be like in the speech of Melbourne adolescents, the Australian English quotative system remains virtually uncharted. I address this gap in the literature by offering a quantitative sociolinguistic analysis of the quotative system of Perth English, investigating to what extent linguistic (grammatical person, content of quote and tense) and social (age and sex) variables are implicated in the use of be like. My results stem from 32.5 hours (325 096 words) of spontaneous narratives of personal experience recorded with 47 speakers in Perth in 2011 and evince an overwhelming increase in the use of be like particularly amongst the youngest speakers — as compared to Winter’s (2002) findings for Melbourne in the late 1990s. Multivariate analysis using Goldvarb X (Sankoff, Tagliamonte and Smith 2005) indicates that — although some constraints like the favouring effect of first person subjects behave similarly across the generations and are in line with other Englishes — Australian be like is subject to different constraints across generations of young speakers. Pre-adolescent and adolescent girls are active agents of language change by upping be like’s frequency and its use with the historical present in narratives. Young adults are steady users of be like in historical present contexts but the significant effect of sex has reversed: it is young male adults — rather than women — who favour be like in this cohort. The findings are in line with trends noted in the literature on English quotation elsewhere and point once again to the irrevocable link between system-internal forces and social factors as speakers move through life.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Australian English; be like; Perth; quotatives
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