English Language
Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study

Peter Trudgill- Norwich Study

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

Exploring Language Variation and Social Class: Peter Trudgill's Insight from Norwich

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, sociolinguist Peter Trudgill embarked on a significant investigation to unravel the correlation between social class and language usage. His hometown of Norwich served as the backdrop for this study, offering a unique perspective on how social factors influence language.

Trudgill's research gained recognition in the field of sociolinguistics, with the potential to apply his theory to various communities beyond Norwich.

In this article, we will delve into Trudgill's objectives, approach, findings, and conclusions in his theory of language variation, social class, and the concept of speech consciousness.

Local Study by Peter Trudgill: Norwich, Pixabay

Trudgill's Theory of Language Variations: Accents and Dialects

Being a native of Norwich, Trudgill possessed an in-depth understanding of the city's accents and dialects, and was well-connected to various social groups. It's no surprise that he chose his hometown as the focal point of his investigation, as being familiar with the subject matter facilitates the research process.

Trudgill's primary aim was to examine the impact of social factors on individuals' speech in Norwich. Specific emphasis was placed on social class, gender, and speech consciousness (i.e., whether people felt judged while speaking).

The crux of Trudgill's theory suggests that individuals from higher social classes tend to use more standard forms of language. In simpler terms, the higher the social class, the more closely their speech resembles prestigious varieties of language.

For instance, in English, Standard British English is considered a prestigious variety. Someone using Received Pronunciation would be speaking like the Queen.

Moreover, Trudgill asserted that individuals who are more conscious of their speech would adjust their language usage accordingly. This can be observed in formal situations, such as during a presentation, where people tend to employ more formal language.

American linguist William Labov, known for his pioneering work in variationist sociolinguistics, conducted a study on overt and covert prestige. This study looked at how different social classes use language on a spectrum, from non-standard English to more prestigious forms. Trudgill was familiar with this concept and its potential impact on his research.

Overt prestige refers to the use of more standard forms of language, which is associated with higher social status and classes. On the other hand, covert prestige pertains to non-standard and vernacular forms of language that are linked to community identity.

Labov's Study and its Influence

Labov's study on overt and covert prestige had a bearing on Trudgill's investigation, evident in how he controlled for these factors. In 1966, Labov conducted his study in a New York department store, examining the pronunciation of the rhotic /r/ sound in words used by sales assistants from three different department stores with varying levels of prestige - Saks Fifth Ave (high prestige), Macy's (mid prestige), and S. Klein (low prestige).

The study revealed that sales assistants from more prestigious stores pronounced the /r/ sound more precisely compared to those from less prestigious stores. This illustrates how standard forms of language are perceived as more socially acceptable, leading to higher overt prestige. This also aligns with Trudgill's theory of speech consciousness, as individuals from lower social classes may feel more scrutinized and adapt their speech accordingly.

In conclusion, Trudgill's study in Norwich highlights the connection between social class and language usage, particularly in terms of prestigious varieties and speech consciousness. This research has paved the way for future studies on the impact of social factors on language, extending beyond the confines of Norwich.

Trudgill's Methodology

In order to collect data on the relationship between social class and language, Peter Trudgill developed an index to measure social class based on factors such as occupation, education, location, housing type, and income. After establishing this index, Trudgill randomly selected 60 participants from the electoral register of Norwich, ensuring a diverse representation of various areas in the city.

The Impact of Social Class on Language Use: A Case Study in Norwich by Peter Trudgill

Peter Trudgill, a renowned sociolinguist, conducted a study in Norwich to investigate the relationship between social class and language use. He interviewed participants and recorded information about their jobs, education, and income in order to analyze any correlations between these factors and the use of standard or non-standard language.

Trudgill meticulously noted each instance of the linguistic variables he was observing and analyzed the data alongside his social class index. To ensure a balanced and reliable study, he created various scenarios of different levels of formality and paid attention to speech patterns. This included using interview-style questioning, asking participants to read passages of text, and requesting them to tell a funny anecdote.

Examining Key Variables in the Norwich Study

Rather than analyzing all linguistic features, Trudgill focused on specific variables to track changes across different social classes and identify potential reasons for speech differences. Two key variables he examined were subject-verb agreement with third-person singular pronouns and the pronunciation of words ending in -ing.

Findings of the Norwich Study

Based on his social class index, Trudgill divided participants into five categories: middle middle class (MMC), lower middle class (LMC), upper working class (UWC), middle working class (MWC), and lower working class (LWC). His analysis of data across all scenarios revealed that individuals from lower social classes used significantly more non-standard forms of English, while those from higher classes tended to speak closer to prestigious varieties.

In addition, Trudgill observed that individuals were more likely to use standard language forms in situations where they felt more scrutinized, such as during interviews. However, they were more likely to use non-standard English when telling funny stories. This further highlights the impact of social class on language use in different contexts.

The Norwich study also revealed an interesting gender divide, with men, regardless of their social class, more likely to use non-standard forms of English compared to women.

To sum up his findings on gender, Trudgill stated, "One reason for this is that working-class speech has favorable connotations for male speakers." This reflects traditional gender roles in society, where men are praised for using non-standard language, while women are expected to speak in a more "proper" manner.

However, it is important to note that societal attitudes have shifted since the time of Trudgill's study, and the influence of traditional gender roles may not be as prominent today. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that factors such as gender can still play a significant role in the relationship between social class and language.

The Norwich Study Sheds Light on Gender Roles and Traditional Occupations in Society

The results of the Norwich Study not only reveal the impact of social class on language use but also highlight the influence of traditional gender roles in society, particularly in terms of occupations. While Peter Trudgill's focus was not specifically on gender, the societal impact of gender on language use was apparent in the study, making it a secondary factor.

Trudgill's study has significantly influenced subsequent sociolinguistic investigations, including the Belton High study conducted by Penelope Eckert from 1989-2000. However, it is not without its criticisms.

Criticisms of the Norwich Study and the Importance of Active Language Selection

One of the major criticisms of the Norwich Study is that it did not fully credit the informants. Trudgill overlooked the fact that the speakers may have intentionally selected certain language features to create a sense of identity and belonging within their communities.

In more recent sociolinguistic research, there has been a greater emphasis on the active use and adoption of different language features by speakers. The Belton High study, for example, found that speakers from different social classes utilized language variation as a social practice to fulfill societal functions and construct social meaning.

While the English language offers a rich and diverse resource for individuals to use for various purposes, Trudgill's study does not acknowledge the potential active selection of language features.

Key Takeaways from Peter Trudgill's Norwich Study

  • Trudgill's study focused on the effects of social class on language use, particularly in the Norwich region.
  • By analyzing data across various scenarios, he found that lower social classes tend to use more non-standard forms of English while higher social classes lean towards prestigious varieties.
  • Individuals were more likely to use standard language in more formal situations, but non-standard language when telling funny stories.
  • Gender roles also play a significant role in language use, with men more likely to use non-standard forms of English compared to women, reflecting traditional gender roles in society.
  • The study has been criticized for not acknowledging the active selection of language features by speakers in their social identities.
  • Despite its flaws, Trudgill's study has influenced subsequent sociolinguistic research and serves as a reminder of the impact of factors such as social class and gender on language use.

The Impact of Social Factors on Language Use: A Study by Peter Trudgill

In a 1972 study, linguist Peter Trudgill explored the relationship between social factors and language use. His research focused on the speech patterns of individuals from different social classes in the city of Norwich.

Trudgill hypothesized that individuals from higher social classes would use language forms closer to the prestigious varieties of English. To test this theory, he examined linguistic variables, such as the pronunciation of -ing words, and their correlation with social class and attention to speech.

Trudgill's study revealed that individuals from lower social classes tend to use non-standard forms of language. Additionally, he found that men are more likely to use non-standard language forms than women, regardless of their social class.


  • A. Mooney et al. Language, Society & Power: An Introduction. 2011.
  • P. Trudgill. Sex, Covert Prestige and Linguistic Change in the Urban British English of Norwich. 1972.
  • J. Snell. Social Class and Language. 2014.

Peter Trudgill's Norwich Study

What was the focus of Trudgill's study?

Trudgill focused on the relationship between gender and social class on language use, specifically the pronunciation of certain linguistic variables.

What were the findings of the study?

Trudgill's study revealed a correlation between social class and language use, with individuals from higher social classes using forms closer to prestigious English.

According to Trudgill's study, what is the difference between men's and women's language?

Men tend to use more non-standard language forms and pronunciation, regardless of their social class.

What two variables did Trudgill observe in his study?

  • The pronunciation of the -ing ending of words
  • Subject-verb agreement in third-person singulars (e.g. "She say" vs "She says")

What is covert prestige in the English language?

Covert prestige is the use of non-standard and vernacular forms of language, often associated with a particular community or identity.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime