WP235 Variation and identity: Stormzy’s stylistic use of word-final schwa

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Despite recent interest in Multicultural London English, little qualitative research has been carried out into the use of its features in the light of sociolinguistic theories of identity creation. This dissertation addresses the gap by focusing on six interviews with Stormzy, a grime rapper from South London and his use of an under-studied allophonic variant of word-final schwa. I show that this variant can be characterised phonetically by lowering, backing and increased duration in comparison with ‘standard’ [?]. I also establish that Stormzy’s use of the variant shifts remarkably across the six interviews, and that this cannot be fully explained by linguistic constraints alone. Drawing on recent variationist theories which regard linguistic features as potential resources in the construction of social identities, I analyse moments in discourse when both the variant and its absence are salient. I argue that one possible interpretation links the variant to grime music and specific confrontational qualities associated with it, and that Stormzy accesses these indexical and iconised links to make authenticating moves at key moments of discourse. I further argue that the absence of the variant goes some way towards constructing a more emotionally sincere and less aggressive presentation of self.