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The English language contains several words that have semantic equivalence. In other words there are many ways to refer a person, place and object without changing the meaning of things. We can observe lexical variation - differences in words that have equivalent semantic values - by comparing English speaker's choice of words on as location, social group and context of topic changes (Geeraerts, Grondelaers & Bakema, 1994). It is important that we are able to differentiate between synonyms and lexical variation because lexical variation is not necessarily synonymous. Whether or not lexical varieties have the same semantic value is totally dependent on context. Without contextual information words on its own may totally differentiate, for example coke and drink.
Studies in semantic and morphology have attempted to explain lexical variation. In 1949, Kurath published, A Word of Geography of Eastern United States. His works laid the foundation for studies in dialects thus enriching the knowledge on lexical variation in both written and spoken English of the North American Territory. A study of lexical variation across the U.S-Canada border conducted by Scargill and Warkentyne (1972) revealed that there is no region on the border that is Canadian or American. They have the same level of lexical variation than any other place in both countries. However, the variables that Kurath used are now outdated due to changes in technology and socio-economic status. In 1987, Carver conducted a study on lexical variation across United States region. Studies conducted by Eble in 1996 show that there is a great change in American slang, both in college and in school. In essence, lexical variation is a source of cultural identity for many people in the South of the U.S although the effect of social factors on word usage is dynamic.
Objective: To study vocabulary variants with the same meaning depending on its social context
The following study chooses four sets of vocabulary variants that have the same meaning depending on its social contexts, mainly in college. The college related variables are semester and term; class, course and subject; client and customer; and lastly marijuana, pot and weed. All variants are relatable to a college student. Initially, only three main variables were of interest: semester/term; class/course/subject; client and customer. After collecting data and reviewing the results, one of the variants provided an interesting spread of variety: marijuana/pot/weed; at the end was decided to be included into the study.
Sociolinguists have always been interested in lexical variation and several researches have shown that lexical variety can illustrate all sorts of social change. Chamber's 1998 study (English: Canadian Varieties) found that the distinction of Canadian English from all other English varieties was that Canadian English had the most lexical variants. Further research indicates though, the variety in Canadian English will decrease in the future. Chamber's (which one) work is valuable to the possible changes in Canadian English. The distinction of Canadian English has become less apparent and more Americanized, that lexical variation on words like Chesterfield and Couch no longer are markers in Canadian English, as people are much more likely to use the word couch. On the other hand, more recent studies predict the increase of lexical varieties in the future. With the rate of change the world is experiencing, in domains like modern technology, fast food, health issues and the education system, new variables are generated everyday to include the details of our daily life. Boberg (2005) believes that, despite the belief that lexical varieties are no longer widely used, there remains a great deal of lexical diversity in the North American English. Boberg's study demonstrated lexical variation using the North American English Survey, finding numerous lexical variations in Canada (2005). Such variant pairs were: cabin/cottage, parking garage/parkade; internship/stage; convenience/corner store; see-saw/teeter-totter; notebook/scribbler; backpack/book bag/schoolbag.
Chambers prediction on lexical variety of Canadian English was due to the influences of American English. Although there is no denying that Canadian English is greatly influenced by the Americans, it does not rule out the new possible variants that could have been formed over the years, due to the changes in our daily life. First, we are going to investigate whether there is a variation in college-related variables. By studying the four pair of variables that are chosen we can observe whether lexical variation occurs based on the lifestyle of college students.
Semester and term are both used interchangeably when referring to a period which constitutes half of the academic year in many educational institutions. Term on its own refers to any period of time through which something lasts. Semester originally refers to a 6month period, which is why it is also commonly used to indicate a Pregnancy terms such as the tri semester. A full year is equivalent to two semesters, therefore academic institutions refer to their full academic year as two semesters even though one semester may not necessarily total up to 6 months. In Canada, for example, a semester usually lasts from 15-18 weeks. Semester and term reach semantic equivalence in the educational system. However, depending on context one word is preferred over the other (i.e. term paper instead of semester paper).
We will now explore the prestige of the words.
Instructional periods in the area of an individual's academic program are referred to as classes, courses or subjects. The generic word Course is probably the most accurate representation of the three but class and subject both refer to the main definition. On its own, Class refers to a period of time where student come together to receive some sort of instruction. It is important that the context here is made constant for higher level education. In lower level of education, most people would refer to the instructional periods as classes and not courses. The word subject more accurately means a theme or topic of discussion. One can see how class and course also depicts the definition of course.
It is understood that someone who purchases goods or services is referred as a Client or customer. According to context, the questionnaires were catered specifically to signify an exchange of service between self and client or customer. The idea of purchasing goods alone could generate answers like consumer. In the test, it was focused on the definition as a person who receives ones service (See appendix: If I am your waitress you are my ___). There is some sort of benefit to the person who serves; consumer does not necessarily depict that.
Marijuana, pot and weed refer to a narcotic hallucinogen, composed of a plant called Cannabis which that is intended for use of a psychotic drug. Although it is illegal to smoke this in Canada and is a familiar substance among young Canadians. The generic form Marijuana is also referred with other less formal terms (non-scientific), pot and weed.
There is more than two slang terms for marijuana. Other variants that were excluded were hash, joint, Kush. In all cases, they all mean the same thing.
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Altogether 30 participants were randomly selected around Edmonton, Alberta. The group is composed of 15 males and 15 females. Even though the group is a mix of university and working individuals all participants have some sort of college education. This ensures that all participants understand the contextual information provided in the test. All participants are also native speakers of Canadian English.
First, researcher obtained the consent from each participant. Then participant's spent about 10-15minutes with the researcher on a one on one basis. The researcher read all instructions and clarified any possible questions regarding the test before commencing. The test consisted of two sections. The first section required only the participant's verbal response and their answers were written for them. The test was conducted in a game setting (charades/taboo). A series of verbal hints were given to assist the participant into "guessing" the mystery word which is already determined. Researchers read off a page and used a series of hints that were already predetermined (See Appendix). The Questionnaire was divided into two parts. In part A of the questionnaire, choices were given to participants in order to choose the word that they feel they use most in conversations. To avoid different interpretations, participants were allowed to cross our variants that they feel did not belong to the group. Choices were again given in Part B of the questionnaire to assist participants in filling out all the blanks. The fill in the blank sentences were based on conversational dialogues between people with different roles. It composed of formal conversations where there is a power imbalance between the speakers.
All subjects should be treated with confidentiality. All participants should not give their names to protect their privacy. Participants should be assured that the data collected is for research purposes only. Participation will be voluntary.
Variation is evident among all lexical variables, although it is evident that there is a more common term among the four groups. What is important to note here is that compared to all the 20 lexical variables tested the four lexical variables shown in the results produced the highest spread of variation.
Results show that 80% of Canadian speakers chose to say Semester with 20% that use term. 80% chose course and class (13.3%) followed by subject (6.7%).
Client (16.7%) and Customer (83.3%) Marijuana (53.3%) followed by weed (40% and pot (6.7%).
Questionnaire Part B
Control speech data for lexical variation group four was not available but we can see based on casual speech participants were more likely to interchange between pot and weed. This is interesting because initially more than half reported to say Marijuana the most during the verbal response testing.
Results can be influenced by Gender
The use of the term semester was used equally by both sexes. There is variation in usage of the word "term" to indicate semester. About 2 of the males used it while 3 of the females used it. All the female participants preferred to use the word course while 4 of the males used the word "class" and the most common term among the males was course but at 9. 14 males used the word "customer" while 11 of the females used it. Marijuana had more terms on of usage by the males more than the females who did not even know that it is referred to as "pot." This statistics show that lexical variation is higher in males than females. Most females use the commonest terms while males use a variety to refer to the same thing.
Standard and non standard variables
The standard variables were considered because of their common use while the non-standard variables like Teacher were emitted because their use greatly varied. The uses of words like "carbonated drinks, trash and instructor" were not included in the survey because they were inconsistently used.
The preference by many students to use American terms shows that that CE in Alberta is more American than any other part of Canada. This could be attributed to effects of globalization and the way it accelerates the changes in English terms. There has been an assumption that Alberta's economic value and historical relation is what makes us the most American cities in Canada (Boberg, 2005). However, this research has shown that language terms and usage have played a big role towards the Americanization of Canadian cities. The way we use our words can be affected by our educational system. Due to convenience: we label our work (Midterm, Final term, Term papers) we eventually make draw a semantic value with semester.
Limitations: A study conducted in college means that most of the participants are of approximately the same age. They also belong to the same social class thus limiting the range of the study. The other major limitation is the lack of express, independent familiarization with the expressions and what they refer to in the study being conducted. In such studies, the interpretation of word forms can only be supported by the textual context. If there was another form of support, research in lexical variation could have had been taken another trend or level. Lexical variation is subject to change over time because of the increasing diversity in any given social institution or setting. The term that was used yesterday could be very different tomorrow.