Posted: March 23rd, 2023

The Sociolinguistic Distribution and Attitudes


The research will accomplish three tasks. The consideration of gender and the actual distribution of like in the collection of informal American English, compare the results of the study with the gender and perceived age distribution as verified by the questionnaire outcome and the study of matched-guise as well as analyzing the social, linguistic stereotypes connected with the use of the word. It is evident that the word like is prevalent with the younger generation compared to older people. However, young women use the word frequently, considering the perceived age and distribution of the gender. It is easier to guess the user of the word like in the younger generation, than it would be for the older generation in a matched guise study. In addition, when using solidarity-based criteria, the like guises rates are more positive than in status-based criteria.
KEYWORDS: Like, age, gender, quotatives, discourse makers, attitudes.

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper


The word like is used as an example in two sentences in the second edition of Oxford English

Dictionary, but depicts no meaning in interjection or expletive.
a. “And there were like people blocking, you know?”
b. “Maya’s like, ‘come over here, and be with me and Brett.’ ”

The two uses of like contain precise functions that structure and organize discourse. The two functions of like in the English language are for the non-contrastive focus to highlight an example and as a quotative, citation applied in reported speech. The phenomenon is not limited to English, but it is also found in Swedish where their focus ba occurs in both quotative functions and both focuser.

The Difference Between Focuser like and Quotative like

Schiffrin (1986) avers that the word like in both contexts may have a relation, but the functions are different. It is a pragmatic or discourse marker akin to you know or well. However, those markers are optional and have little meaning, which cannot be stated lexically, and lacks clear grammatical functions. It can serve other purposes, including initiating, sustaining, and repairing discourse to denote new and old information in informal speech. The focuser like plays an important role as a reliable marker of information and focus in English language (taking the form be+like). Quotative like have more specific meaning and clear grammatical function. In fact, like demonstrates how a lexical item (focuser like) acquires a new status of a grammatical form (quotative like), an excellent example of grammaticalization. The two uses of like are notable, according to where like occurs. There are six different positions where focuser like can occur.

Save Time On Research and Writing
Hire a Pro to Write You a 100% Plagiarism-Free Paper.
Get My Paper
  1. Before a noun phrase such as “Are we required to read like all the chapters covered before our final exam?”
  2. Before an adjective phrase or adjective; for instance, “well, it is not like wonderful, but it is alright.”
  3. Before an adverb phrase, an adverb or prepositional phrase that functions like an adverb; for example, “ You, get inside the car, like now.”
  4. Before a verb phrase such as “You have to like go out and drive my car after supper.”
  5. Before a subordinate clause as indicated in, “she was explaining like what others do when they go into the Metro.”
  6. Before an entire sentence, such as “Like what do you insinuate?”

However, it is not possible for the focuser like to occur in all those six possibilities. It only occurs when linguistic item like to come before a new information within a discourse. In addition, the focus is prevalent in numerical expressions, such as “I am like seven feet tall.”

Quotative like is simpler in function and position and occur in two related positions.

  1. Itis used in an internaldialogue in firstperson, such as “I am like; ‘I understand this puzzle. I got an A last time.
  2. During a third-person instance within a possible, directquotation. “My motherwas persistently down on me. It is like, ‘Find a job.’”

Previous Research on the Sociolinguistic Distribution of and Attitudes toward like

Previous research indicates that there are conspicuous exceptions for both functions of like. However, many functions in sociolinguistic distribution depend on speculations and implementation of simple frequency counts. The scholars who mention about age aver that younger people use the functions of like more than the older generation. According to Tannen (1986), like is usually used in casual speech by teenagers in middle class American. In fact, recordings and observation in media sources indicate that both functions of like come from young people. Ferrara and Bell (1995) in their quantitative study of personal experience demonstrate that the quotative like and the quoted speech are popular with younger speakers. However, when it comes to gender, there is little consensus when considering quotative function of like. Romaine and Lange (1991) aver that most of the utterances about 83% come from the women. Ferrara and Bell (1995) confirm that the popularity of the function like was higher for women in 1990, but between 1992 and 1994, the frequency was almost equal for men and women. Still, Tagliamonte and Hudson (1999) confirm that in Canadian English, the function is used equally by both sexes while in Britain women commonly use it. On the contrary, Blyth, Recktenwald, and Wang (1990) indicate that men frequently use the function while Dougherty and Strassel (1998) find that despite the findings, there is a common perception that the use of like is common among women.

These contradictory findings regarding gender distribution of like corresponds with findings concerning you know and other discourse markers branded as ‘hedges’ by early scholars of discourse analyses and pragmatic (Lakoff 1975; Brown and Levinson, 1978). During that time, the markers were considered uncertain since the speakers were not sure of the facts involved. Hence, they were believed to depict more characteristics of the women’s language. In fact, there is no contrast found in gender distribution for the markers, including, you know, to depict the lack of self-confidence or to express uncertainty. Therefore, earlier findings might be attributed to the occurrence of negative stereotypes of women. However, the role played by those findings in providing non-quantitative and conflicting use of like is yet to be unveiled.

In fact, the research done on attitude towards like is less than what has been done on its sociolinguistic distribution. In their quantitative studies of attitudes, Dougherty and Strassel (1998) indicate that the frequent users of like are less well educated and younger individuals. On the other hand, Schourup (1985) contends that like is usually indicative of meaningless or careless speech and distinguishes the usages of the word like from; for instance, the verb ‘to like’ by denoting the former as ‘nonstandard.’

The only mention of discourse markers connected to positive evaluations is done by Briton (1996) and claims that if the omission of markers takes place, then the discourse is grammatically acceptable and would be considered awkward, disjointed, unnatural, impolite, dogmatic, or unfriendly. There is no study of like that use any of the speech techniques in an evaluation that are universal in language attitude research; for instance, matched guise technique or a modification of it. The technique is used to investigate varying attitudes in two languages, but frequently it is used to measure differing attitudes in a single language. Originally, the procedure included the reading of a passage on a tape by the same speaker in different varieties while the informants would listen having been told that the speaker is different, and then they would assess each guise considering the adjective pairs.

Study 1: Actual Sociolinguistic of like

The sample

To study sociolinguistic distribution, data were taken from 30 speakers stratified by gender, age, and from the middle class to upper-class socioeconomic background. During interviews, the age groups were distributed equally (ages 14-29, 30-49, and 50-69) and the conversation lasted for half an hour. The outcome had 671 like occurrences that were analyzed according to gender and the speaker’s age. 95 occurrences were examples of quotative like while 576 were from focuser like.


Variations analysis call for clarification of a closed set of variants associated with classification factors and statistical comparison, which the variant co-occurs with. An attempt was made to come up with a system to determine all the possible environments where quotative like and focuser like could occur. Each occurrence of focuser like or quotative like was determined and counted, and the information collapsed into a single figure. The ratio was calculated for each speaker. Then ANOVA would then be performed to determine the statistical significance of age and gender.

Results: Focuser Like

Focuser like is found in all possible contexts mentioned by Underhill. Seven speakers failed to use it, while two used it more than a hundred times. The number the focuser is likely to occur depends on the length of the conversation. The variations across age and gender of the speaker demonstrate that the youngest group uses the focuser more frequently than middle age and old age group. The multivariate analyses of variance indicate that there are 4 degrees of freedom and an f-value of .05.

Results: Quotative like

In the data, quotative like is frequently found as an internal thought not a loudly spoken marker. It occurs less frequently compared to focuser like. Sixteen speakers out of 30 do not use it at all while only four speakers use it once. Table 1 shows that the maximum number used by one speaker is 19 times, and its variation is age dependent. In addition, age distinction is in the overall quoted speech and the average number the quotative like is used. Between 14-29 years quotative is used 5.8 times, 30-49, 0.9 times and 50-69, 0 times. Study 2: Perceived Sociolinguistic Distribution of like
Table 1

Age of Speaker Mean number of occurrences of quoted speech or thought overall Mean number of occurrences of quotative like  
14-29 12.4 5.8  
30-49 10.3 0.9  
50-69 4.3 0  



The sample and questionnaire

Two age groups 18-30 and 45-60 of both genders were asked to comment on a questionnaire about the usage of like with young and older people, men, or women, and indicate their general feeling.


All the 40 participants agreed with linguists that younger people use like more often than older people. In addition, their perception of gender distribution indicated than women use the word more than men. A summary of the findings is in Table 2. The majority of individuals from this group indicated that they disliked the use of the word since it interferes with the communication and the speaker’s message as well as it makes people sound lazy and uneducated.

Table 2: Perceived effects of gender

  Men use it

more often

Women use it

More often

Both groups use it equally often
Younger men 1 8 1
Younger women 0 9 1
Older men 0 6 4
Older women 0 10 0



Study 3: Sociolinguistic Stereotypes Associated with like

The tape and the matched guise task

The task was carried out to obtain information concerning stereotypes associated with the use of like. Forty informants participated by filling the questionnaires in study 2. The speech in study 1 was used by four speakers, 17 year old male, 19 years old female, 34 years old male, and 33years old female, who were frequent users of focuser like and quotative like. Separate guises were used for each speaker and a monologue of 12 to 15 minutes. Focuser like was removed from the speech since quotative was impossible to remove. To provide age-neutral guises was not easy, but all the direct references that could reveal their age were removed. Informants were informed that all the recordings were from different people. They were asked to evaluate for bipolar traits by assigning a scale of one to five.

Results: Perceived age speaker

The findings indicated that younger people use like more frequently than the older people. Those findings in the matched guise test independently confirmed Study 2 findings. It is evident that 22.1 was the mean of perceived age for like guises, 24.7 was the mean for non-like guises, 24.1 was perceived age of older speakers with like guises, and 29.2 was the non-like guises for older speakers. For younger speakers, there was no difference perceived, however, like vs. non-like guises are insignificant.

Results: Individual sociolinguistic stereotypes

Use of like is associated with the positive perception of the speaker. Informants perceive like guises as more cheerful, attractive, and successful as indicated in table 3. The effect of like is significant with .05 f-value in the repeated measure of ANOVA. When like is used by younger speaker, they appear more interesting, but when like is used by older people they appear less interesting as indicated in Table 3.

Table 3: Individual Sociolinguistic Stereotypes

College New students d f  
The use of like is associated with the speaker seeming MORE:      












The use of like is associated with the speaker seeming LESS:






   n. s

n. s







Discussion and Direction for Further Research

The study indicates that younger people use like more than older people do. In addition, men use quotative like and focuser like more regularly than women. However, the difference is statistically insignificant. The perception of like usage is different among the informants. They believe that women use more like than men, which is a contradiction of Study 1 findings. How the informants guess the speaker’s age shows how impressions are present consciously and subconsciously. Older informants believe that they personally do not use the function like unless they are women. In the younger generation, use of like makes the speaker appear successful, attractive, friendly, and cheerful. However, it is linked to individuals who are less intelligent, interesting, and educated. There is a research gap because it is not possible at the present time to determine whether informants are correct about their perspective on the origin of like. Therefore, a more historical and geographical dialectology standpoint provides future research areas.



Blyth, C., Recktenwald, S. and Wang, J. (1990). I’m like, ‘say what?!: A new quotative in America Oral narrative. American Speech 65: 215-227.

Briton, L. (1996). Pragmatic Markers inEnglish: Grammaticalization and Discourse Functions. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Brown, P., and Levinson, S. (1978). Universals in language usage: Politeness phenomena. In Esther N. Goody (ed.) Questions and Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 56-289.

Dougherty, K. & Strassel, S. (1998) a NEW Look at Variation in and perception of American English quotatives. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 27, Athens, Georgia.

Ferrara, K. and Bell, B. (1995). Sociolinguistic variations and discourse function of constructed dialogue introducers: The case of be+like. America Speech 70: 265-290.

Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and Woman Place. New York: Harper Colophon.

Romaine, S and Lange, D. (1991). The use of ‘like’ in dialogue. Journal of Pragmatics 23: 365-393.

Schiffrin, D. (1986). Functions of and in discourse. Journal of Pragmatic 10:41-66.

Schourup, L. (1985). Common Discourse Particles in English Conversation. NEW York: Garland Publishing.

Tagliamonte, S. and Hudson, R. (1999). Be like et al. behold America: The qoutative system in British and Canada youth. Journal of Sociolinguistic 3: 147-172.

Tannen, D. (1986). Introducing constracted dialogue in Greek and American conversational and literary narrative. In Florian Coulmas (ed.) Direct and Indirect Speech. Berlin, New York, Amstendam: de Gruyter. 311-332.


Expert paper writers are just a few clicks away

Place an order in 3 easy steps. Takes less than 5 mins.

Calculate the price of your order

You will get a personal manager and a discount.
We'll send you the first draft for approval by at
Total price:
error: Content is protected !!
Open chat
Order through WhatsApp!
You Can Now Place your Order through WhatsApp


Order your essay today and save 15% with the discount code 2023DISCOUNT