Vera Regan studies the way we use language. At TEDxDublin, the sociolinguist shares her research into a few global linguistic tics — including the many ways we “like” in English.
It turns out that how people use filler words like “like” reveals interesting details about how they see and interact with the world, Regan says. She and her team at University College Dublin studied the use of “like” by Polish transnationals in Ireland — people who had relocated to Ireland from Poland — noting that the non-standard use of “like” in English has two popular forms: one, the Irish like, which tacks like to the end or the beginning of a sentence (“I was there, like.” “Like, they came, too.”) and two, the global like, which places “like” in the middle of sentences or as a tag for speech (“I was, like, really tired.” “She was like, ‘Yeah.’”) and is commonly used by American, Canadian, Australian and British English speakers.
The team that found that those who learned English in Poland and then moved to Ireland were often using the Irish like, picking up the patterns of native speakers, despite neither being taught in standard English courses and no word-equivalence existing in Polish. Further, many were using the global like, as well. Why? Regan’s team was determined to find out. “We dug down,” she says, “we did qualitative analysis; we listened to their stories; and we discovered that those people who were using [the global like] were more likely to have their eyes fixed on global worlds. They wanted, perhaps, to move to another [place], an English-speaking country outside, while the [Irish like] users were those who strongly identified with Irish people. They were local-focused, and had long-term plans to stay in Ireland.”
“In either case, whichever they used,” Regan says, “language was reflecting their aspirations, their stances, their attitudes.”
Watch her whole talk to learn more: