The “Fourth Floor” is a reference to a very well-known study in the field of linguistics, one of the earliest to study language “in the wild” and its differences with regard to social class. The 1966 study was conducted by William Labov, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, who went to New York to study how people say the letter “r.” He found that many people of the working class frequently deleted the letter “r” in words like “car” and “birth.” He wanted to see if speakers from different classes – working, middle and upper – changed their pronunciation of “r” (whether it was there or it wasn’t) in similar ways. Researchers went to three different department stores of varying expense — S. Klein for the working class, Macy’s for the middle class, and Saks for the upper class — and asked salespeople about a product they knew was on the fourth floor. What they found was that salespeople in S. Klein tended to delete both of their “r”s (“fou’th floo’”), whereas salespeople at Saks consistently pronounced both sounds. The salespeople at Macy’s, however, varied in their pronunciation, and many of them only pronounced one “r”.
This blog pays homage to that study by continuing to discuss real-world differences and similarities in language based on race, class, gender, region, sexual orientation, political ideology, and many more categories.
This blog’s name is also personal. The Linguistics Department at the University of Michigan, my alma mater, is on the Fourth Floor of its building.
The focus of my blog is to highlight exciting research being done on everyday speech, and to make it accessible to the layperson. I would also love to be able to answer any nagging questions you, my reader, may have on the subject of language. This blog will also be used to address any language-related “trends” that might interest you, from the point of view of someone trained in linguistics, rather than a journalist.
About the Author
My name is Amy Hemmeter. I am currently a second-year Masters student in Linguistics at North Carolina State University. My focus is on phonetics and phonology (subjects pertaining to the specific sounds of a language) and sociolinguistics (language as it pertains to culture and society). I do research on gender and the intersection of phonetics and sociolinguistics (sociophonetics).
As a tutor in undergrad and as a TA in my Masters program, I have spent a lot of time explaining linguistics to introductory students. After four years of tutoring students in the most basic Linguistics class, I feel confident in my ability to make linguistic concepts easy to understand. I was consistently fascinated by the work done by the researchers in my field, and I thought that non-linguists may want to learn about the work as well. Because I have a passion for explaining linguistics to non-linguists, I decided to start this blog. I hope you enjoy it.