Department store study

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The department store study was carried out in New York in 1966 by the American sociolinguist William Labov and is one of his most famous experiments.

At that time, the city had two ways of pronouncing the / r / after a vowel:

  • as a silent r replaced by vowel stretching, such as in [ka:]
  • excited, as in [kaʴ]

Labov wanted to find out how different social classes articulated this .

To do this, he sent his students to three department stores with different status ranks: The Saks (then the highest status), the Macy’s (then the middle status) and the S. Klein department store (then the lowest status).

Knowing that z. For example, if the toy department was on the fourth floor, the students asked shop assistants: “Excuse me, where are the toys?” (“Excuse me, where can I find toys?”). The answer is “Fourth floor” . As if they had not understood correctly, the students asked again and received the same answer, but this time more clearly.

For his study, Labov got a / r / in the inside of the word at fourth , at the end of the word in floor and both were once rather carelessly and once precisely articulated.

After evaluating the total of 264 answers, Labov found that the pronunciation varied depending on the social class. The tense / r / were spoken more often in the higher status department stores. He also noticed that all layers articulated the tense / r / at the end of the word more often than inside the word. It was also noticeable that the employees of the medium-sized department store in particular pronounced the / r / in the second answer particularly correctly, a phenomenon he described as hypercorrection .


  • Karin Birkner: Words in the group. On the sociolinguistics of words. In: Jürgen Dittmann, Claudia Schmidt (Ed.): About words. Rombach, Freiburg i.Br 2002, ISBN 3-7930-9316-6 , pp. 233-258.
  • William Labov: The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Center for Applied Linguistics, Washington DC 1986, ISBN 0-87281-149-2 .
  • Norbert Dittmar, Bert-Olaf Rieck (eds.); William Labov: Language in a Social Context: A Selection of Articles. Athenaeum, Königstein / Ts. 1980, ISBN 3-7610-2151-8 .