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.



  • eavesdrop – secretly listen to a conversation
  • elderly – (of a person) old or ageing
  • disapprove – have or express an unfavourable opinion
  • qualitative – relating to, measuring, or measured by the quality of something rather than its quantity
  • stance – the attitude of a person or organization towards something; a standpoint


Think about it

Answer the questions below. Pause at the times indicated in brackets.

  • What does a sociolinguist do? (1:21)
  • Why aren’t sociolinguists disapproving of language? (2:14)
  • What are variable and invariant elements of language? (4:11)
  • What kind of rules does non-standard like have? (5:37)
  • What have you learnt about Irish English? (7:19)
  • What two attitudes among Poles did the use of like reflect? (11:06)
  • What were the differences between Mariusz and Anna? (14:54)
  • Why do young people use the language they do?


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the words in bold.

tacks    –     dug    –     outside     –     relocated    –    despite      –    filler

It turns out that how people use ________ 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 ________ to Ireland from Poland — noting that the non-standard use of “like” in English has two popular forms: one, the Irish like, which ________ 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, ________ 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 ________ 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 ________, 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.


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