Investigating the local construction of identity
Childs, Rebecca Laree
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This dissertation examines the social meaning of phonetic detail among two African American women’s communities of practice, specifically investigating ways in which these African American women use subtle phonetic variation in the construction of their identity. Over the years, studies of African American English have been a major focus of sociolinguistics; however, this research has often overlooked the place of African American women’s language. This research goes beyond these traditional sociolinguistic studies to look specifically at African American women’s language and the ways that social practices can affect women’s language in a regional context. Using an integration of sociolinguistic and acoustic phonetic methodologies this study accounts for phonetic variables such as coarticulation and duration, and for social variables particular to each community of practice that have an effect on vocalic production. The results of this study can be used by linguists to compare the phonetic characteristics of different regional and social groups of African American women and to gain a sense of the complexity and heterogeneity that can be found within one small community. This study also provides one of the few quantitative and phonetic studies of African American women’s language. Additionally, it will build on the variationist research tradition by analyzing this variety not only with regard to traditional variables such as race, region, and age, but also with these variables as they are manifested in social practice. This research should add to our knowledge about Smoky Mountain English, since it is one of a very few studies that has examined the dialect of African Americans living in this region of the United States.