Phonetic Vs. Cultural Identity Essay

Phonetic Vs. Cultural Identity Essay

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Language is a primary distinguisher of social groups, of regional variation, and of attitude towards others; as such, a speaker’s language use is an emblem of their social identity. Phonetic accommodation, i.e, when a speaker varies their pronunciation with respect to an interlocutor, is a tool by which speakers can minimize or emphasize linguistic difference. Through phonetic convergence, this can highlight a shared social identity, or, through phonetic divergence, can designate contrast between one identity and another. Some have suggested that phonetic accommodation is an automatic, inevitable process, surmising that identity is subsequent to it, and not its cause (Trudgill, 2008). However, I will present evidence towards the contrary, and argue instead that phonetic accommodation is strongly mediated by social factors, and by extension, social identity.
Since the inception of sociolinguistics, social identity has been discussed with respect to accommodation. Labov (1963) documented new variance in pronunciation of diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ by locals with respect to seasonal visitors in Martha’s Vineyard; a local heritage identity appeared to influence pronunciation, and offered a contrast with the identity of visitors. It is often suggested that Labov’s study is a key example of the influence of identity on accommodation, but this belief is not unanimous: Trudgill (2008), instead, remains skeptical, arguing that dialect contact inevitably causes accommodation on the road to dialect mixture, with identity holding no role in the process. Accommodation, then, is a purely automatic process. However, Trudgill’s argumentation has spurred some to be critical of his analysis (Schneider, 2008), and has spawned experimentation offering...


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...rs (Labov, 1963; Cutler, 2010; Babel, 2009; Babel, 2010; Hernandez, 2009), of which most are constituents of a speaker’s identity. For the research community, a hybrid analysis in which accommodation is viewed as partially automatic, and in part socially influenced, is a more apt position going forward. In recent research, Implicit Associations Tasks have had success in unearthing biases that might otherwise go unreported; this is of substance, as participants are unlikely to freely express opinions regarding race, sexuality, and national identity in an interview or questionnaire format. A concrete approach is of particular importance, as accommodation and identity research has the potential to provide insight into the interplay between linguistics and national identity along borders (Llamas et al., 2009), opinions of law enforcement (Giles et al., 2006), and more.

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