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A quantitative and qualitative consideration of language and material style in a study of white women in contact with AAE. Sonya Fix [email protected] nyu.edu The Ohio State University Columbus College of Art and Design. Adults, language and material style.

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A quantitative and qualitative consideration of language and material style in a study of white women in contact with AAE

Sonya Fix

[email protected] nyu.edu

The Ohio State University

Columbus College of Art and Design

Adults language and material style
Adults, language and material style

Material style emerges as a social category of consideration in the investigation of the linguistic practices of adult white women with significant African American social ties.

  • How do we quantify this variable to include it in a social index score? What does this quantification buy us?

  • How do subjects in the sample discursively construct personae by referencing material style?

What is material style
What is Material Style?

Clothing, hairstyles, and other external semiotic symbols of adornment, accessory, and grooming; aesthetic tastes including music.

Material style and linguistic style
Material Style and Linguistic Style

Eckert 2008:456:

“Persona style is the best level for approaching the meaning of variation, for it is at this level that we connect linguistic styles with other stylistic systems such as clothing and other commoditized signs and with the kinds of ideological constructions that speakers share and interpret and that thereby populate the social imagination.”

Material style and linguistic style adolescents and young adults
Material Style and Linguistic Style: Adolescents and Young Adults

Mendoza-Denton’s Latina gang girls (1996, 1997, 2008): Hair, makeup, and clothing styles communicate social group affiliation, often in subtle ways.

In-group vs. out-group readings of the semiotics of these material style practices

Subjects sample
Subjects Sample Adults

  • 14 white women from low and moderate income urban racially integrated/predominantly African American communities in Columbus, Ohio

  • All have significant, long-term social, romantic, and kinship ties with African Americans

  • Variation in degrees and types of contact with African Americans across life spans

  • Range of use of AAE features

  • Range of material style practices

Subjects data collection methodologies
Subjects: Data collection methodologies Adults

  • Recruitment through friend of friend and direct approach in African American community spaces

  • Sociolinguistic interview (one on one)

  • Group interviews and casual speech recording sessions with African American partners, kin, and friends.

  • Ethnographic information about subjects derived from short-term observation and ethnographic interview questions.

Positing distinct african american material style practices
Positing distinct African American material style practices Adults

Hall 1992;

Kaiser, Rabine, Hall, and Ketchum 2004; O’Neal 1998a, 1998b;

Thomas 2000;

Tulloch 2004;

White and White 1998

Resistance to a persona speech style material style affect
Resistance to a persona: Adultsspeech style + material style +affect


I knew that, okay, I might have dated a black guy, but I never wanted to be one of those girls. That I'm gonna cut my hair a certain way, or I'm gonna talk a certain way, or, or any of that stuff.

Indexing african american ties through speech style material style affect
Indexing African American ties through Adultsspeech style + material style + affect


And people say "you don't look like you're married to a black man. What-is a look? A lot of people tell me that.

And then I got my hair cut one time and I was wearing it all spiked up, and this chick I was working with—she was kind of a hillbilly too—and she's like //click// "your hair is cute but um, it looks kind of ghetto." I said "what's that supposed to mean?" "Well you know, like those girls that are, that hang around black guys." I said my husband's black. She said “I never would have expected you to be married to a black man.”I said I am. And you know people will make a comment to you like that cause, I don't—you know how //Makes suck tooth sound//you how they talk, and they act, and they wear their hair all out like this, and like tons of makeup.

Quantifying social ties through the lifespan
Quantifying social ties through the lifespan Adults

The use of social network indices in sociolinguistic studies:

Labov 1972;

Gal 1978;

Millroy 1980;

Bortoni- Ricardo 1995;

Blake and Josey 2003;

Kirke 2005

Quantifying social ties and material style and cultural practices across the lifespan: a combined index

Including a material dimension in a social index
Including a material dimension in a social index practices across the lifespan: a combined index

Drawn from lifestyle indices operationalized by Adli (2006)

Influenced by Bourdieu’s (1991) socio-cultural theory in which the notion of habitus (acquired sensibilities and tastes) functions as a secondary but integral component of social identity.

The material style dimension
The material style dimension practices across the lifespan: a combined index

Adorning the self:

  • clothing styles, accessories,

  • hairstyles, grooming products

    Adorning the home

    (Afrocentric art and decoration)

    Other aesthetic preferences, including music consumption (favorite artists, radio stations).

Correlation of linguistic factors and social index scores the case of l vocalization
Correlation of linguistic factors and social index scores: practices across the lifespan: a combined indexThe case of L vocalization

What is l vocalization
What is L vocalization? practices across the lifespan: a combined index

When an L resembles a back vowel, semi-vowel, or voiced glide, or nothing.

  • In this data set, vocalized L only occurs in coda position

  • This realization of L seems to always develop from dark L

L vocalization and aae
L vocalization and AAE practices across the lifespan: a combined index

L vocalization is a documented cross regional feature of AAE

(Green 2002; Thomas 2007)

Evidence in 2 Columbus studies of increased use of this variable among African Americans

(Fix 2004; Durian 2008)

Some preliminary evidence of L vocalization as a marker of ethnic identity in an ethnic identification test performed by linguists (Hall-Lew & Fix 2011)

Variation in l vocalization among subjects
Variation in L vocalization among subjects practices across the lifespan: a combined index

L vocalization s correlation with the index score
L vocalization’s correlation with the index score and combined index score

L vocalization factor weight and combined index score (withMaterial Style Dimension)

r=0.639 (df=12), p=0.0138

L vocalization factor weight and social index only (without Material Style Dimension)

R=0.574 (df=12), p=0.0319

Result: improvement in strength of correlation with integration of material style component within the index.

The discursive production of persona through reference to material style
The discursive production of persona through reference to material style


And I think my physical appearance, one, is what people see. I think what I wear, the clothes that I wear, because I'm not-. I think the clothes that I wear when I go out into public define "oh woah what's she wearin?” People look at the jeans and the shirts and the things like that. How you put together. I think that, um and then-

What people see, your appearance, your clothes, the way you physically-the way you act walk and talk I think that in itself speaks volumes for, what a person's preference, or who a person may be. I really do. But, I don't know if there's anything you can do about it. Like for you, I mean is there anything you do can about it because someone would look at you and say "ah ah she likes chocolate!" Oh well. How do you know? How do you know?!What makes you think that?! You know.

Conclusions material style

This consideration of material style and linguistic variation in an adult population:

  • Explores how and why material style can be integrated into a quantified social network index.

  • Draws our attention to the the ways of in which material style continues to work as a symbolic resource far past adolescence; in this data set it correlates with linguistic style and indexes racial alignment and constructs a persona constituted by racialized desire.

References material style

Adli, Aria. 2006. On the Underestimated Role of Lifestyle: Syntactic Variation in French. Poster presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 35, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.

Blake, Renée and Meredith Josey. 2003. The /ay/ diphthong in a Martha’s Vineyard community: What can we say 40 years after Labov? Language in Society 32: 451-485.

Bortoni-Ricardo, Stella Maris. 1985. The urbanization of rural dialect speakers: A sociolinguistic study in Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language and Symbolic Capital. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dodsworth, Robin. 2005a. Linguistic Variation and the Sociological Imagination. Ph.D. Dissertation, The Ohio State University.

Durian, David. 2008. The vocalization of /l/ in urban blue collar Columbus, OH African American Vernacular English: A quantitative sociophonetic analysis. Ohio State University Working Papers in Linguistics, Volume 58, Fall 2008: 30-51.

Eckert, Penelope. 2008. Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12/4, 2008: 453–476.

Eckert, Penelope. 1989. Jocks and Burnouts: Social Identity in the High School. New York: Teachers College Press.

Fix, Sonya. 2004a. /l/ Vocalization and racial integration of social networks: Sociolinguistic variation among whites in Columbus Ohio. Poster presented at NWAV 33, University of Michigan.

Gal, Susan. 1978. Peasant Men Can’t Find Wives: Language Change and Sex Roles in a Bilingual Community. Language and Society 7:1-16.

Hall, Carol 1992. Towards a Gender-Relational Understanding of Appearance Style in African American Culture. MA Thesis, University of California, Davis.

Hall-Lew, Lauren and Sonya Fix. 2011. Perceptual coding reliability of /l/ vocalization in casual speech data. Paper presented at Linguistics Society of America, Pittsburgh, PA.

Kaiser, Susan, Lesley Rabine, Carol Hall and Karyl Ketchum. 2004. Beyond Binaries: Respecting the Improvisation in African American Style. In Black Style, ed.by Carol Tulloch. London: V & A Publications.

Kirke, Karen. 2005. When there's more than one norm-enforcement mechanism: Accommodation and shift among Irish immigrants to New York City. Penn Working Papers in Linguistics 11.2.

Labov, William. 1972. Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mendoza-Denton, Norma. 2008. Home Girls. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Mendoza-Denton, Norma. 1996. ‘Muy Macha’: Gender and Ideology in Gang Girls’ discourse about Makeup. Ethos, 61(1-2): 47-63.

Milroy, Leslie. 1980. Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

O'Neal, Gwendolyn S. 1998b. "African-American aesthetics of dress: Current manifestations." Clothing and Textiles Research Journal 16(4):167-75.

Thomas, Erik. 2007. Phonological and Phonetic Characteristics of African American Vernacular English. Language and Linguistics Compass 1: 450–75. Tulloch, Carol, (ed). 2004. Black Style. London: V & A Publications.

White, Shane and Graham White. 1998. Stylin': African American expressive culture from its beginnings to the zoot suit. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.