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Colloquium: Robert Podesva on the Three Waves in Sociolinguistics

Friday, November 14, 2014
12:00 AM
3254 LSA Building

On the Complementarity of the Three Waves: The Acoustic Realization of /s/ in Inland California

Our colloquium speaker this week is Robert Podesva from Stanford University. The title and abstract of his talk are given below.

On the Complementarity of the Three Waves: The Acoustic Realization of /s/ in Inland California
The study of sociolinguistic variation has been characterized as having emerged in three waves, each with distinct analytical foci (Eckert 2012). Although some recent work has assumed competition between the waves (e.g., Guy 2014), I argue in this talk for their complementarity. Based on an acoustic analysis of /s/ in 121 sociolinguistic interviews, I investigate /s/ variation in three communities in inland California, focusing on Redding.

A first wave approach appealing to macro-sociological categories (e.g., sex, age) reveals a strikingly large acoustic difference between women and men compared to previous work (Zimman 2013, Hazenberg 2012), as well as a change in progress, whereby a once retracted /s/ is fronting in apparent time. Using a corpus with a large number of speakers, as is typical of first wave studies, also facilitates the identification of linguistic constraints on the realization of /s/, including syllable and phrase position, stress, and place of articulation.

A second wave approach uncovers a locally significant distinction between people oriented to the town of Redding and those oriented to surrounding rural areas. Importantly, it is only country-oriented speakers that exhibit fronting of /s/ over time. Ethnographic research, as is typical of second wave studies, also enables the collection of data with LGBT community members, who experience violence and discrimination in their strongly gender-normative community.

Finally, a third wave approach attends to the social meanings of distinct realizations of /s/ to explain the variable?s social patterning. Retracted /s/ can be observed in the speech of older country oriented speakers, and not town-oriented speakers, because it indexes rurality (Campbell-Kibler 2011). Also, while gay men in this community avoid strongly fronted /s/ (in contrast to other studies) because of its associations with non-normative gender, lesbians are relatively more free to use retracted variants of /s/, due to the variant?s indexical ambiguity (i.e., country or non-normative femininity).

While variation studies are typically aligned with one the three waves, this study demonstrates that a comprehensive analysis of this variable is possible only when appealing to the methods and attending to the concerns of all three waves.