Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Postvocalic /r/ in New Orleans: Language, place, and commodification
by Schoux Casey, Christina, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2013, 197; 3577179
Abstract (Summary)

From silva dimes to po-boys, r-lessness has long been a conspicuous feature of all dialects of New Orleans English. This dissertation presents a quantitative and qualitative description of current rates of r-lessness in the city. 71 speakers from 21 neighborhoods were interviewed. Rpronunciation was elicited in four contexts: interview chat, Katrina narratives, a reading passage and a word list. R-lessness was found in 39% of possible instances. Older speakers pronounce /-r/ less than younger speakers, and those with a high school education or less pronounce /-r/ far less than those with post-secondary education. Race and gender did not prove to be significant predictors of r-pronunciation. In contrast to past studies, many speakers in the current study discuss their metalinguistic awareness of /-r/ and their partial control of /-r/ variation, discussing switching between r-fulness and r-lessness in different contexts.

In New Orleans, this metalinguistic awareness is attributable in part to the devastation following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the near-disappearance of the city intensified an already extant nostalgia for local culture, including ways of speaking. Nostalgia and amplification by advertisers and popular media have helped recontextualize r-lessness as a variable associated with a number of social meanings, including localness and authenticity. These processes help transform r-lessness, for many speakers, from a routine feature of talk to a floating cultural variable, serving as a semiotic resource on which speakers can draw on to perform localness.

This dissertation both closes a gap in research on New Orleans speech and uses New Orleans as a case study to suggest that the social meanings of linguistic features are created and maintained in part by a constellation of interrelated social processes of late modernity. Further, I argue that individual speakers are increasingly agentively engaged with these larger processes, as part of a global transformation from more traditional, place-bound populations to more deracinated individuals who choose to align themselves with particular communities and local cultural forms, particularly those that have been commodified.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kiesling, Scott
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 75/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, American studies, Cultural anthropology, Sociolinguistics
Keywords: American South, Metalinguistic awareness, New Orleans, Postvocalic
Publication Number: 3577179
ISBN: 9781303593062
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