One of the talks during the conference

Plenary Speakers

  • Mary Bucholtz, Linguistics, UC Santa Barbara
  • Barbara Fox, Linguistics, University of Colorado
  • Norma Mendoza-Denton, Anthropology, University of Arizona
  • Crispin Thurlow, Communication, University of Washington

Plenary Abstracts

Crispin Thurlow, What the f#@$!* Representing the unmentionable: Omission, repression and taboo language in the media

This presentation draws on a study I am conducting with my graduate colleague Jamie Moshin and is concerned with the apparent absence of language in media discourse. In particular, we consider the omission of taboo language (words, ideas and events) and the range of typographic, linguistic and ideological choices made in three types of omission: the depiction of naughty words (e.g. *&!^#!!) and the naming of naughty bits (e.g. in the case of Britney Spears’ vagina and Janet Jackson’s breast). In each case, we are interested in revealing the different kinds of “double repression” which occur when newsmakers look to describe the supposedly unmentionable. As a form of critical discourse analysis, we examine each of these various rhetorical strategies in the light of previous accounts of the linguistic repression; most notably, Michel Foucault’s (1978) repressive hypothesis Mary Douglas’ (1966) commentary on the demarcation of language into clean/unclean; and Michael Billig’s (1997) notion of the dialogic unconscious. This topic allows us to explore an uncomfortable but principled tension: the quest for civil discourse and the media’s preoccupation with reporting the truth.

Mary Bucholtz, Styling Blackness: Gender and Racial Ideologies in the White Use of African American English in Film

Two recent strands of sociolinguistic research focus on how the linguistic representation of a particular language or dialect is also a social representation of its speakers: (1) the growing body of research on language crossing (Rampton 1995), which has identified the ways in which outgroup uses of an ingroup language variety may, among other functions, serve both to construct social difference and to impose negative evaluations on the group whose language has been appropriated (e.g., Hill 1993, 2001; Ronkin & Karn 1999); and (2) sociolinguistic studies of the use of minority languages and dialects in the entertainment media, and especially film, in which representations tend to be simultaneously linguistically inaccurate and socially stereotypical (e.g., Harper 2006; Lee 2006; Meek 2006). Yet thus far little research has considered how language crossing might itself be represented in media portrayals of minority varieties. The paper examines a growing media phenomenon that combines language crossing and linguistic representation: the use of African American Vernacular English by European American characters in Hollywood films. Complementing previous research on the use of AAVE by European American speakers (e.g., Bucholtz; Cutler 1999; Sweetland 2002), the paper argues that white uses of AAVE in film perpetuate both language ideologies associated with AAVE and essentialist racialized and gendered stereotypes of blackness and whiteness.

The data are taken from 15 films mainly aimed at the youth market that were released between the mid-1990s and the present day, including comedies, dramas, and horror films, in which European American characters use elements of AAVE at least some of the time. The analysis examines the linguistic features of AAVE employed by European American speakers in these films as well as the semiotic functions to which the variety is put in creating characterization and plot. The paper demonstrates that the use of AAVE by white characters is nonfluent, stylized, and highly stereotypical, and generally involves the emblematic use of a few widely recognized phonological, prosodic, and grammatical features, as well as lexical items taken from African American youth culture, often along with high levels of profanity.

The analysis further shows that this stylized representation of AAVE in such films is overwhelmingly associated with European American male characters and typically serves one of two main functions. Among white teenage and young adult male characters, stylized AAVE is used by “wiggers” (a derogatory term for white hip hop fans) and semiotically portrays this controversial youth identity as linguistically and culturally inauthentic. Somewhat paradoxically, when stylized AAVE is used by European American middle-class men, it often serves as a tool whereby uptight European American adult males learn to forge emotional connections with others.

The paper argues that Hollywood’s representations of AAVE do not only reduce the linguistic complexity of the variety, as other researchers have shown, but, through nonfluent cross-racial use of stereotypical features of AAVE, perpetuate language ideologies of AAVE as symbolic of coolness, physicality, and authenticity. Such white uses of AAVE in Hollywood films reproduce racial and gender stereotypes and reinforce essentialized boundaries between linguistic and cultural groups.

Norma Mendoza-Denton, Linguistic variation in micro-time: Understanding how speaker moves affect unfolding interaction (and what this means for practice)

In this talk I hope to take up Macaulay's exhortation to stop treating interviews "as inert corpses from which pieces may be excised for examination and comparison with 'specimens' from other sources" (Macaulay 1991: 267). Sociolinguistic variation unfolds in the course of interaction, predominantly in conversational interaction. Work in the conversation analytic tradition is crucially concerned with showing that speaker moves have tremendous consequences for shaping what happens "downstream" in the interaction. In contrast, most of the quantitative models for understanding language variation assume statistical independence of individual language tokens, use pooled language sources, and average across interviews with speakers of similar characteristics, or take mean values over many tokens of a linguistic variable for a particular speaker. I discuss attempts to model real-time quantitative variation in interaction, from Condon and Ogston's (1967) early psychologically-oriented work; Macaulay's (1991) ideas on variation in discourse; the California Style Collective's (1993) score-setting; Ogden (2004) and Walker (2004)'s Conversation-Analysis-influenced phonetic transcriptions; Podesva's (2006) and the Half Moon Bay group's (2006) clustering models, Dubois' (2007) syntactic diagraph displays, and my own partiture system. I end with a discussion of how we can understand agency and social practice against the variationist backdrop of orderly heterogeneity.


Mary Bucholtz, Ethnographic Methods in Sociocultural Linguistics

While sociocultural linguistics, the broad interdisciplinary study of language, culture, and society, encompasses a variety of methods for data collection and analysis, ethnography is a particularly powerful methodological and epistemological tool for the deep investigation of the sociocultural context of language use. This workshop, which is intended for both those with ethnographic experience and newcomers to the field, provides a brief overview of key elements of ethnographic research within sociocultural linguistics, with examples and illustrations from my own and others’ current and published work.

The workshop opens by considering fundamental ethical and political issues in ethnography, including the question of informed consent; ethical dilemmas in the field; and the possibility of empowering and collaborating with research participants. Following a discussion of how to identify and enter the field site, the workshop offers an examination of the role of the researcher in the fieldwork context, considering how researcher subjectivity shapes the data and describing how to adopt a reflexive stance toward the research relationship. The discussion next turns to techniques of ethnographic data collection. It first considers the importance of two forms of data that are often under appreciated in language-oriented research: field notes and visual documentation of the field site. More widely recognized forms of data collection, research interviews and audio and video recordings of interaction, are then addressed, with attention to debates over what constitutes “good” data for sociocultural linguistic research. The workshop concludes by examining the politics of representing the ethnographic “other” in data transcripts and scholarly writing. The formal presentation will be followed by an in-depth discussion with workshop participants.

Crispin Thurlow, L-discourse, F-discourse: Using CDA to examine metalanguage and language ideology

This workshop centres around a series of related methodological issues. Generally speaking, I’d like to consider the different research procedures (or styles) of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), with a specific view to the balancing of empirical quantity and critical quality. This will be done with reference to textual data drawn from my recent analyses of mediatized metadiscourse. As part of this discussion, I want also to consider how the critical analysis of media discourse – as a mode of social interaction – can address both sociolinguistic (L-discourse) and Foucauldian (F-discourse) approaches to everyday language use. Finally, and more specifically, I want to review some of the practical (and, perhaps, epistemological) challenges of studying discursive absences or omissions – the supposedly “unmentionable” at the heart of my plenary presentation.

Karen Tracy, The Prettier Doll: Analyzing Discourse in Public Meetings

In this workshop I will overview Action-Implicative Discourse Analysis (AIDA), an ethnographically-informed type of discourse approach that I have developed to study communicative practices in society. Following an overview of AIDA, we will spend the workshop looking at videotaped excerpts and transcripts of speeches from a school board meeting in which a controversy erupted. A father had strongly criticized his third grade daughter's school for its decision to not allow her to display her science fair project, a study that had asked children in her predominately white school whether black or white Barbie dolls were prettier. Most of the children in her study had chosen the white doll as the prettier one. The school district said that the girl's project violated their non-discrimination policy; the father argued that his daughter's First Amendment rights had been violated; others in the community weighed in, raising other issues. We will analyze participants' talk in this public meeting reflecting on school board meetings as a communicative practice, as well as the practice of talking publicly about race in American society.

Norma Mendoza-Denton, Mixed methods research: combining qualitative and quantitative inquiry in sociocultural linguistics

In spite of the current rapprochement between sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, few scholars are utilizing mixed methods involving "traditional" Labovian quantitative sociolinguistics and the "traditional" qualitative ethnographies of anthropology. This workshop aims to interrogate this gap in a discussion and to provide participants with both tools and caveats in conducting this type of research. Tools that will be presented are: the GOLDVARB statistical application and the Praat phonetics software program. Those interested in participating may bring their computers for short tutorials, and may email for software download instructions.