Linguists have problematized the presentation of African American English as a uniform variety (Wolfram 2007; Yaeger-Dror & Thomas 2010). Cautioning against the homogenization of African Americans’ linguistic practices and identities, researchers have advocated for the exploration of regional variation across African Americans’ speech (Wolfram 2007; Childs 2005). This dissertation adds to the discussion by examining social and linguistic diversity across African Americans’ speech in Rochester, New York. I argue that linguistic heterogeneity can arise from differences in identity constructions, which are informed by speakers’ orientations to social changes in the community.
Drawing from my ethnographic observations, sociolinguistic interviews, as well as my own insights as a community member, I study social diversity through analyses of personae particular to Rochester’s social landscape. Specifically, I ask how sound change is enacted through local personae like the mobile black professional, the hood kid, and the biker. Each persona recruits different vocalic patterns with the mobile black professionals producing significantly lower TRAP tokens, the hood kids producing significantly backer BOUGHT tokens, and the biker producing several vocalic patterns associated with the Northern Cities Shift. The findings demonstrate that African American language and identity are not monolithic and complicate our understanding of the relationship between race, ethnicity, and language. Further, studying the linguistic patterns of African Americans as they relate to locally significant social practices or ideologies can inform our understanding of why and how variation emerges.
(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the Ph.D. candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes. Please arrive promptly!)
University oral exam committee: Penelope Eckert and John Rickford (Co-advisors), Rob Podesva, Meghan Sumner
University oral exam chair: Jonathan Rosa