Dissertation Oral Presentation

Style in Time: Online Perception of Sociolinguistic Cues

Daisy Leigh
Wed July 21st 2021, 9:00 - 10:15am
Speakers use styles - combinations of socially meaningful sounds - to construct and project different social identities, or personae. How do listeners recognize these sounds as belonging to a particular linguistic style, spoken by a particular kind of person? Sociolinguistic work has shown that the contribution of individual speech features (or cues) is highly mutable, and context-dependent -- suggesting that listeners must integrate the meaning contributions of individual cues with all the other social impressions that arise when hearing someone talk. In my dissertation, I present results from a series of eye-tracking experiments examining the time course of this integration and its relation to holistic, offline judgments about speaker persona. I first show that listeners rapidly reconcile the meaning contributions of sociophonetic cues when making inferences about a speaker's persona, and that the extent to which listeners' online and offline beliefs are modulated by a given cue is broadly proportional to the cue's 'socioindexical informativity'. I then show that these results generalize to an additional set of four voices, and that listeners weigh the meaning contributions of a cue against their existing expectations about the speaker. Finally, I show that when faced with conflicting information about a speaker's persona, listeners will weight individual socioindexical cues based on voice-specific detail: existing expectations will modulate the degree to which the meaning contributions of a given cue are reconciled, both online and offline. Together, this work points to a probabilistic account of sociolinguistic perception in which listeners integrate various sources of contextual and linguistic information, but prioritize and place the greatest weight on the most informative aspects.
Committee: Judith Degen and Rob Podesva (co-chairs), Penny Eckert, Meghan Sumner, and Kathryn Meyer Olivarius (university chair)