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Barbara Johnstone gives talk on 'Dialect Enregisterment in Performance'

Date: 1 March 2011 Time: 16.00 - 18.00

Venue: Frankland Colloquium Room LB1

Abstract: The process by which sets of linguistic forms become ideologically linked with places and social identities has been called "enregisterment" (Agha, 2003, 2006). In recent work, my colleagues and I have been exploring how one set of linguistic forms has become enregistered as the dialect known as "Pittsburghese" through a variety of discursive practices (Johnstone, 2007a, 2007b, 2009a; Johnstone, Andrus, & Danielson, 2006; Johnstone & Baumgardt, 2004). In this paper I explore sociolinguistic enregisterment in highly self-conscious broadcast performances of speech and social identity. My data consists of two comedy sketches performed by a team of radio DJs. Both sketches revolve around characters who talk in ways that can be taken to sound local, thus potentially enregistering features of their speech with Pittsburghese. But the characters' speech can be taken to index other things about them, too, including gender, class, profession, and personal identity. I ask whether dialect enregisterment works differently in these high performances than it does in other genres. I show that by linking locally-occurring forms to multiple models of speech, behavior, and action, performances like these can act as a centrifugal force, expanding the set of potential meanings of particular forms by linking them with new or additional registers, creating semiotic alignments between different cultural schemata that can be indexed by the same forms, and counteracting the focusing, centripetal force of other enregisterment practices. This leads me to suggest that in addition to describing what an idealized "culturally literate" audience member needs to know in order to understand a performance, it may also repay our effort to ask who else may be in the audience and how they might understand what is going on. While focusing on hypostatized "acculturated" audiences helps us see how performance is implicated in the transmission of culture and language, focusing on the multiple interpretive schemata brought to bear by actual audience members, each culturally literate in a different way and to a somewhat different degree, helps us see how performance can be implicated in cultural and linguistic change.

Barbara Johnstone is Professor of Rhetoric and Linguistics, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh and editor of Language in Society. Her current work is about dialect and locality in the Pittsburgh (USA) area. She is author of Repetition in Arabic Discourse (1990); Stories, Communities, and Place: Narratives from Middle America i(1990); The Linguistic Individual (1996); Qualitative Methods in Sociolinguistics (2001); Discourse Analysis (2008); and co-editor of The Sage Handbook of Sociolinguistics (with R. Wodak, P. Kerswill; 2010).


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Paul Kerswill

Organising departments and research centres: Language, Ideology and Power Group (LIP), Language Variation and Linguistic Theory (LVLT), Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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