From: Maryam Bakht <maryam.bakhtgmail.com>
Subject: Lexical Variation and the Negotiation of Linguistic Style in a Long Island Middle School
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Institution: New York University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010
Author: Maryam Bakht
Dissertation Title: Lexical Variation and the Negotiation of Linguistic Style in a Long Island Middle School
Dissertation URL: http://www.maryambakht.com/research
Subject Language(s): English (eng)
John Victor Singler
Gregory R. Guy
Ray C. Dougherty
For many American youths, school is not only an academic endeavor, but a
social one. This study identifies the ways in which speakers use lexical
choices in the creation of their linguistic identity and style. This
dissertation centers on a group of students at Henry Fleming Middle School,
located on the eastern end of Long Island. The students, aged 12-14, were
observed in school from the beginning of seventh grade to eighth grade
This study focuses on two lexical features in American English: quotatives
(particularly the use of 'like' and 'all') and adverbial intensifiers
('very', 'really', and 'so'). The reasons for choosing these particular
linguistic features are twofold: 1) both adverbial intensifiers and
quotatives are lexical features that are stylistic markers for the students
at HFMS in that they are both socially salient and have social meanings
associated with their use; 2) both variables are representative of what are
called linguistic changes in progress. (Among the intensifiers, the
increased frequency of 'so' represents the innovation.) Such changes carry
the sociolinguistic assumption that younger generations will be 'leaders'
in adopting the new variants of the feature.
This dissertation highlights the ways in which different variationist
frameworks, when considered in concert, can give a fuller, more integrative
sociolinguistic analysis. Using the data for quotatives, I utilize
different frameworks, addressing the ways that the speakers are organized
and considered. Rather than argue that the frameworks arrive at different
sociolinguistic conclusions, I draw on the data to show that the differing
frameworks are, in fact, compatible.
In discussing linguistic styles in this school, I assert that the ways in
which students use these linguistic practices stylistically are both
locally and socially situated. Popularity and the linguistic practices that
accompany it are a consequence of the orientation to what I call a
'lifestyle index', which regards the idealized embodied personae to which
the students aspire as well as factors such as place identity. Using
contrastive linguistic styles, the students assert group identity in ways
that create solidarity among the members of the group and index social
meaning interpretable by the population at large.
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