LINGUIST List 24.4587

Mon Nov 18 2013

Diss: Anthro Ling, Socioling: Schoux Casey: 'Postvocalic /r/ in New Orleans ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 15-Nov-2013
From: Christina Schoux Casey <>
Subject: Postvocalic /r/ in New Orleans: Language, place and commodification
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Institution: University of Pittsburgh Program: Department of Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2013

Author: Christina Schoux Casey

Dissertation Title: Postvocalic /r/ in New Orleans: Language, place and commodification

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics                             Sociolinguistics
Dissertation Director:
Scott Fabius Kiesling Connie Eble Barbara Johsntone
Dissertation Abstract:

From silva dimes to po-boys, r-lessness has long been a conspicuous feature
of all dialects of New Orleans English. This dissertation presents a
quantitative and qualitative description of current rates of r-lessness in
the city. 71 speakers from 21 neighborhoods were interviewed.
R-pronunciation was elicited in four contexts: interview chat, Katrina
narratives, a reading passage and a word list. R-lessness was found in 39%
of possible instances. Older speakers pronounce /-r/ less than younger
speakers, and those with a high school education or less pronounce /-r/ far
less than those with post-secondary education. Race and gender did not
prove to be significant predictors of r-pronunciation. In contrast to past
studies, many speakers in the current study discuss their metalinguistic
awareness of /-r/ and their partial control of /-r/ variation, discussing
switching between r-fulness and r-lessness in different contexts. In New
Orleans, this metalinguistic awareness is attributable in part to the
devastation following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the
near-disappearance of the city intensified an already extant nostalgia for
local culture, including ways of speaking. Nostalgia and amplification by
advertisers and popular media have helped recontextualize r-lessness as a
variable associated with a number of social meanings, including localness
and authenticity. These processes help transform r-lessness, for many
speakers, from a routine feature of talk to a floating cultural variable,
serving as a semiotic resource on which speakers can draw on to perform
localness. This dissertation both closes a gap in research on New Orleans
speech and uses New Orleans as a case study to suggest that the social
meanings of linguistic features are created and maintained in part by a
constellation of interrelated social processes of late modernity. Further,
I argue that individual speakers are increasingly agentively engaged with
these larger processes, as part of a global transformation from more
traditional, place-bound populations to more deracinated individuals who
choose to align themselves with particular communities and local cultural
forms, particularly those that have been commodified.

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