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On the Offensive

By Karen Stollznow

On the Offensive " This book sheds light on the derogatory phrases, insults, slurs, stereotypes, tropes and more that make up linguistic discrimination. Each chapter addresses a different area of prejudice: race and ethnicity; gender identity; sexuality; religion; health and disability; physical appearance; and age."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Strategic Use of Austrian Dialect in Interaction: A sociolinguistic study of contextualization, speech perception, and language attitudes Add Dissertation
Author: Barbara Soukup Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Georgetown University, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2007
Linguistic Subfield(s): Discourse Analysis; Sociolinguistics;
Subject Language(s): German
Director(s): Natalie Schilling-Estes

Abstract: Located within current 'speaker design' approaches to the analysis of
linguistic variation (Schilling-Estes 2002), my study investigates how and
by what means speakers of Austrian German use Austrian dialect for
rhetorical purposes in interaction. Specifically, I trace the processes and
mechanisms underlying conversational 'contextualization' (Gumperz 1982) by
which speakers strategically index social meanings attaching to dialect
style, making them relevant to utterance interpretation.

I investigate such contextualization in discourse data from episodes of the
Austrian TV discussion show Offen gesagt (Openly said). While my analysis
of these discourse data draws primarily on the research paradigm of
interactional sociolinguistics, I also integrate methodologies from the
study of dialect perception and language attitudes, in an innovative
combination of analytic instruments.

In a dialect perception experiment, 42 Austrian native speakers were asked
to listen to show excerpts and to underline in transcripts any words they
perceived as dialectal. Results show that dialectal input-switches,
ge-reductions, l-vocalizations, morphosyntactic features, as well as
lexical items were perceptually salient.

In a matched-guise speaker evaluation experiment, 242 Austrian students
were asked to evaluate two dialect and two standard speakers (one male, one
female each) on adjective scales in a questionnaire. Results show that
dialect speakers are perceived as less educated, intelligent, serious, and
polite and as more aggressive, coarse, and rough than standard speakers,
but also as more natural, relaxed, emotional, honest, likeable, and having
a better sense of humor.

Drawing together these findings in a discourse analysis of one particular
episode of the TV show Offen gesagt, I find substantial grounds to claim
that participants shift from standard (the 'expected' variety) into dialect
for rhetorical purposes, indexing social stereotypes that my two
experiments have shown will be activated by the use of dialectal features.
For instance, participants use dialect in reported speech to express an
antagonistic footing towards the person quoted. Further, dialect is used in
interjections to negatively qualify a previous speaker's utterance, e.g.
rekeying it to ridiculing effect.

This study advocates the speaker design perspective on stylistic variation
as well as the integration of analytic tools from various sociolinguistic
sub-disciplines for exegesis of interactional data.