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‘The rez accent knows no borders’: Native American ethnic identity expressed through English prosody

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2016

Kalina Newmark
Sahtu Dene First Nation
Nacole Walker
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
James Stanford
Dartmouth College


In many Native American and Canadian First Nations communities, indigenous languages are important for the linguistic construction of ethnic identity. But because many younger speakers have limited access to their heritage languages, English may have an even more important role in identity construction than Native languages do. Prior literature shows distinctive local English features in particular tribes. Our study builds on this knowledge but takes a wider perspective: We hypothesize that certain features are shared across much larger distances, particularly prosody. Native cultural insiders (the first two co-authors) had a central role in this project. Our recordings of seventy-five speakers in three deliberately diverse locations (Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, North/South Dakota; Northwest Territories, Canada; and diverse tribes represented at Dartmouth College) show that speakers are heteroglossically performing prosodic features to index Native ethnic identity. They have taken a ‘foreign’ language (English) and enregistered these prosodic features, creatively producing and reproducing a shared ethnic identity across great distances. (Native Americans, prosody, ethnicity, ethnic identity, English, dialects)*

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