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The fierceness of fronted /s/: Linguistic rhematization through visual transformation

  • Jeremy Calder (a1)


This article explores the roles that language and the body play in the iconization of cross-modal personae (see Agha 2003, 2004). Focusing on a community of radical drag queens in San Francisco, I analyze the interplay of visual presentation and acoustic dimensions of /s/ in the construction of the fierce queen persona, which embodies an extreme, larger-than-life, and anti-normative type of femininity. Taking data from transformations—conversations during which queens visually transform from male-presenting into their feminine drag personae—I explore the effect of fluid visual presentation on linguistic production, and argue that changes in both the linguistic and visual streams increasingly invoke qualia (see Gal 2013; Harkness 2015) projecting ‘harshness’ and ‘sharpness’ in the construction of fierce femininity. I argue that personae like the fierce queen become iconized through rhematization (see Gal 2013), a process in which qualic congruences are construed and constructed across multiple semiotic modalities. (Iconization, rhematization, qualia, sociophonetics, gender, personae, drag queens)*


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence:Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado Boulder, 295 UCB Boulder, Colorado 80309-0401,


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