Skip to main content Accessibility help

Personae and phonetic detail in sociolinguistic signs

  • Annette D'Onofrio (a1)


Social meaning-based approaches to linguistic variation treat variation as a semiotic system, in which sociolinguistic signs—indexical links between linguistic forms and social meanings—serve as interactional resources that individuals use to project personae. This article explores the perceptual nature of the links between social personae and linguistic forms, examining how information about a speaker's persona can influence a listener's linguistic perceptions of a continuous phonetic feature. Using a phoneme categorization task, this study examines associations between gradient phonetic manifestations on a continuum from /æ/ to /ɑ/ and three social personae. Findings illustrate that the social persona made relevant for a listener influences the ways in which points on this phonetic continuum are categorized phonemically as either trap or lot. Overall, this shows that the social constructs of personae influence phonetically detailed perceptions of linguistic material. (Sociolinguistic perception, personae, indexicality, sociophonetics, sociolinguistic signs)*


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Annette D'Onofrio Linguistics Department, Northwestern University, 2016 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208,


Hide All

I am extremely grateful to Penny Eckert for feedback on the many stages and drafts of this work, as well as to Rob Podesva, Meghan Sumner, John Rickford, and Ray McDermott for helpful suggestions and comments. I am also especially indebted to Shawn Bird and to Chun-Liang Chan for the implementation of the web experiment. Audiences at ASA 2013 in San Francisco, LSA 2014 in Minneapolis, NWAV 2014 in Chicago, Stanford University's Sociolunch, and Northwestern University's Sound Lab also provided valuable feedback on earlier stages of this work. I would also like to thank Jenny Cheshire, Jane Stuart-Smith, and an anonymous reviewer for comments and suggestions that greatly improved this article.



Hide All
Agha, Asif (2005). Registers of language. In Duranti, Alessandro (ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology, 2345. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Bakhtin, Mikhail (1981). Discourse in the novel. The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bates, Douglas; Maechler, Martin; Bolker, Ben; & Walker, Steve (2014). lme4: Linear mixed-effects models using Eigen and S4. R package version 1.1–7. Online:
Becker, Kara; Aden, Anna; Best, Katelyn; & Jacobson, Haley (2016). Variation in West Coast English: The case of Oregon. In Fridland, Valerie, Kendall, Tyler, Evans, Betsy E., & Wassink, Alicia Beckford (eds.), Speech in the western states. Vol. 1: The coastal states. Publication of the American Dialect Society, 107–34. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Boberg, Charles (1999). The attitudinal component of variation in American English foreign (a) nativization. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18(1):4961.
Boersma, Paul, & Weenink, David (2011). Praat: Doing phonetics by computer. Version 5.2.17. 1992–2011. Online:
Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information 16:645–68.
Bucholtz, Mary (2011). White kids: Language, race and styles of youth identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bucholtz, Mary; Bermudez, Nancy; Edwards, Lisa; Fung, Victor; & Vargas, Rosalva (2007). Hella Nor Cal or totally So Cal? The perceptual dialectology of California. Journal of English Linguistics 35:325–52.
Buhrmester, Michael; Kwang, Tracy; & Gosling, Samuel D. (2011). Amazon's Mechanical Turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality data? Perspective on Psychological Science 16(1):35.
Callison-Burch, Chris, & Dredze, Mark (2010). Creating speech and language data with Amazon's Mechanical Turk. In Proceedings of the NAACL HLT 2010 Workshop on Creating Speech and Language Data with Amazon's Mechanical Turk, 112.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn (2007). Accent, (ING), and the social logic of listener perceptions. American Speech 82:3264.
Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn (2011). The sociolinguistic variant as a carrier of social meaning. Language Variation and Chang 22:423–41.
Coupland, Nikolas (2001). Dialect stylization in radio talk. Language in Society 30:345–75.
Coupland, Nikolas (2002). Language, situation and the relational self: Theorizing dialect-style in sociolinguistics. In Eckert, Penelope & Rickford, John R. (eds.), Style and sociolinguistic variation, 185210. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Coupland, Nikolas (2007). Style: Language variation and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crump, Matthew J. C.; McDonnell, John V.; & Gureckis, Todd M. (2013). Evaluating Amazon's Mechanical Turk as a tool for experimental behavioral research. PLoS ONE 8(3):e57410.
Denby, Thomas; Schecter, Jeffrey; Arn, Sean; Dimov, Svetlin; & Goldrick, Matthew (2018). Contextual variability and exemplar strength in phonotactic learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 44:280–94.
Di Paolo, Marianna, & Faber, Alice (1990). Phonation differences and the phonetic content of the tense-lax contrast in Utah English. Language Variation and Change 2:155204.
Docherty, Gerard J., & Foulkes, Paul (2014). An evaluation of usage-based approaches to the modelling of sociophonetic variability. Lingua 142:4256.
Donald, Kevin; Kikusawa, Ritsuko; Gaul, Karen; & Holton, Gary (2004). Language. In Goggans, Jan & Difranco, Aaron (eds.), The Pacific region: The Greenwood encyclopedia of American regional cultures, 281. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
D'Onofrio, Annette (2015). Persona-based information shapes linguistic perception: Valley Girls and California vowels. Journal of Sociolinguistics 19:241–56.
D'Onofrio, Annette (2019). Sociolinguistic signs as cognitive representations. In Hall-Lew, Lauren, Moore, Emma, & Podesva, Robert J. (eds.), Social meaning and linguistic variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, to appear.
D'Onofrio, Annette; Eckert, Penelope; Podesva, Robert J.; Pratt, Teresa; & Van Hofwegen, Janneke (2016). The low vowels in California's Central Valley. In Fridland, Valerie, Kendall, Tyler, Evans, Betsy E., & Wassink, Alicia Beckford (eds.), Speech in the western states. Vol. 1: The coastal states. Publication of the American Dialect Society, 1132. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Drager, Katie (2011). Speaker age and vowel perception. Language and Speech 54:99121.
Drager, Katie (2015). Linguistic variation, identity construction and cognition. Berlin: Language Science Press.
Drager, Katie, & Kirtley, M. Joelle (2016). Awareness, salience, and stereotypes in exemplar-based models of speech production and perception. In Babel, Anna (ed.), Awareness and control in sociolinguistic research, 124. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Driscoll, Anna, & Lape, Emma (2015). Reversal of the Northern Cities Shift in Syracuse, New York. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 21:4147.
Eckert, Penelope (2000). Linguistic variation as social practice. Oxford: Blackwell.
Eckert, Penelope (2008a). Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12:453–76.
Eckert, Penelope (2008b). Where do ethnolects stop? International Journal of Bilingualism 12:2542.
Eckert, Penelope (2012). Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of variation. Annual Review of Anthropology 41:87100.
Eckert, Penelope (2016). Variation, meaning, and social change. In Nikolas Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical debates, 6885. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Eskénazi, Maxine; Levow, Gina-Anne; Meng, Helen; Parent, Gabriel; & Suendermann, David (eds.) (2013). Crowdsourcing for speech processing: Applications to data collection, transcription and assessment. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Foulkes, Paul, & Docherty, Gerard J. (1999). Sociophonetic variation in ‘glottals’ in Newcastle English. In Ohala, John J., Hasegawa, Yoko, Ohala, Manhari, Granville, Daniel, & Baily, Ashley C. (eds.), Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS), 10371040. Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley.
Foulkes, Paul, & Docherty, Gerard J. (2006). The social life of phonetics and phonology. Journal of Phonetics 34:409–38.
Goldinger, Stephen (1996). Words and voices: Episodic traces in spoken word identification and recognition memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition 22:1166–83.
Gorman, Kyle, & Johnson, Daniel Ezra (2013). Quantitative analysis. In Bayley, Robert, Cameron, Richard, & Lucas, Ceil (eds.), Oxford handbook of sociolinguistics, 214–40. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hallett, Jill, & Hallett, Richard (2014). ‘Just a regular guy’: Dialect variation and parodic stylization on Chicago radio. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 43, Chicago, Illinois.
Hay, Jennifer, & Drager, Katie (2010). Stuffed toys and speech perception. Linguistics 48:865–92.
Hay, Jennifer; Warren;, Paul & Drager, Katie (2006). Factors influencing speech perception in the context of a merger-in-progress. Journal of Phonetics 34:458–84.
Hinton, Leanne; Moonwomon, Birch; Bremner, Sue; Luthin, Herb; Van Clay, Mary; Lerner, Jean; & Corcoran, Hazel (1987). It's not just the valley girls: A study of California English. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 117–28.
Johnson, Keith (1997). Speech perception without speaker normalization: An exemplar model. In Johnson, Keith & Mullennix, John W. (eds.), Talker variability in speech processing, 145–65. San Diego, CA: Academic.
Johnson, Keith (2006). Resonance in an exemplar-based lexicon: The emergence of social identity and phonology. Journal of Phonetics 34:485–99.
Johnson, Keith; Strand, Elizabeth A.; & D'Imperio, Mariapaola (1999). Auditory-visual integration of talker gender in vowel perception. Journal of Phonetics 27:359–84.
Kendall, Tyler, & Fridland, Valerie (2012). Variation in perception and production of mid front vowels in the U.S. Southern Vowel Shift. Journal of Phonetics 40:289306.
Kennedy, Robert, & Grama, James (2012). Chain shifting and centralization in California vowels: An acoustic analysis. American Speech 87:3956.
Kimball, Amelia, & Cole, Jennifer (2016). Pitch contour shape matters in memory. Proceedings of the International Conference on Speech Prosody 8:1171–75.
Koops, Christian; Gentry, Elizabeth; & Pantos, Andrew (2008). The effect of perceived speaker age on the perception of PIN and PEN vowels in Houston, Texas. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 36(14):91101.
Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; & Boberg, Charles (2006). The atlas of North American English: Phonetics, phonology, and sound change. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lawson, Eleanor; Scobbie, James M.; & Stuart-Smith, Jane (2013). Bunched /r/ promotes vowel merger to schwar: An ultrasound study of Scottish sociophonetic variation. Journal of Phonetics 20:101110.
Levon, Erez (2014). Categories, stereotypes, and the linguistic perception of sexuality. Language in Society 43:539–66.
MacFarlane, Andrew E., & Stuart-Smith, Jane (2012). ‘One of them sounds sort of Glasgow Uni-ish’: Social judgements and fine phonetic variation in Glasgow. Lingua 122:764–78.
Mack, Sara, & Munson, Benjamin (2012). The influence of /s/ quality on ratings of men's sexual orientation: Explicit and implicit measures of the ‘gay lisp’ stereotype. Journal of Phonetics 40:198212.
McCarthy, Corinne (2011). The Northern Cities Shift in Chicago. Journal of English Linguistics 39(2):166–87.
McGowan, Kevin B. (2015). Social expectation improves speech perception in noise. Language and Speech 58(4):502–21.
Milroy, Lesley, & Gordon, Matthew (2003). Sociolinguistics: Method and interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell.
Moore, Emma (2010). The interaction between social category and social practice: Explaining was/were variation. Language Variation and Change 22:347–71.
Moore, Emma (2012). The social life of style. Language and Literature 21:6683.
Niedzielski, Nancy A. (1999). The effect of social information on the perception of sociolinguistic variables. Journal of Social Psychology 18:6285.
Pharao, Nicolai; Maegaard, Marie; Møller;, Janus Spindler & Kristiansen, Tore (2014). Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts. Language in Society 43:131.
Pierrehumbert, Janet B. (2001). Exemplar dynamics: Word frequency, lenition and contrast. In Bybee, Joan L. & Hopper, Paul J. (eds.), Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure, 137–57. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Pierrehumbert, Janet B. (2016). Phonological representation: Beyond abstract versus episodic. Annual Review of Linguistics 2:3352.
Plichta, Bartlomiej (2013). Akustyk: Speech analysis and synthesis plug-in for Praat. Online:
Podesva, Robert J. (2006). Phonetic detail in sociolinguistic variation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University dissertation.
Podesva, Robert J. (2007). Phonation type as a stylistic variable: The use of falsetto in constructing a persona. Journal of Sociolinguistics 11:478504.
Podesva, Robert J. (2011). Salience and the social meaning of declarative contours: Three case studies of gay professionals. Journal of English Linguistics 39(3):233–64.
Podesva, Robert J.; Hall-Lew, Lauren; Brenier, Jason; Starr, Rebecca; & Lewis, Stacy (2012). Condoleezza Rice and the sociophonetic construction of identity. In Hernandez-Campoy, Juan Manuel & Cutillas-Espinosa, Juan Antonio (eds.), Style-shifting in public: New perspectives on stylistic variation, 6580. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Podesva, Robert J.; D'Onofrio, Annette; Van Hofwegen, Janneke; & Kim, Seung Kyung (2015). Country ideology and the California Vowel Shift. Language Variation and Change 27:157–86.
Pratt, Teresa, &D'Onofrio, Annette (2017). Jaw setting and the California Vowel Shift in parodic performance. Language in Society 46(3):283312.
Preston, Dennis (1999). Handbook of perceptual dialectology 1. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Prichard, Hilary, & Tamminga, Meredith (2012). The impact of higher education on Philadelphia vowels. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 18:8795.
R Core Team (2013). R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. Online:
Schnoebelen, Tyler, & Kuperman, Victor (2010). Using Amazon Mechanical Turk for linguistic research. Psihologija 43(4):441–64.
Silverstein, Michael (1976). Shifters, linguistic categories, and cultural description. In Basso, Keith & Selby, H. A. (eds.), Meaning in anthropology, 1156. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Silverstein, Michael (2003). Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23:193229.
Snow, Rion; O'Connor, Brendan; Jurafsky, Daniel; & Ng, Andrew Y. (2008). Cheap and fast – but is it good? Evaluating non-expert annotations for natural language tasks. Proceedings of the 2008 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, 254–63.
Sprouse, Jon (2011). A validation of Amazon Mechanical Turk for the collection of acceptability judgments in linguistic theory. Behavioral Research Methods 43(1):155–67.
Stewart, Mark A.; Ryan, Ellen Bouchard; & Giles, Howard (1985). Accent and social class effects on status and solidarity evaluations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 11:98105.
Strand, Elizabeth (1999). Uncovering the role of gender stereotypes in speech perception. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18:8699.
Sumner, Meghan, & Samuel, Arthur G. (2009). The effect of experience on the perception and representation of dialect variants. Journal of Memory and Language 60:487501.
Thomas, Erik R. (2005). Rural white southern accents. In Schneider, Edgar W. (ed.), Varieties of English: The Americas/Caribbean, 87114. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Wagner, Suzanne Evans; Mason, Alexander; Nesbitt, Monica; Pevan, Erin; & Savage, Matt (2015). Reversal and re-organization of the Northern Cities Shift in Michigan. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 44, Toronto, Canada.
Walker, Abby; & Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn (2015). Repeat what after whom? Exploring variable selectivity in a cross-dialectal shadowing task. Frontiers in Psychology 6:546.
Wassink, Alicia Beckford (2015). Sociolinguistic patterns in Seattle English. Language Variation and Change 27:3158.
Wells, John (1982). Accents of English 3: Beyond the British Isles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Yu, Alan C. L., & Lee, Hyunjung (2014). The stability of perceptual compensation for coarticulation within and across individuals: A cross-validation study. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 136:382.
Zhang, Qing (2005). A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity. Language in Society 34:431–66.

Personae and phonetic detail in sociolinguistic signs

  • Annette D'Onofrio (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed