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Sexuality in context: Variation and the sociolinguistic perception of identity

  • EREZ LEVON (a1)
Abstract

This article illustrates the use of an empirical method for examining the perceptual identification of gayness in male speakers. It demonstrates how, by digitally manipulating the speech of isolated individuals, it is possible to obtain reliable evidence that pitch range and sibilant duration may act as indexical of a gay male identity. Further scrutiny of this result, however, illustrates that linguistic indexicality is not as straightforward as it originally appears. Subsequent analyses of the data highlight the ways in which the perceptual evaluation of sexuality is a highly contingent process, dependent upon a variety of sociolinguistic factors. An envelope of variation in listeners' affective judgments of a speaker is shown to exist, and it is argued that research on the perception of identity must go beyond identification of salient features, and also consider when and why these features are not salient.I greatly benefited from the insight and assistance of the following people, whom I would like to thank: Renée Blake, Lisa Davidson, Penny Eckert, Rudi Gaudio, Ron Butters, Keith Walters, Barbara Johnstone, and three anonymous reviewers. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting in Oakland, California, in January 2005, and the 72nd Southeastern Conference on Linguistics (SECOL) in Raleigh, North Carolina in April 2005. I thank the participants at those events for their questions and comments. All errors are, of course, my own.

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Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
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