University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


Coronal Stop Deletion (CSD) is well-documented in the sociolinguistic literature as both a dialect feature and as a variable prone to style-shifting (Guy 1980, Guy 1991a, Guy 1991b, Guy and Cutler 2011, Hazen 2011). This study compares deletion rates between Michelle and Barack Obama’s 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC) speeches and their respective deletion rates in a 2012 joint interview on the television program, The View. As Barack and Michelle Obama are some of the most famous individuals in the world, examining differences in their linguistic behavior between an extremely formal setting (DNC Speeches) and a somewhat less formal setting (The View) sheds light on the style-shifting patterns of these public figures. In the most formal contexts, Barack and Michelle use rates of CSD that are higher than those attested for white speakers of Standard American English (SAE) in sociolinguistic interview situations and Barack and Michelle seem to be almost equally sensitive to speech situation as a conditioning factor for CSD. Deletion rates are also both affected by following phonological context for both Barack and Michelle, and their deletion by phonological context follows the patterns found in previous works (Guy 1980, Guy 1991a, Guy and Cutler 2011). Morphological category is also a significant factor conditioning deletion for Barack Obama but not for Michelle Obama, and her results by morphological category may indicate that she is employing a style more similar to African American English (AAE). The results also indicate that Barack and Michelle’s CSD patterns may also be partially attributable to style-shifting behaviors and/or dialect mixing between SAE and AAE.