Multiple Social Routes: Connecting Stance Accretion to Aggregate Variation

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Connecting individual-level stylizations to group patterns is a central concern of sociolinguistics (Eckert 2008, Labov 1963). One proposed route is through a process of accretion, where linguistic features used for stances like “toughness” or “friendliness” accrue over time to the identities of the speakers who use them, gaining higher-order indexical associations with group identities like “working class” or “Southern” (Eckert 2008). To test the hypothesis of stance accretion, this paper uses data from speakers from a single workplace in the U.S. South, where Southern features are currently receding. The overarching question is whether stance-level deployments of Southern linguistic features align with aggregate-level patterns. The dataset for this analysis is drawn from self-recorded audio collected by 16 workers of varying occupational levels at Southern Tech, a technology firm in the greater Raleigh, NC area. To gather audio data, each participant wore a recorder during their normal workday, resulting in a minimum of one hour of conversational data at work, as well as a minimum of one hour of conversational data from a casual setting. Acoustic analyses were conducted on vowels implicated in the SVS in the aggregate. In addition, three speakers with extensive self-recording data were selected to examine individuals’ token-level stylization, looking especially for statistical outliers (Van Hofwegen 2017). Aggregate-level results show that speakers who hold managerial positions within the firm show more Southern vowels, regardless of context. When looking at individuals’ highly stylized tokens, analysis shows that non-Southern vowels are deployed when speakers position themselves as professionals while in a work context. Southern vowels are deployed to indicate stances of friendliness in all recording contexts, but these never occur in interactions where authority or professionalism are required. These results suggest that indexical associations between the SVS and friendliness and professionalism may be driven by stance, but other local meanings, like managerial status at the firm, are not. Associations between Southern vowels and managerial positions may instead result from organizational-level practices (Rivera 2012), rather than stance-driven interactions. Implications are discussed for the mechanisms of maintenance and change for community-level patterns of social class.

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