Intersections between Race, Place, and Gender in the Production of /s/

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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics
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Calder, Jeremy
King, Sharese

Articulation of /s/ has been linked with gender identity in both production (e.g., Podesva and Van Hofwegen 2016, Hazenberg 2012) and perception studies (e.g., Strand 1999), with women producing a fronter /s/ than men, and a fronter /s/ being perceptually linked with femininity. However, this research has been conducted in largely white speech communities, and it remains an open question whether the same gendered patterns exist among African-American communities. We explore /s/ variation in two African-American (AA) communities: Rochester, NY, an urban community in which AAs form a significant portion of the population; and Bakersfield, CA, a non-urban community in which AAs form a small minority. Statistical analyses reveal no gender difference in /s/ articulation among Bakersfield AAs, with men being just as fronted as women. However, a gender pattern exists among Rochester AAs, with women being significantly more fronted than men. These results suggest that patterns linking phonetic variables to gender identities are specific to the communities under analysis, and may be influenced not only by speaker gender, but also by speaker race and geographic location. These patterns illuminate the importance of taking into account multiple intersecting dimensions of identity in studies of phonetic variation, as broad trends established for one group of speakers may not account for the complexity of how speakers of different demographic groups in different regions phonetically articulate gender identity.

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