Embodying Toughness: LOT-Raising, /l/-Velarization, and Retracted Articulatory Setting
In this paper I examine the realization of two sociophonetic variables to explore the link between articulatory setting (Honikman 1964, Laver 1980) and stylistic practice. I show that raised variants of the LOT vowel and velarized variants of word-initial /l/, both characterized by retraction of the tongue dorsum, are used in tandem by adolescent speakers in the construction of an embodied style characterized by toughness. Data come from a year-long ethnography of a public arts high school in the San Francisco Bay Area, where students split their time between academic classes and one of twelve arts disciplines (e.g., dance, theatre, orchestra). One of these disciplines, technical theater or 'tech,' is distinct from the others in that students engage in manual labor, using professional-grade equipment to construct sets for school productions and events. These students self-describe and are described by peers as 'rowdy' 'assholes' who wear black clothes and work boots, producing a cumulative image of tech students as 'badass' and 'tough.' Acoustic analyses of interview data from 24 students indicate that tech speakers produce higher LOT tokens and more velarized /l/ variants than their non-tech peers. Because raised LOT and velarized /l/ are both characterized by the backing and raising of the tongue dorsum, I suggest that these students rely more generally on a retracted articulatory setting, and that this articulatory setting is in turn part of indexing toughness.