Performative Approaches to Style-Shifting: Beyond Audience Design

Juan Manueal Hernández-Campoy, Juan Antonio Cutillas-Espinosa, Natalie Schilling-Estes

University of Murcia, Spain & Georgetown University, USA


Increasingly, researchers have moved from viewing stylistic variation as a primarily reactive phenomenon, conditioned by matters external to speakers such as audience and formality, to more proactive approaches, in which speakers use stylistic resources to project and create identity, as well as to accomplish conversational and longer-term goals. In the present study, we extend this constructivist approach to style shifting by demonstrating that even in seemingly highly constrained stylistic contexts, namely publicly broadcast political speech, people make personal, strategic, and sometimes quite surprising, stylistic choices.

The paper focuses on the unexpected (and controversial) use of many features of the local dialect by a female former President of the Local Government of Murcia, in southeastern Spain. The Murcian dialect is stigmatized within Spain but also carries covert prestige for Murcians as a marker of local identity and solidarity. The comparison of the President’s broadcast speech with that of other local speakers shows, surprisingly, that she has higher usage levels for dialect features than any of the other groups. Her hyper-use of Murcian dialect features indicates that she is not shifting her speech in reaction to formality, or even in accommodation to the many Murcians in her audience. Rather, she is purposely designing her speech to project an image that highlights her Murcian identity and her socialist ideals.

The fact the even prominent politicians use stylistic resources in ways that are most fully explicated by appealing to speaker-internal as well as speaker-external, situational factors lends further support for viewing style as a matter of 'Speaker Design'.

Session: Paper session
Variation 9
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 15