Differentiating gender and authority representations via prosodic differentiations: Evidence from Greek young women conversational narratives

Argiris Archakis, Dimitri Papazachariou

University of Patras, Greece


In this paper we investigate the role of prosodic means in the construction of social identity. For this purpose, we examine the prosodic devices with which young women in Greece construct their identities in the course of their conversations. Drawing on the broader framework of Discourse Analysis and Sociolinguistics as well as on recent developments on the theory of prosody and on the social constructionist paradigm, our paper follows the line of research that focuses on situated analysis of identities (Androutsopoulos & Georgakopoulou, 2003; Couper-Kuhlen, 2001; Couper-Kuhlen & Selting, 1996; among others). We illustrate our points using data from a corpus based on a large-scale research project on everyday interactions among youth groups in Patras, Greece.

Our data consist of five conversations of about one hour each. We have extracted about 80 narratives recounted by 9 girls where 301 direct speech intonation phrases were isolated and measured for speed and intensity with the Praat software. Speed refers to the tempo of speech production and, for the purposes of the present study, it was calculated by dividing the time of every intonation phrase by the number of syllables uttered (see Crystal 1997). Time was calculated in milliseconds (msecs). Intensity refers to the average loudness of each intonation phrase and is measured in dbs.

According to the results of our analysis, we argue that prosodic differentiation in speed and intensity correlate with the way gender and authority is represented within direct speech quotations. By analysing both quantitatively and qualitatively the discourse functions of the prosodic features of speed and intensity, which act as contextualization cues (Gumperz 1982), we aim to stress the dynamic nature of identity construction in narrative context.

- Androutsopoulos, Jannis K. and Alexandra Georgakopoulou (2003). Discourse constructions of youth identities. Introduction. In Jannis K. Androutsopoulos and Alexandra Georgakopoulou (eds.), Discourse constructions of youth identities. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 1-25.
- Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth and Margret Selting (eds.). 1996. Prosody in Conversation: Interactional Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Couper-Kuhlen, Elizabeth. 2001. Intonation and discourse: Current views from within. In Deborah Schiffrin, Deborah Tannen and Heidi E. Hamilton (eds.) The Handbook of Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Blackwell. 13-34.
- Crystal, David. 1997. A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics. 4th Ed. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
- Gumperz, John. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Session: Paper session
Gender 3 (Identity)
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 16