The role of imitation in studies of language diversity and regard: Talk like a Mountaineer

Evans, Betsy E.

University of Washington, USA

WS133: The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions

Imitation is an area of research that has received little attention in sociolinguistics, largely due to the prioritization of vernacular speech and an assumption that speakers can "perform” only gross stereotypical characteristics of other varieties. While much time and effort have been devoted to developing methods of data collection/interviewing that circumvent ‘attention to speech’, this paper will discuss the utility and methods for using imitation in evaluating and acquiring information on language attitudes. In particular, it is suggested that purposefully collecting imitation from respondents can provide insight into

the salience of features of different varieties of language. For example, if a respondent does an imitation, which linguistic features of the target dialect does the speaker draw upon to carry out the task? Are these features actually present in the target dialect? What sort of ‘tools’ (e.g. catch phrases, personas) does the respondent use to carry out the task? Answers to these questions provide information on aspects of the linguistic salience of the imitated dialect and salient social characteristics of the people connected to that dialect. For this purpose, we examine a case study in which we explore the ability of a member of the general public (i.e. not a professional impersonator) to imitate another dialect. Recordings were made of a sociolinguistic interview during which the respondent, Noah, read a word list and reading passage in his “usual,” that is, “not- imitating,” speech and in what he perceived to be “West Virginia” speech. An examination of the performance provides information on what linguistic features of WV speech were salient to Noah. The convergence of salient features for Noah and listeners via the reactions of native West Virginians to Noah’s speech is also explored. That is, respondents listened to recordings of Noah’s ‘usual’ and ‘West Virginian’ speech in addition to other male voices and were asked to indicate whether the speakers grew up in West Virginia or not. Results showed that the majority of respondents perceived Noah’s imitation as West Virginian in spite of the fact that his imitation demonstrates more features of the southern shift than is typical of the region.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 08