Style and identity in interview interactions

Natalie Schilling-Estes

Georgetown University, USA

TP158: Indexicality in Interaction

Using data from sociolinguistic and sociological interviews from several communities in the Southeastern US, the present study examines patterns of stylistic variation in several contexts considered to be typical of sociolinguistic interviews and to condition style in predictable ways (e.g. ‘narrative’, ‘tangent’, ‘soapbox’, talk about language; Labov 1972a, b; 2001). The study demonstrates that interviewees are less predictable stylistically than we would expect, following traditional variationist approaches focusing on attention to speech (Labov 1972b) or audience design (Bell 1984). However, when we broaden our view of stylistic variation to encompass ethnographic and interactional sociolinguistic approaches, we find that we can at least interpret the styles that surface in various interview contexts, even if we cannot always predict them (e.g. Bell 1984: 185). For example, we can examine how stylistic variation is shaped not only by factors external to the speaker (e.g. audience, topic, setting), but also speaker-internal factors such as how speakers conceptualize or ‘frame’ interview events (e.g. Goffman 1974, 1981) and what tone or ‘key’ they take (Hymes 1972). Further, the stylistic creativity that pervades the sociolinguistic interview demonstrates that despite its alleged ‘unnaturalness’ (e.g. Wolfson 1976), the sociolinguistic interview is actually a rich site for the investigation of how speakers ‘really’ use stylistic variation in displaying and shaping personal, interpersonal, and larger group identities. Crucially, in the current study, the in-depth investigation of intra-individual variation is placed against a backdrop of quantitative analysis of phonological and morphosyntactic variation within and across interviews and communities.


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Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Indexicality in Interaction
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 05