Author: Kaylin Wainwright

Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant Post 2: Dictionary Examples

The public discourse around people who move to the U.S. is ugly at the moment (the moment being Build a Wall, Travel Ban, and Zero Tolerance). This series (Post 1) uses dictionaries and corpus linguistics to reflect on how we speak about people that move from one country to another.

If like my co-bish, Caitlin, you read dictionaries for fun, you might have noticed that there are frequently example phrases and sentences to provide further context of how the word is used. You might even own a book that composed short stories using only dictionary example sentences and you might read it aloud to your indifferent friend, Kaylin.

Lexicographers select example phrases and sentences from corpora that demonstrate how that word is used in a “typical grammatical and semantic context.” That is to say, the examples are intended to be emblematic of the word’s usage as determined by big data (corpus linguistics). Some online dictionaries even populate example sentences from recent media in addition to the official example. What are typical grammatical and semantic contexts for expat, immigrant, and migrant?

An example of a bad example.

We will stick with the same dictionaries from the first post in this series. American Heritage Dictionary online had no examples (can someone old school look them up for me in your real life dictionary pleeaassee). However, our other two dictionaries give us some food for thought.

Compare New Oxford American Dictionary’s examples for expat and immigrant:

  • ‘American expatriates in London’
  • ‘they found it difficult to expel illegal immigrants.’

The difference is jarring. I am jarred. Expats are from a wealthy country neutrally existing in a cosmopolitan city. Immigrants are without status and an ominous ‘they’ attempts to remove them.

(New Oxford American did not have an official example for migrant, but it had multiple example sentences from what I gather to be news sources though they are not credited. From words spelled commonwealthily and references to Australia, I have surmised that most these sources are not American, and must be coming from the sister dictionary Oxford Dictionary of English.)

Merriam-Webster doesn’t chap my lips as much.

  • ‘English and American expatriates in the bars of Paris’
  • ‘Millions of immigrants came to America from Europe in the 19th century.’  
  • ‘migrants in search of work on farms’.

The M-W example for immigrant is not negative like NOA’s, so that’s something. As in NOA, expats are from wealthy, Western countries with white majorities hanging out in a foreign city. This particular example was from a sentence about Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein credited to Robert Penn Warren. The example for migrant squares with M-W’s definition: a person who moves regularly for agricultural work. Agricultural labor, a so-called low-skilled job, is not for expats. Expats move abroad to work as writers and NGO staff and businessbishes. Expats have privilege. Migrants move abroad to toil in fields. Migrants are disenfranchised.

Not blaming Mrs. Dictionary for any of this. She is merely the vessel. Tune in for the next post on the source material: corpus.

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Expat v. Immigrant v. Migrant Post 1: Dictionary Definitions

The public discourse around people who move to the U.S. is ugly at the moment (the moment being Build a Wall, Travel Ban, and Zero Tolerance). This series uses dictionaries and corpus linguistics to reflect on how we speak about people that move from one country to another.

As an American living in Ethiopia, I am frequently referred to as an expat. However, my Ethiopian colleagues in the United States are identified as immigrants. Why is that?

What are the definitions of immigrant, migrant, and expat? For those uninitiated in the dark arts of lexicography, words in dictionaries are not defined by some divinity on high making pronouncements (aka prescriptions). Rather words are defined by lexicography witchstaff who are analyzing how they are used by the speakers of the given language (aka descriptions).

Thhhhhhusly, the definitions below have been determined by and broadly represent how Americans use and understand these labels. Take a peep:

As you can see with your own beautiful eyes, the distinctions are subtle. (Also, how extra is American Heritage Dictionary?) All three dictionaries include reference to permanence for immigrant. There is no analogous qualification for expat, indicating expats may not be perceived as permanently living in a foreign country. The definitions for migrant all include a reference to work and frequent movement.

I have moved in and out of the U.S. to four different countries for work opportunities over the course of my career, but nobody has ever called me a migrant. Qwhite interesting, huh? In subsequent posts I will consider how these terms are used in racialized and class-based ways rather than applied to describe permanent, temporary, or work-related movement.

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Effects of gender and verbal aggression on perceptions of U.S. political speakers

It’s the Year of the Woman 2.0, party people. A record number of women are running for office in the American midterm elections. We will see what happens in the coming hours, but it looks like we could soon have more lady leaders and legislators. What better time than now to read Charlotte Nau and Craig O. Stewart’s 2018 paper on how verbal aggression from men and women is evaluated in political speech?

First of all, this article was published in the Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. The specificity of some of these journals tickles me. I hope they have a special issue for papers on Guys Who Lash Out After You Don’t Respond to their Messages on Tinder.

Verbal aggression is defined in the article in various ways by various smartypants people, but most definitions include an element of targeting the personal- looks, character, brains, abilities, identity, etc- rather than someone’s viewpoints. It comes in a variety of forms: profanity, putting a hex on someone, mocking, threats, or just regular old insults.

The Experiments

Most existing research in this area analyzes attack ads. Nau and Stewart are interested in verbal aggression in speeches and debates rather than media advertising, which is unlikely to have been written and often not even voiced by the candidate.

The first experiment compares male and female verbal aggression and the effect it has on speaker credibility, listener agreement with message, and perceptions of appropriateness. The researchers hypothesized that ladyfolk exhibiting verbal aggression in political speeches will be deemed less credible, less appropriate, less effective in their message, and overall more aggressive than menfolk doing the same.

Sixty-three study participants read 8 excerpts from political speeches on an online platform. There were four message conditions: female aggressive, female non-aggressive, male aggressive, and male non-aggressive.The political speeches were edited from real speeches to remove evidence of party affiliation and controversial topics. Researchers inserted verbal aggression into some of the excerpts- things along the lines of:

Just kidding, it was more like, “You obviously don’t know what you are doing…” and “you’re a hypocrite.” Introductory information for each excerpt gave a fictitious name of the politician and their title as Congresswoman or Congressman thereby revealing the gender. Participants had to rate their agreement with the message, their perceptions of the speaker in categories of credibility and appropriateness, and their overall aggression.

The second experiment was largely the same, but to increase the salience of gender they included images of a  female or male speaker in place of the introductory information that said congresswoman/man. The paper explains the rigorous selection process of the photos and how they were randomly assigned and reassigned to speeches shown to different participants to minimize the effects of attractiveness and other factors on the research. I don’t want to bother with all that right now, so just trust me that it was legit.

Results

From the first experiment they found that messages with verbal aggression were viewed more negatively overall than the messages that did not include personal attacks. This is consistent with other research in this area.

Howeva, the gender comparison analysis was not what they expected. There was not a statistically significant difference between how men and women were judged except in two areas: suitability and overall aggression (suitability was a subcategory of appropriateness.) In the nonaggressive condition samples, women were rated as more aggressive and less suitable than men. But in the verbally aggressive samples men were rated as more aggressive and less suitable than women.

The results of the second experiment- with the pics- were pretty similar. Both men and women were judged more harshly for being verbally aggressive, but the effects were a teensy weensy more negative for women.

The authors concluded that there wasn’t strong enough evidence to confirm their hypothesis on gender differences. They theorize that in spite of evidence that generally women are judged harshly for stereotypically unfeminine behavior like aggression, there must be an exception for political speech where aggression is normative.

Conclusion

Well well well, I think to myself, vaginahavingly. These experiments didn’t yield the kind of headline-grabbing results which I can wokely plaster on my social media about women being unfairly penalized. But that is the thing about research- it can give us perspective on dominant cultural narratives bolstered with anecdotes.

Women’s voices are frequently picked apart as annoying for… reasons, but it seems that in political speech verbal aggression is not an area where we have a significant disadvantage relative to men. I think there’s room to learn more about this area, but until then… Trash talk away, congressbishes. People don’t really like it, but they don’t like it at similar rates in women and men.

This paper is recommended for discourse analysis darlings and sociolinguistic sweetpeas.


Nau, C. & C. O. Stewart. (2018). Effects of gender and verbal aggression on perceptions of U.S. political speakers. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict. 6(1). 127-148. https://doi.org/10.1075/jlac.00006.nau

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Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the US labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements

Learn a language, they said. You’ll be more desirable on the job market, they said. Everyone needs to be multilingual to be competitive in this globalized world, they said. Get that dinero, they said.

In education and work environments language is often characterized as a skill that can be leveraged in this little system we call capitalism. Dr. Nic Subtirelu is skeptical of this. In his 2017 paper, “Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the US labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements,” he unpacks how the rhetoric of language skills as human capital doesn’t capture the IRL economic experience of language minorities.

Are Spanish-English bilinguals in the United States earning the promised cold hard cash? While there is evidence that Spanish-English bilinguals outearn Spanish monolinguals, it seems that Spanish-English bilinguals don’t get a pay bump over English monolinguals. Hand-wringing reports of how Americans don’t learn foreign languages and will be ill-equipped in the global economy seem to ignore the millions of bilingual Latinxs in the U.S. Raise your hand if you think racism has something to do with that.

Raciolinguistics

Subtirelu applies a raciolinguistic ideology lens to the issue. Raciolinguistics is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the study of the relationships between race and language- both how language is used to construct race and how race theory applies to linguistics. For example, people who hold antiblack and racist attitudes are likely to have a negative view of African American English (AAVE). For the record, AAVE is a legit dialect with its own sophisticated grammar and a unique phonology.


According to raciolinguistic concepts U.S. Latinxs are racialized and therefore their English and Spanish are deemed non-standard and ‘deficient’ compared to the English of white Americans or the Spanish of Spaniards.

Subtirelu argues that U.S. employers conceive of Spanish in two ways. First, It’s a world language, which has economic value because it could be leveraged in international trade to ganar dinero. (Mexico is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners.) Second, Spanish is also conceived of as a local language, which has economic value because it can be used to hablar con U.S. Spanish speakers in customer service scenarios.

When employers orient toward Spanish as a world language for fancypants corporate jobs, they disregard U.S. Latinx bilingualism, but when employers need Spanish as a local language they are likely to hire bilingual U.S. Latinx workers. But do those language skills come with a wage premium? Existing research points to no.

The Study

He pulled 74,000 job advertisements from an online job board to identify how many jobs prefer or require Spanish-English bilingualism. And what those jobs are. And the difference in pay between those jobs and similar jobs without bilingual requirements. And which job descriptions conceive of Spanish as a world or local language. And any difference in pay among those.

On average advertisements that did *not* mention Spanish had a higher salary listed than those that required or preferred Spanish-English bilingualism. Spanish was also more likely to be mentioned in ads that had low education and experience requirements. A matched sample contrasting jobs in the same states with comparable education and experience level showed that jobs that had *no* Spanish-English bilingual requirement paid an average of $3,500 more.

Digging into the jobs that require Spanish reveals even more not coolness. The handful of high paying jobs oriented to Spanish as a world language, with language about performing audits in South America, international accounting, international distribution, etc. The slightly larger number of middle paying jobs were primarily nonprofit and education jobs that oriented to Spanish as a local language. By far the largest group were low paying ($15,000-27,000) frontline customer service jobs that conceived of Spanish as a local language.

Additional uncoolness alert: the higher paying job ads were more likely to use language like speak fluent Spanish and the low wage jobs were much more likely to use the word bilingual. Subtirelu hypothesizes that the label bilingual was serving as a code for a more ‘nativelike’ authenticity than the label fluent and may carry some racial undertones. As an academic he has to hedge his impressions with qualifications and soft language, but we here at LinguaBishes are mere lowly linguistics groupies and I have no problem claiming with undue confidence that bilingual is probably code for Latinx in these ads and fluent was code for a suit who double-majored in accounting and Spanish.


Conclusion

While the job ads showed a demand for Spanish-English bilingualism, the most demand was in lower paying jobs that oriented toward Spanish as a local language and were probably recruiting Latinxs.

The electoral success of Donald Drumpf on a nativist platform, the botched federal government response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and ICE ‘mistakenly’ detaining U.S. citizens that are Latinx are just a few signs that many whites don’t view Latinxs as sufficiently American. This research shows that this denigration extends to their bilingual skills, which are not financially valued in the job market despite capitalist rhetoric extolling the benefits of a multilingual workforce.

Though this has all been rather disheartening, it’s important for linguistic research to continue shedding light on whose languages and dialects have built-in privileges and who is given a pat on the head and a low wage job for their language skills.

This paper is recommended for bilingual bishes, sociolinguistics stans and anti-racists.


Subtirelu, N.C. (2017). Raciolinguistic ideology and Spanish-English bilingualism on the U.S. labor market: An analysis of online job advertisements. Language in Society, 46(4), 477-505. DOI:10.1017/S0047404517000379

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Bishes Vowel Chart

We were struck by how unmemorable and unfun the keywords of Wells’ Standard Lexical Set were, so we decided to come up with our own keywords using words that resonated more with us as extremely online types. Hover your mouse or click on the vowel sound to see an alternative word and accompanying emoji. (We chose these lexical items to correspond with our North American English dialects.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dismantle the Native-speakerarchy Post 3: Sentence context influences the subjective perception of foreign accents

(This is part of a series. Check out the first post on lexical diversity here and the second post on vowel quality here.)

A commonly cited reason for why so-called ‘native speaker’ English teachers are superior to ‘non-native’ English speaker teachers is pronunciation. “How can the students learn proper pronunciation from someone with a foreign accent?” howl the haters. “Native speaker teachers speak correctly, so students will have an accurate model,” wail the whiners.

“What if accent is all in your mind?” says me.

JK JK, accents are real and we all have them. However, our perception of accents is driven by more than just the technical difference in sounds. Dr. Sara Incera and her team show that foreign accents can be wrongly accused as the culprit of communication difficulties. While most research has looked at how accent affects comprehension, this paper (2017) considers the reverse: how does comprehension affect accent perception?

They do this by looking at the effects of sentence predictability on how strongly an accent is perceived. For example, “Every morning I drink _____.” There are many things that could fit in that blank, and what your mind is expecting to hear populates as you’re processing the sentence in real time. Incera et. al hypothesize that if the sentence completion is something unpredictable like, say, “Every morning I drink… lamp”, then you will perceive a stronger foreign accent on the part of the speaker than if the completion was predictable.

What makes this study a special, precious, unique snowflake amidst previous work on accent perception is that it isolates the speaker-independent variable of sentence predictability from speaker-dependent factors. Umm… wut. Here is a nifty table to tablesplain:

These researchers conduct two highly-controlled experiments to determine the specific effect of sentence context on foreign accent perception.

Methodology

Here is the recipe for the first experiment:

Step 1: Identify 24 freerange, artisanal sentences from Bloom and Fischer’s 1980 sentence corpus that have a highly predictable final word.These are the predictable sentences aka the snoozefest sentences.

Step 2: Chop off the final word of each sentence and swap it with another sentence. These are the unpredictable sentences aka the acid trips sentences. For example:

  • After dinner they washed the _ dishes (closet)
  • He hung her coat in the _ closet (dishes)

Step 3: Isolate the final word of the sentence by recording the sentence stem and final word with different speakers. Record the sentence stems in a ladyvoice by a speaker of American English. Record the final words in a manlyman voice by 6 speakers of English as a foreign language (2 Chinese speakers, 2 Hindi speakers, and 2 Arabic speakers). The gender difference is to make the final word clearly distinct so it alone will be rated for accent, but you could easily reverse the genders.  Splice the recordings together.

Step 4: Find 24 randos to be your participants. They are speakers of American English. Give them some course credit for their time, please and thank you.

Step 5: Have participants each listen to a mix of 12 predictable and 12 unpredictable sentences counterbalanced from all 6 of the foreign speakers. They click on a button on the computer screen that says “Weak Accent” or “Strong Accent.”  Instruct them to rate only the final word spoken by the male speaker.

Voila! You have a pile of data to eat for dinner! Bon appetit!

For the second experiment they did basically the same things, but recorded the final word with just two dudes. One dude is an American English speaker referred to in the paper as “native speaker,” and other buddy is a Hindi speaker called “foreign speaker.” This follow up experiment was to determine if the results from the first experiment extend to American English speakers.

Results

Drum roll please…In the first experiment participants were more likely to rate the speaker of an unpredictable sentence as having a strong accent. Though the exact same recording of the word in a predictable sentence was more likely to be rated as spoken with a weak accent. In the second experiment, they found that the unpredictable sentences for the “native speaker” were also rated as having a strong accent.  Let us jump to conclusions:

Linguistic context affects perception of accent!  This study squares with my personal experience as an ESL teacher. On the occasions that I have difficulty understanding what my students are trying to communicate it is frequently because I don’t know what they are talking about rather than their pronunciation. I might not have the requisite background knowledge to understand, or the unpredictability (and magnificent creativity!) of their word choice as English language learners throws me off the trail. As a ‘native’ English speaker and an ESL teacher, I must unlearn that my accent is superior and that communication breakdowns are the result of others’ accents.

Flipping out about a foreign accent on an English teacher is not a good look FULL STOP. 1) English as an international language or English as a Lingua Franca make this moot as most English speakers globally speak it as a second language to others who speak it as a second language. 2) Accent discrimination is a thin veil for racism, sexim, classism, jingoism, and other bad-isms. 3) As this study shows, foreign accent perception is a lot more subjective than people realize. Some of it is in our heads.

Check out this paper if you are an accent perception bish or an anti-nativespeakerism babe!


Bloom, P. A., & Fischler, I. (1980). Completion norms for 329 sentence contexts. Memory and Cognition, 8, 631–642.

Incera, S., McLennan, C.T., Shah, A. P., & Wetzel, M.T. (2017). Sentence completion influences the subjective perception of foreign accents. Acta Psychologia, 172, 71-76.

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Language contact, agency and power in the linguistic landscape of two regional capitals in Ethiopia

Do you ever wish that your linguistics interests were more Instagram-friendly? Fear not, m’lady. There’s a subfield for you! Linguistic landscape is a burgeoning area of study that analyzes how language is used visually in public spaces (mostly signs) in multilingual societies. Very ‘grammable.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_landscape

Linguistic landscape speaks to the political, economic, and cultural power of the given languages in multilingual places. Which languages appear on which kind of signs? Which language is more prominent? Which one has an uglier font (cough…Comic Sans… cough)? Some linguistic landscapes are a byproduct of language policy, like in Quebec, where signs must have French text “markedly predominant” over text in other languages. Other times linguistic landscape develops more organically, like the examples we will be looking at in just a minute.

In their paper (2014) Hirut Woldemariam and Elizabeth Lanza explore the linguistic landscape of two regions in Ethiopia to reveal the effects of language policy and how the regionals languages have affected each other. This paper has everything: #linguisticlandscape, #languagecontact, #literacy, #languagepolicy, #languagerights.

Language Policy and Literacy in Ethiopia

Let’s get you up to speed on Ethiopia. Ethiopia is in the Horn of Africa and they have been doing their thing for a while. Lucy, our earliest human ancestor, was found there! When Europe was carving up Africa, Ethiopia successfully fought off the Italians making it the only uncolonized African country, the real Wakanda.

It is an ethnic federation with more than 100 million people using 80 different languages. The three we are going to talk about today are Amharic, Oromo, and Tigrinya.  

  1. Amharic is the federal language and the language of the Amhara people (27% of the population), one of the most powerful ethnic groups in Ethiopia. Amharic serves as the lingua franca for the country.
  2. Oromo is a Cushitic language spoken by the Oromo people (35% of the population). It is the official working language in the region of Oromia, and is spoken by some people across the border in Kenya.
  3. Tigrinya is the language of the Tigray region and people (6% of the population), and is also a major language of neighboring frenemy, Eritrea.

Here is a quick look at the trajectory of language policy in Ethiopia:

Long story short, the history of Amharic as the primary language of literacy, instruction, and government administration has unfairly positioned speakers of other languages in their own country even when, as in the Oromo people, they outnumber the Amhara ruling class. Reliable, up-to-date literacy statistics are not available, but Woldemariam and Lanza cite some numbers published in 2009 that indicate literacy rates in Oromo-speaking regions and Tigrinya-speaking regions were between 1% and 15%.

The Paper

Almost thirty years after the dramatic language policy shift to uphold language rights and increase literacy in regional and local languages, the role of Amharic in Oromia and Tigray provides an interesting test case on the lingering chokehold it has had on written texts.

The researchers melded together fieldwork from a few different projects, so they could zero in on Amharic language contact with Oromo and Tigrinya. Language contact is when languages interact and influence each other- vocabulary, intonation, grammar rubbing off, languages replacing or ‘killing’ each other, or new languages developing through creolization.

Woldemariam and Lanza use linguistic landscape data collected came from the capital cities Adama, Oromia and Mekele, Tigray to demonstrate language contact. In Adama the dataset was 100 photos of monolingual, bilingual, and trilingual signs. In Mekele they chose the main shopping district and took photos of 376 written texts on signs, building names, and advertisements. Because names of shops are often noun phrases this is fertile ground to investigate language contact as born out in the linguistic landscape.

Tigrinya and Oromo both differ from Amharic in the word order of noun phrases. Amharic is right-headed and Tigrinya and Oromo are both left-headed. Unfortch, that refers to sentence diagramming gobbledygook and not a two-headed dragon with a dominant head.

 

Here is an example to help a bish out:

In addition to a lot of Amharic language in the linguistic landscape in general, Woldemariam and Lanza found evidence of Amharic word order in Tigrinya and Oromo language shop signs including some interesting hybrids with embedded noun phrases. Check it:

In the above image (p.94) from Adama, Oromia we can see Oromo, Amharic and English. The Oromo literally translates to Shop Cultural Objects Maatii. (Maatii is a name.) ‘Cultural Objects’ is a right-headed noun phrase embedded in the left-headed noun phrase ‘Shop Maatii.’  ‘Cultural Objects’ is following the word order conventions of Amharic even though the lexical items are Oromo. This is just one example of Oromo and Amharic hybrid syntax observed in the linguistic landscape. The same phenomenon was identified with embedded noun phrases in Tigrinya on shop signs in Meleke, Tigray.

The heavy presence of Amharic language and Amharic word order in Oromo and Tigrinya in the linguistic landscape speaks to its history and as the language of literacy in Ethiopia.  This bish couldn’t help but wonder: what is the linguistic landscape around her and what does it say about language policy and power? Who is invited into the fold and who are the gatekeepers locking out?

This paper is recommended for linguistic landscape bishes, language policy nerds, language contact kweens, and Ethiopiaphiles.


Woldemariam, H., & Lanza, E. (2014). Language contact, agency and power in the linguistic landscape of two regional capitals in Ethiopia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 228, 79–103.

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“Building a thick skin for each other” The use of ‘reading’ as an interactional practice of mock impoliteness in drag queen backstage talk

Years ago at a New Year’s drag show, the queen hosting the event said of me and a couple friends,  “Look at these trashy whores from Virginia!” as we took some seats near the stage. I was mortified, but my bold friend tried to avenge our honor, “We live in DC!” The drag queen clapped back by mocking her outfit. This was my first experience being on the receiving end of a drag queen’s withering remarks, and as three straight women in a gay bar angling for good seats to the show, we had it coming.

‘Reading’ & Mock Impoliteness

If you have been to (or performed in) a drag show, you have likely witnessed or experienced the hilarious and creative insults skillfully employed by drag queens. Sean McKinnon of Indiana University takes us on a linguistic journey of this practice in his paper “Building a thick skin for each other” The use of ‘reading’ as an interactional practice of mock impoliteness in drag queen backstage talk (2017).  

If you are not steeped in drag queen culture, you may not be familiar with the practice of ‘reading.’ Who better to tell us what it means than a crowdsourced dictionary by fans of drag queen royalty, RuPaul?  

read

  1. v. To wittily and incisively expose a person’s flaws (i.e. “reading them like a book”), often exaggerating or elaborating on them; an advanced format of the insult. The term is a reference to the film Paris is Burning.
  2. n. Criticism made to a drag queen.

McKinnon’s work situates ‘reading’ in sociopragmatic theories of politeness and impoliteness. Reading, which definitionally includes an element of truth, straddles mock impoliteness and genuine impoliteness depending on relationship and context. McKinnon focuses on in-group reading and identifies it as an interactional practice for the purpose of building a tolerance to cruelty through mock impoliteness while noting that the same insults from an out-group member would qualify as genuine impoliteness.

Like that time in Mean Girls when Janice said Damian was too gay to function and it was funny, but when Cady repeated it to the Plastics and they sneered and wrote it in the Burn Book, and Cady was like ‘Oh shit maybe it’s only okay if Janice says it,’ and then the Burn Book was distributed to the whole school, and Damian saw it, and Janice was all indignant and was like ‘That’s only okay if I say it!’

It’s like that, guys. In-group, out-group. Know your place.

In-Group

Out-Group

The Research

The majority of existing research into how drag queens use language has analyzed language used during performance, in interviews, or from media. This paper is unique because McKinnon was able to record and transcribe almost 3 hours of backstage talk between 4 drag queens before and during a local drag holiday show.

His research also included an interview with Eva, the show director and hostess of show, who was one of the drag queens backstage. When McKinnon asked her about a particular interaction backstage, she brought up reading unprompted saying, “Reading is about finding something that you know the other person is kind of self-conscious about, and picking on that. In a playful way.” She later elaborated, “and it’s supposed to be funny, reading is supposed to be funny and creative. And that’s the thing, it’s not like “oh girl well you’re a bitch and you’re ugly,” that’s not reading, that’s just being rude.”

McKinnon straight up inquired if Eva thought the purpose of reading was to build in-group solidarity, a theory posited in other mock impoliteness research. She responded that she believed it was to “build a thick skin” (Hence the title of the paper. Thanks, girl!) because of the ostracism and slurs they receive from the out-group for being “over feminized” or a drag queen at all. In this case, the out-group in question is the broader gay community. Through Eva’s interview and the literature review on mock impoliteness, McKinnon conceptualizes the backstage as a safe space for drag queens to dish out and take insults in preparation for unsafe spaces.

McKinnon goes through numerous examples from the backstage talk transcripts and categorized each insult as personalized negative assertion, personalized negative vocative, personalized negative reference, pointed criticism, condescension, or unpalatable supposition (Culpeper, 2011).

(This is a personalized negative vocative, btw.)

He provides analysis and context from other parts of the transcript to demonstrate how the criticism was frequently something the drag queen was already self-conscious about.

He also identifies how the insults are perceived by the target as “allowable offenses” by identifying laughter, vocalization patterns, and cooperative turn-taking in the recordings thus demonstrating how they are mock impoliteness and not genuine impoliteness. Many of the topics (appearance, performance, etc.) the drag queens used to insult each other are also topics that they might receive criticism on from the out-group. McKinnon points this out as evidence for Eva’s assertion that reading serves to build a thick skin.

Conclusion

By taking a deep dive into the talk used in this intimate setting of a drag queen community this paper is able to offer up a nuance to the academic definition of reading. A read should target something the receiving drag queen is aware of and self-conscious about, so that it can accomplish the goal of building a thicker skin and arming her against the world. This paper applies mock impoliteness frameworks to show that developing in-group solidarity is not the whole story in why drag queens talk trash to each other.

Check the paper out for yourself if you’re a bish interested in queer linguistics or a pragmatics bish. (The transcripts alone are worth it.)


Culpeper, Jonathan. 2011. Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511975752

McKinnon, S. (2017). “Building a thick skin for each other” The use of ‘reading’ as an interactional practice of mock impoliteness in drag queen backstage talk. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 6(1),90–127. doi 10.1075/jls.6.1.04mck

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Dismantling the Native-speakerarchy Post 2: “The role of vowel quality in ELF misunderstandings”

(This is the second post in the series “Dismantling the Native-speakerarchy.” Check out the first post here.)

It’s time to pull another Jenga block out of the Native-speakerarchy tower. That block is vowel quality in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) interactions brought to you by the Asian Corpus of English.  

ELF v. EFL

English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) is often defined in juxtaposition to English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Yes, yes, the acronyms are irritatingly similar. Don’t shoot the messenger.

ELF refers to English used by speakers of other languages for intercultural communication. Think a French girl and Thai boy falling in love with English as their medium of communication. Or a Korean businesswoman negotiating with a Chinese board of directors in English. ELF prioritizes intelligibility and acknowledges that users will have variations (dropping articles, using relative pronouns like who and which interchangeably, etc.) that deviate from ‘native-speaker’ norms. The variations are a feature not a bug. A natural occurrence in language patterns, not a deficit.

Whereas, English as a Foreign Language is designed to prepare users for communicating with a ‘native-speaker,’ and implied is an attempt to conform to inner-circle (U.S., U.K. etc.) standards. Think a Japanese student studying English to matriculate in a Canadian university. Deviations from the standard are errors. English language instruction in an EFL model seeks to raise students’ accuracy levels to be accepted in academic and professional settings dominated by ‘native-speakers.’ Individual teachers of EFL might not have that philosophy, but mass market coursebooks, curriculum, assessments, and hiring practices demonstrate the pervasive nature of the ‘native-speaker’ norms.

Back to my bae, ELF. English as a Lingua Franca is a threat to the status of ‘native-speaker’ teachers as the gatekeepers of English AND I AM HERE FOR IT. ELF speakers bring the richness of their accents to English, and they don’t have time for all of English’s quirks. Third person singular ‘s,’ I am lookin’ at you.

The Paper

David Deterding and Nur Raihan Mohamed (2016) used the Asian Corpus of English (ACE) to investigate the impact of vowel quality on intelligibility. ACE is a collection of “naturally occurring, spoken, interactive ELF in Asia.” A veritable playground for ELF fanatics.

The OG ELF fangirl Jennifer Jenkins wrote the literal book on it and identified the Lingua Franca Core: a list of pronunciation features that are necessary to comprehensibility in English. Spoiler alert: it’s a short list. It includes “all the consonants of English apart from the dental fricatives,the distinction between long and short vowels, initial and medial consonant clusters, and the placement of intonational nucleus.” (Deterding and Mohamed, 2016, p. 293).  

Lemme ‘splain.

  • Most consonant sounds are necessary for intelligibility. However, the pesky sounds /θ/ as in thot and /ð/ as in that hoe over there are not necessary because substitutions like /f/, /v/, /d/ typically suffice.
  • Short v. long vowels. You know, your sheets v. shits, and your beachs v. bitches, etc. Mastering vowel length is considered important for intelligibility according to Jenkins’ research.
  • Initial and medial consonant clusters. Sounds like  /str/, /mp/, /xtr/, /pl/ /scr/, and so on at the beginning of words, and to a lesser extent, in the middle of words, need to be kept intact for the speaker to be comprehensible.
  • Placement of intonational nucleus: This is stress on a syllable in an intonational unit (group of words), and the wrong stress can throw off the listener, so Jenkins includes it in the Lingua Franca Core.

All other pronunciation features are deemed fair game in ELF by Jenkins, including vowel quality, which is what this paper focuses on. Vowel quality refers to what makes vowels sound different from each other: “I must leave the pep rally early to get a pap smear. Pip pip!”

Vowel quality is why JT’s delivery in “It’s Gonna Be Me” spawned this meme: 

From ACE, Deterding created the Corpus of Misunderstandings (incidentally, the name of my emo band) with data from exclusively outer and expanding circle English speakers.

This paper is building on Deterding’s earlier 2013 work that determined 86% of misunderstandings in CMACE involved pronunciation. He and Mohamed dig into vowel quality specifically because it was left off the Lingua Franca Core by Jenkins.  

Of the 183 tokens of misunderstanding in the corpus, 98 involved vowel quality. In many of those tokens vowel length and quality was an issue, but as vowel length is part of the Lingua Franca Core, they were not included in the analysis, leaving 22 tokens of short vowels misheard for other short vowels. Half of these tokens included /æ/ and /ɛ/, referred to as the TRAP and DRESS vowels in the literature, but what we will call the SASS and FEMME vowels.

When they analyzed each of the 22 tokens in context, they found other pronunciation features that probably caused the misunderstanding, and that vowel quality was indeed a minor factor. For example, “In Token 5, wrapping was misunderstood as ‘weapon’, but the key factor here was the occurrence of /w/ instead of /r/ at the start of the word” (p.229). Recall that consonant sounds are in the Lingua Franca Core and play a big role in intelligibility.

Conclusion

David Deterding and Nur Raihan Mohamed’s research supports Jenkins’ contention that conforming to ‘native-speaker’ standards in vowel quality is unnecessary for English users to successfully communicate. Let me put on my extrapolation cap because you know how I do. ‘Native-speaker’ English teachers don’t have a pronunciation edge over ‘non native-speaker’ teacher colleagues when it comes to vowel quality. It literally does not matter if someone pronounces it, “Thet’s eccentism, you esshet!”

Check out this article if you are a research bish that wants to see the kind of work that can be done with corpus linguistics. And if you’re a EFL bish or an ELF kween. And if you’re a NNEST.


ACE. 2014. The Asian Corpus of English. Director: Andy Kirkpatrick; Researchers: Wang Lixun, John Patkin, Sophiann Subhan. http://corpus.ied.edu.hk/ace/ (May 26, 2018)

Deterding, D. & Mohamed, N. R. (2016). The role of vowel quality in ELF misunderstandings. Journal of English as a Lingua Franca, 5(3). 291-307.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English and an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Language ideology change over time: lessons for language policy in the U.S. state of Arizona and beyond

Those silly Brexiting kweens across the pond are making headlines (por ejemplo) about implementing an English language requirement deadline for UK residents.  While we wait for that sitch to shake out, it seems like a good time to dive into a bit of language policy research.

Shannon Fitzsimmons-Doolan’s (2018) paper examines the interplay between stakeholders’ language ideology and language policy in Arizona’s K-12 public schools. The related literature shows a chicken and egg situation in which language ideology drives language policy, but language policy affects language ideology. Arizona offers an interesting case study for unpacking this relationship.

Vamos a establecer la escena/Let’s set the scene

For those unfamiliar with the U.S. educational context, primary and secondary education policy is driven at the state rather than national level. In 2006 Arizona adopted the anti-bilingual/multilingual education policy Structured English Immersion, aka the 4 Hour Model, aka the No-Me-Gusta-People-That-Talk-Different model. English language learners (ELLs) are segregated into English language development classes for 4 hours a day until they reach proficiency on a state assessment. During this time these students are being withheld from content classes (math, science, etc.). These requirements can be particularly burdensome to older ELLs who are unable to get credits that would allow them to graduate from high school.

This policy was an outgrowth of the political climate in Arizona that had passed Proposition 203, a voter referendum that repealed bilingual education laws in 2000. While I would love to spend more time wagging my finger about English only policies, that’s not really why we are here.

El papel/The paper

Fitzsimmons-Doolan is interested in the change in language ideology of policy-influential people in Arizona from 2010 and 2016. She surveyed politically active Republicans and Democrats, teachers in districts with high ELL populations, and education administrators who manage language policy. From the 2010 survey data she identified 5 broad language ideologies: 1) pro-monolingualism, 2) pro-multilingualism, 3) English as a tool, 4) multiple languages as a problem, and 5) language as an intelligent standard. Check out the deetz in the table below (p.40). The 2016 survey measured shifts in orientation to the ideologies above by reaching out to the same group of respondents from 2010.

Los resultados/The results

Language ideology on the survey remained pretty stable over 6 years. There were statistically significant shifts away from pro-monolingualism and multiple languages as a problem, and higher positive orientation toward pro-multilingualism. However, those shifts were concentrated in the educator respondents, and not in the politically active Republicans and Democrats respondents, who exhibited little change.

you, a linguabish: why does it matter what some some random voters have to say about language policy, the teachers and administrators implement language policy

me, someone that googled a bit: recall that Arizona has ballot initiatives, including the aforementioned Prop 203, which voters passed to severely restrict bilingual education. democracy lol

It is unsurprising that the politically active Republicans and Democrats did not change their minds greatly over time. Fitzsimmons-Doolan notes that the average age of respondents in the 2016 survey was 62.3 years old, which makes sense when you consider how much more likely older generations are to consistently go out and vote. I think opinions about language are pretty baked-in for the layperson at that age. That said…maybe no news is good news?

Given the political climate of 2016 and Trump’s nativist rhetoric propelling him to the Republican nomination and presidency, perhaps we can be thankful the politically-active people of a fairly red state like Arizona didn’t swing *more* toward pro-monolinguism, multiple languages as a problem, and language as an intelligent standard.

Conclusión/Conclusion

While Arizona might not be ripe for reform just yet, this research shows some positive trends away from English only policies among those who work directly with language learners. Educational language policy in AZ might continue to be a hot mess for now, but don’t lose heart, linguabishes. I believe language ideology is correlated with immigration policy preferences, and the increased polarization is going both ways. As nativists and restrictionists get more vocal, they are spawning fiercer, more outspoken allies of immigrant communities. Maybe by proxy support for bilingualism and multilingualism will intensify. (Fingers crossed.)

Check this paper out if you’re a bish interested in language policy, a bilingual educator bish, or  any old, K-12 teacher bish that works with ELLs.


Fitzsimmons-Doolan, S. (2018). Language ideology change over time: lessons for language policy in the U.S. state of Arizona and beyond. TESOL Quarterly. 52 (1). 34-61.

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