In 2005 the geographies of New Orleans -- linguistic, social, and physical -- were devastated by flooding following the failure of the levees after Hurricane Katrina. The disaster exacerbated what was already a dearth of research that has resulted in a lack of public knowledge of the speech of one of America's linguistically richest cities. New Orleans possesses numerous speech varieties, each linked historically to particular neighborhoods and sociocultural groups, but these varieties, along with the city's neighborhoods and population, have been profoundly disturbed post-Katrina. This dissertation focuses on two locally salient cultural categories, Creole and Yat, in order to explore the intersection of language, place, and identity, and also uses these speakers' experiences to consider how the flooding and population diaspora after Katrina continues to change local perception and construal of linguistic and other cultural affiliations. The historical processes that gave rise to Creole and Yat as cultural categories, current commercial and other discourses about them, and speaker and media use of local linguistic features are examined. Interviews, ethnography, discourse analysis, and participant observation are used to trace how self-identified members of these groups as well as public discourses use language to construct, reflect, and manipulate local cultural identities. The intellectual and academic merits of this study are twofold. First, it begins to redress the deficit of scholarly attention to New Orleans speech. Second, it furthers the study of the intersection of language, place and the performance of identity within the context of cultural appropriation endemic in global commerce generally, and post-disaster diasporic communities specifically. In contribution to the community of study, curriculum modules which link study of New Orleans English with critical language awareness skills will be created for use in middle and high schools, as well as a public, interactive, web-based archival resource for New Orleans speech and culture.

Project Report

800x600 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE 800x600 Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE I. Project Summary: Postvocalic /r/ in New Orleans: Language, Place and Commodification From silva dimes (silver dimes) to po-boys (poor boy sandwiches), r-lessness has long been a conspicuous feature of all dialects of New Orleans English. This dissertation presents a quantitative and qualitative description of current rates of r-lessness in the city. 71 speakers from 21 neighborhoods were interviewed. R-pronunciation was elicited in four contexts: interview chat, Katrina narratives, a reading passage and a word list. R-lessness was found in 39% of possible instances. Older speakers pronounce /-r/ less than younger speakers, and those with a high school education or less pronounce /-r/ far less than those with post-secondary education. Race and gender did not prove to be significant predictors of r-pronunciation. In contrast to past studies, many speakers in the current study discuss their metalinguistic awareness of /-r/ and their partial control of /-r/ variation, discussing switching between r-fulness and r-lessness in different contexts. In New Orleans, this metalinguistic awareness is attributable in part to the devastation following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the near-disappearance of the city intensified an already extant nostalgia for local culture, including ways of speaking. Nostalgia and amplification by advertisers and popular media have helped recontextualize r-lessness as a variable associated with a number of social meanings, including localness and authenticity. These processes help transform r-lessness, for many speakers, from a routine feature of talk to a floating cultural variable, serving as a semiotic resource on which speakers can draw on to perform localness. This dissertation both closes a longstanding gap in research on New Orleans speech and uses New Orleans as a case study to suggest that the social meanings of linguistic features are created and maintained in part by a constellation of interrelated social processes of late modernity. Further, I argue that individual speakers are increasingly agentively engaged with these larger processes, as part of a global transformation from more traditional, place-bound populations to more deracinated individuals who choose to align themselves with particular communities and local cultural forms, particularly those that have been commodified. In a sense, New Orleanians are a kind of vanguard for a global sociolinguistic process. New Orleanians have been resisting a homogenizing, culture-threatening force—Americanization—for two hundred years. Around the world, communities are increasingly confronting the interrelationship of local language and culture, globalization, disappearance, place, nostalgia, and commodification. Some aspects of local culture become cherished as bulwarks against the perceived rise of homogenizing, culture-threatening forces of globalization, just as aspects of New Orleans culture have become cherished in the face of Americanization, and, more recently, post-Katrina destruction. The linguistic results of this resistance to perceived threats are complex; some parts of local language become simulacra, commodified objects of nostalgia, while some parts are in robust quotidian use. Many parts of local language are both things at once, just as New Orleanians are both self-aware performers and authentic producers of culture. Speakers' use of r-lessness in New Orleans is declining as an expression of an original historical existence, as the low rate of r-lessness for younger speakers shows, but is thriving as a floating variable, revived in the system of signs in a new social imaginary. II. Intellectual Merit This dissertation documented a seriously understudied variety of English. The intellectual merit of this study lies in its goal of beginning to redress the dearth of scholarly attention to this rich but endangered dialect. Additionally, this study investigated how specific connections between language, place, and cultural identity have been forged and are being re-worked in New Orleans, adding to the body of work on these connections in sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological research. This project makes a concrete contribution to dialect research, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. III. Broader Impacts The major community-oriented goal of this study was the creation of curriculum modules for use in middle and high schools, which links study of New Orleans language with critical language awareness skills.The course for New Orleans English similarly stresses the rich history of the city’s language, and guides students to think critically about local ideologies of language. New Orleans’s complex racial and ethnic divisions and inequities, including judgments about local language use, make education about the history of New Orleans English particularly apt. Accompanying the educational materials is a web-based archival resource of city speech for use by educators and the general public. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE

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University of Pittsburgh
United States
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