On the Intersection of Sex and Ethnicity in Language Variation and Change

Seminar/Forum

On the Intersection of Sex and Ethnicity in Language Variation and Change

The body of research on ‘ethnolects’ (ethnically marked ways of speaking) continues to expand, but such research does not usually consider the intersection of ethnicity with sex/gender, which has been shown to interact with other social factors, such as class, social network and community of practice. In this paper, I examine the effects of speaker sex and ethnicity on English in Toronto, the largest and most ethnolinguistically diverse city of Canada. Using a corpus of sociolinguistic interviews with 175 residents of the city stratified by generation, sex, ethnic background and degree of orientation toward their ethnic identity, I examine the contribution of these social factors to the occurrence of a range of phonetic, grammatical and discourse features. While women do tend to use higher rates of standard variants and incoming phonetic and discourse features (regardless of ethnic background or degree of ethnic orientation), the effects of sex become more complicated when examined together with ethnicity. Many sex-based differences that are significant within the British/Irish-origin ethnic group are weaker or insignificant within other ethnic groups, suggesting that the social meaning of a linguistic feature is not distributed in the same way across all groups within the city. These findings may be adduced as evidence that the different aspects of social identity that are expressed by and constructed through linguistic variation do not occur independently of each other.

Presenter

  • Professor James Walker
    Professor James Walker, Professor of Language Diversity