The Language of Professional Blackness: African American English at the Intersection of Race, Place, and Class in Southeast, Washington, D.C.
Increasingly, studies of African American English (AAE) include in their scope the speech of upper and middle-class African Americans (Rahman 2008; Weldon 2011; Alim and Smitherman 2012; Weldon and Britt forthcoming), rather than focusing on the working class males historically privileged as the most authentic speakers of the variety (Labov 1966, 1972; Fasold 1972). Relatively little scholarship, however, has focused on the speech of African Americans in a heavily class-mixing environment.This project takes a mixed-methods approach to examining the ways in which professional class speakers in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Washington, D.C. use African American English in identity construction. It undertakes the study of one phonological variable, final consonant devoicing (FCD), and additionally studies quantitatively and qualitatively those speakers' use of morphosyntactic features of AAE.The statistical results for FCD are consistent with other findings: individual speaker variation accounts for the majority of the data. The intraspeaker patterning of FCD, however, suggests that professional class African Americans orient to an iconized idea of devoicing as precise pronunciation, allowing them to recruit a second-order indexical meaning (Silverstein 2003) of "correctness," which they then use to enact the identity of "professional class."The further examination of morphosyntactic variation reveals that the ways the speakers use AAE in specific stancetaking about the race, class, and and gentrification suggests that for these speakers, the use of an ethnoracially marked dialect is a means of affirming the positive affiliation with the predominantly African American neighborhood. This strategic employment of AAE features as part of their ethnolinguistic repertoires (Benor 2010), allows the speakers in this study to merge identities of African Americanness with professionalness in a way that helps stake their claim as longtime residents of a community that is rapidly changing.This dissertation makes contributions to the field of African American Language study in its use of mixed quantitative and qualitative technique, and its examination of an understudied region and an understudied African American population. Further, it finds that the social meanings of features of an ethnolinguistic repertoire are not always the same, nor do they necessarily stem from group-associational meanings. Rather, languaging in interaction means drawing on the multiple indexical meanings of any given variable in order to construct multiple--and at times, conflicting--identities of race, place, and class.
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