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Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 January 2014

Nicolai Pharao
LANCHART and Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen,
Marie Maegaard
LANCHART and Department of Scandinavian Research, University of Copenhagen,
Janus Spindler Møller
LANCHART, University of Copenhagen,
Tore Kristiansen
LANCHART and Department of Scandinavian Research, University of Copenhagen,


It is well documented that the same sociolinguistic feature can be used as a sociolinguistic resource with different indexical potentials in different linguistic as well as social contexts. Often, however, indexical meanings of a specific feature are related to or derived from one another. In this article we present the results of a perceptual study of indexical meanings of alveolar versus fronted (s)—[s] versus [s+]—in different registers. The data consist of responses to male speakers' use of [s] and [s+] respectively, in two different registers that may be labelled “modern Copenhagen speech” and “street language.” Results show that the [s+] indexes femininity and gayness when it occurs in “modern Copenhagen,” whereas the (s)-variation has a different and less significant effect when occurring in “street language.” We discuss the implications for theories of indexical fields and the relation between features and clusters of features in speakers' perceptions. (Indexical meaning, phonetic variation, fronted /s/, perception of sexual orientation and ethnicity, matched guise technique).

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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