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Style dominance: Attention, audience, and the ‘real me’

  • Devyani Sharma (a1)


Social constructivist approaches to style have moved away from the cognitive asymmetry that underpinned Labov's original attention-to-speech model, namely that a first-learned vernacular often has cognitive primacy. This study explores the interplay of cognitive and interactional effects in style variation. It reports on three related dynamics of style variation in one individual—Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-American media personality. First, we see Zakaria's robust English bidialectalism with American and Indian audiences. This strong audience effect is complicated by the second finding, which points to asymmetric style dominance in Zakaria's first-learned Indian style, which he subtly defaults to regardless of audience when his attention is diverted by such tasks as quickly counter-arguing or inserting parenthetical information. The third part of the study relates style dominance to agency: In a reflexive intra-personal process of biographical indexicality, speakers such as Zakaria may exploit their personal style biography and use their dominant variety to perform no-nonsense ‘real me’ stances in interaction. (Audience, attention, style variation, indexicality, repertoire, processing, bidialectalism, second dialect acquisition, speech rate)*

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Devyani Sharma, Department of Linguistics Queen Mary, University of London London E1 4NS United Kingdom


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I am grateful to Erez Levon, Esther de Leeuw, Lavanya Sankaran, Allan Bell, Vineeta Chand, Claire Cowie, Tyler Kendall, Jenny Cheshire, and especially two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this work. Any remaining shortcomings are my own.



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Style dominance: Attention, audience, and the ‘real me’

  • Devyani Sharma (a1)


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