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Jaw setting and the California Vowel Shift in parodic performance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2017

Teresa Pratt
Stanford University, USA
Annette D'Onofrio
Northwestern University, USA
E-mail address:


This article explores the intertwining semiotics of language and embodiment in performances of Californian personae. We analyze two actors’ performances of Californian characters in parodic skits, comparing them to the same actors’ performances of non-Californian characters. In portraying their Californian characters, the actors use particularized jaw settings, which we link to embodied stereotypes from earlier portrayals of the Valley Girl and Surfer Dude personae. Acoustic analysis demonstrates that both actors also produce features of the California Vowel Shift in their Californian performances, aligning their linguistic productions with sound changes documented in California. We argue that these embodied stereotypes and phonetic realizations not only co-occur in parodic styles, but are in fact semiotically and corporeally intertwined, one occasioning the other. Moreover, the performances participate in the broader process of enregisterment, packaging these semiotic resources with other linguistic and extralinguistic features to recontextualize Californian personae in the present day. (Parody, performance, California, California Vowel Shift, embodiment, embodied stereotype, enregisterment)*

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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