Sociolinguistics Lecture Series: Luiza Lukowicz (NYU)

APR 25, 2014 | 2:00 PM TO 4:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




April 25, 2014: 2:00 PM-4:00 PM




Speaker: Luiza Lukowicz (NYU)

Title: Decomposing an 'ethnolect': Generation and gender differences in the speech of Polish New Yorkers

Abstract: Existing research investigating the linguistic construction of ethnic identity i) has focused exclusively on one aspect of identity (either “ethnic” or “local”) and ii) has assumed linguistic homogeneity within ethnic groups. This talk investigates the way two generations of Polish American New Yorkers use language to construct multivalent identities (Mendoza-Denton 2002), such as “Polish”, “white”, and “New Yorkers”. I analyze the co-occurrence of variables that have the potential for expressing ethnic and local identity: /ɔ/-raising (a hallmark feature of NYCE), the COT-CAUGHT merger (potential substrate effect from Polish), and TH-stopping (could be classified as both). The results undermine the widely assumed coherence of regional and ethnic varieties, pointing to substantial linguistic and social differences between Polish New Yorkers of different generations and genders. The NYC-born second generation shows a consistent gender split in their choice of variables, suggesting that second generation men and women construct their identities as ‘authentic New Yorkers’ in opposite ways: men through the use of stigmatized regional features (e.g. raised /ɔ/), traditionally associated with working-class males, and women through the retention of interference from Polish (e.g. TH-stopping, as in [d]is for this, realized with Polish-like voicing). The maintenance of Polish features introduces a commonality between second generation women and other second generation New Yorkers they interact with and who they perceive to speak with an ‘accent’. The phonetic interference observed for second generation women is quantitatively and qualitatively different from that displayed by the first generation. The selective maintenance of interference distinguishes the second generation’s focused accent from the global accent of the first generation. Complementary ethnographic research reveals social differences between the two generations along the lines of nativeness and immigrant status, and reciprocal negative attitudes. I argue that the selective retention of interference may have occurred in response to divergent intergenerational social profiles: rather than uniting a community of speakers, the presence of a focused Polish accent serves to distinguish second generation from first generation Poles, deemed as culturally unassimilated and unassimilatable. In discussion, I argue for a re-conceptualization of ‘regional’ and ‘ethnic’ varieties that takes into account socio-historical differencesbetween generations and genders.