Nathan Young. Foto privat
Nathan Young. Foto privat

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This study’s main finding is that rhythm is socially stratified and stylistically sensitive for the speech of men in Stockholm. Male speakers from the racialized working class have ‘staccato’ rhythm in casual speech and style-shift into less ‘staccato’ forms in more formal styles. This is more-so the case for younger than older speakers, which I interpret to mean that the ‘staccato’ feature is gaining social salience.

An epicenter of intense late-modern stratification, Stockholm is home to Europe’s ‘first’ multiethnolect. (Rinkeby Swedish, Kotsinas 1988). The variety is often described as ‘staccato’, but speech rhythm has never been examined in casual-speech production or in the context of style-shifting. Therefore, questions persist. Does rhythm stratify socially in the vernacular? If so, is it also stylistically sensitive, reaching marker status (Labov 2001)?

Thirty-six male Stockholmers, ages 24–43, participated in the study. All were either born in Sweden or arrived before six years of age. Seventeen self-identify as svensk (white) and 19 as invandrare (non-white) in the city’s racialized binary system (henceforth race, explored in the talk). They hail from a stratified sample of social classes, with class being measured by means of a six-factor index. I elicited three speech styles: CASUAL, READING, and reading like a radio announcer (RADIO) in order to capture a formality cline.

The recordings were transcribed and phonetically time-aligned. Rhythm was operationalized by extracting [duration · mean dB · mean F0] from each vowel and calculating the normalized pairwise variability index of vowels (nPVIV, Low, Grabe, & Nolan 2000), resulting in a total of 43 012 intervocalic contrastive units (between 295 and 1517 per speaker per style).

For CASUAL speech, the results show an interaction between race and class that renders a three-way stratification: (1) lower-class invandrare speakers have low rhythmic alternation (more ‘staccato’); (2) lower-class svensk speakers have high rhythmic alternation (less ‘staccato’); (3) higher-class speakers, regardless of invandrare or svensk identification, have an intermediate rhythmic alternation.

For READING and RADIO speech, the class and race stratification is no longer significant. Whereas higher-class speakers show little to no style-shifting, working-class speakers are “doing all the work”. Lower-class svensk speakers reduce their rhythmic alternation, seeming to target the intermediate rhythmic pattern of elites. Lower-class invandrare speakers increase their rhythmic alternation, also targeting the intermediate rhythmic pattern of elites.

Interestingly, older lower-class invandrare speakers style-shift less than younger invandrare speakers, which I interpret as change in apparent time: staccato rhythm – once but no longer an incipient feature – is moving from indicator to marker (Labov 2001) as it becomes more and more saliently associated with Stockholm’s racialized underclass.

Referenser, se Abstract (pdf).