Taiwanese Texans : a sociolinguistic study of language and cultural identity




Brozovsky, Erica Sharon

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This dissertation investigates the use of linguistic resources in the expression of sociocultural and ethnic identity in Taiwanese Americans from Texas (Taiwanese Texans) in order to achieve two outcomes: 1) to describe patterns of linguistic variation for a number of local and national variables and 2) to find connections and meaning between those patterns and the identities of the speakers. Exploring how Taiwanese Texans orient themselves within the cultural models available to them illustrates the link between language and identity, which in turn reveals the impact of assimilation and acculturation on this group. The study utilizes data from two sources: researcher-driven speech collected from sociolinguistic interviews of 30 Taiwanese Texans and reading passages from the Texas English Linguistics Lab archive of five older Anglo Texans. A quantitative analysis shows that Taiwanese Texans do not retain the traditional Texan dialect features of the Anglo Texan speaker baseline. Additionally, while social factors do not predict phonetic variation in a statistically significant manner, Taiwanese Texans have almost categorically adopted four phonetic features—GOOSE fronting, Low Back Merger, TRAP retraction, and Low Back Merger Shift—which together indicate that Taiwanese Texans are orienting toward a chain-shift phonetic pattern, not yet observed in Texan speech: the Third Dialect Shift. A qualitative analysis of the sociolinguistic interviews shows how the usage of socially salient features could indicate a speaker’s alignment toward indexed personae. This reveals how Taiwanese Texans perform ethnicized identities of assimilation to whiteness through the invocation of locally available features that specifically index “white girlhood.” Taiwanese Texans put those resources into service to construct identity alignments during conversation, showing distance from Asianness and orientation toward white norms and white American culture in their negotiation of ethnic identity. This dissertation joins a growing body of sociolinguistic research on language variation that samples Asian Americans, the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States today, contributing to our understanding of the connection between language and identity in a minority population.



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