Linguistic observations of social change: lesbian identities in New Zealand

Hazenberg, Evan (2019) Linguistic observations of social change: lesbian identities in New Zealand. In: Lavender Languages 26, 2-4 May 2019, Göteborg, Sweden.

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Sociophonetic investigations of gender and sexuality have tended to focus on the speech of gay men rather than lesbians. This has partly been because of the high social salience associated with ‘gay-sounding’ men, but also arguably because there are qualitative differences in the tensions that exist between gay and normative masculinities, and those that exist between lesbians and normative femininities (Zwicky 1997; Cameron 2011).

New Zealand presents an interesting case study to examine the sociophonetic landscape of gender and sexuality in a context where an oppositional relationship has existed between normative and non-normative femininities. Homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand in 1986, and although much of the legal/moral debate was focused on men, the national discussion also drew attention to non-normative femininities, foregrounding sexuality as a socially relevant and politicised dimension of womanhood in New Zealand. Post law reform, social attitudes have shifted dramatically and rapidly towards the mainstreaming of non-heteronormativities, at least in urban centres. This project draws on two age groups of New Zealanders in Auckland: those who came of age at a time of criminalised homosexuality, and those who have grown up in an environment more broadly supportive of queer identities.

Differences between lesbian-identified and straight women in the older age cohort are found in three under-the-radar vowels of NZE (DRESS, TRAP, FOOT); however, these differences are neutralised among younger speakers. This suggests that rapidly-diffusing social changes can have an observable impact on the linguistic resources available for signalling affiliation and identity within a speech community.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: New Zealand English, sexuality, lesbians, social change, vowels, sociophonetics, language variation, sociolinguistics
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ0012 Sexual life > HQ0075 Homosexuality. Lesbianism. Including queer theory
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics > P0040 Relation to sociology. Sociolinguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English
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Depositing User: Evan Hazenberg
Date Deposited: 23 Aug 2019 16:05
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2019 16:05

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