Audience-Driven Variation of AAVE Features and Its Relationship to Gender and Socioeconomic Background

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The study attempts to answer the question: based on the racial identity of the target audience of the speech context, to what degree do African Americans vary their usage of features associated with AAVE, and to what extent is the answer specific to gender and socioeconomic background of the speaker? An empirical data collection protocol was constructed that lead to the creation of a corpus containing transcriptions of 24 participants who were equally distributed according to gender and socioeconomic background. Two speech samples from broadcast contexts were taken per participant, one in an African American-oriented context and one in a white-oriented context. Analysis of the data revealed that African Americans with a working-class background significantly shift the way they speak, while African Americans with a middle-class background do not. There was almost no relationship found between gender and style-shifting practices. The results for individuals with a working-class were interpreted to be caused by symbolic identity maintenance and the results for the individuals with a middle-class background were interpreted to be due to either them being socialized not to use AAVE in certain contexts, or a conscious choice to either emphasize middle-class identity or to change the indexical associations of Standard American English.
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