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CODE-SWITCHING IN BLACK WOMEN'S SPEECH

MARSHA HOUSTON STANBACK, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

Abstract

Black women are frequently overlooked in research into black or women's communication. Researchers often tacitly assume that all blacks speak alike or that all women speak alike; thus, they have rarely focused on social class or gender differences among speakers of the Black English Vernacular (BEV) or on cultural differences among female speakers. In addition, researchers have given greater attention to identifying features of the phonology, lexicon, grammar, syntax, and speech events which characterize the BEV and "women's language" than to speakers' variable use of those features in response to different situational contexts.^ The present study focuses on college-educated, middle class black women's alternation between the BEV and Mainstream American English (MAE) dialects and between "female" and "male" or "neutral" registers in response to changes in the race (culture) or gender of their conversational partners. Two black women friends and two white women friends participated in two separate sets of three informal conversations with acquaintances of their own choosing. Each pair of participants talked first with two women of their own race, second with two women of the other race, and third with two men of their own race. Conversations concerned their personal experiences growing up as blacks and/or women in the United States and contemporary male-female relationships.^ It was found that: (1) black participants code-switched between BEV and MAE; (2) black participants varied some BEV features according to their conversational partners' race, others according to their gender; (3) black participants used features described in the literature as characteristic of women's speech; (4) both black and white participants varied their use of women's speech features in much the same manner; (5) all participants exhibited individual code-switching styles. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication

Recommended Citation

MARSHA HOUSTON STANBACK, "CODE-SWITCHING IN BLACK WOMEN'S SPEECH" (January 1, 1983). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. Paper AAI8401105.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8401105

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