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Phonation type as a stylistic variable: The use of falsetto in constructing a persona


Address correspondence to:
Robert J. Podesva
Department of Linguistics
Intercultural Center 454
Georgetown University
Washington, DC 20057


Although the field of sociolinguistics has witnessed a growing interest in the sociophonetic aspects of segmental and intonational variation, few studies have examined variation in voice quality. This paper addresses the gap by investigating the stylistic use of falsetto phonation. Focusing on the speech of Heath, a speaker exhibiting considerable cross-situational variation, I show that when attending a barbecue with friends, Heath's falsetto is more frequent, longer, and characterized by higher fundamental frequency (f0) levels and wider f0 ranges. Advancing recent approaches to variation which treat linguistic features as stylistic resources for constructing social meaning, I draw on an analysis of the discourse contexts in which falsetto appears to illustrate that the feature carries expressive connotations. This meaning is employed to construct a ‘diva’ persona and may also participate in building a gay identity.

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