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/r/ and the construction of place identity on New York City's Lower East Side


Address correspondence to:
Kara Becker
Department of Linguistics
New York University
10 Washington Place
New York, NY 10003


This paper argues that a group of white residents on the Lower East Side of Manhattan use a New York City English (NYCE) feature – non-rhoticity in the syllable coda – in the construction of a place identity, one aspect of identity tied to localness and authenticity. A quantitative analysis confirms that the change in progress towards rhoticity in NYCE (Labov 1966) continues to advance slowly, so that non-rhoticity remains a resource for New Yorkers, imbued with local social meaning. Ethnographic observation of the Lower East Side reveals conflict among residents, which motivates one group to highlight their place identity by using non-rhoticity. These Lower East Siders utilize micro-variation of /r/ in stretches of interview talk, increasing non-rhoticity when discussing neighborhood topics. Results support a social practice approach to stylistic and sociolinguistic variation, where Lower East Siders use /r/ in constructing a place identity in order to present themselves as authentic neighborhood residents.