Staging language: An introduction to the sociolinguistics of performance


Allan Bell
Institute of Culture, Discourse & Communication
Faculty of Applied Humanities
Auckland University of Technology
PB 92006
Auckland 1142
New Zealand


Staged performance involves the overt, scheduled identification and elevation of one or more people to perform, with a clearly demarcated distinction between them and the audience. It involves the agentive use of language, building on the foundation of existing social meanings. Staged performances tend to be linguistically stylized, pushing the limits of language creativity. They have the potential to trigger significant sociolinguistic effects, circulating novel forms and contributing to language change. The paradigms used in this theme issue for approaching language performance include Bakhtin's notion of Stylization, Bell's Audience and Referee Design, Silverstein's Indexicality, Agha's Enregisterment, and Bauman's construct of Discursive Culture. Themes that run through the articles include: a concept of identity that is part product, part process; the centrality of the audience; the reflexivity of staged performance; and the importance of non-linguistic modalities such as music and appearance. The language analysis in this collection of papers concentrates mainly on phonological features of varieties of English, finding instances of selectivity, mis-realization, overshoot and undershoot in their performances of a range of targeted dialects.