The social stratification of clicks in English interaction

Moreno, Julia Beatrice (2020) The social stratification of clicks in English interaction. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis investigates how phonetic clicks work as a sociolinguistic variable embedded in interaction, adding to the growing research on the social stratification of sounds on the margins of language. While phonemic clicks occur rarely in some southern and western African languages, clicks are common as non-phonemic, interactional features in many languages, including English, and are anecdotally assumed to be used most to display a stance or attitude towards someone or something (e.g. Ogden 2013; Wright 2011; Gil 2013). There is also some evidence that clicks might vary in a similar way to more traditional linguistic variables (e.g. male and female speakers might perform clicks differently and at different rates—Ogden 2013; Pillion 2018). Previous work on clicks in English has shown that clicks can be produced with the full range of articulation (bilabial to alveolar-lateral), and occur alongside phonetic accompaniments, i.e. audible inbreath, creaky or nasal collocated speech, and/or particles, such as uh and um (e.g. Wright 2011; Ogden 2013). Previous studies using Conversation Analysis have demonstrated that English clicks have two main interactional functions: sequence-managing in talk, e.g. marking word search, marking the shift from one speaker to another, indexing the beginning of a new topic or interactional functions; and affect-laden functions, such as displaying disapproval, disagreement, sympathy (Ogden 2013). Click presence in these interactional functions seems to vary. Clicks are rarely studied or discussed in conjunction with social factors, though there is some indication that clicks may vary according to region, style and social factors (e.g. Ogden 2013; Moreno 2016). It remains unclear how click production or interactional function may vary according to speaker gender or age.

This PhD thesis analyses clicks in a regional variety of Scottish English in Glasgow, by combining approaches from phonetics, variationist sociolinguistics, and Conversation Analysis. Specifically, it examines: (1) the phonetic form (i.e. auditorily identified place of articulation, acoustic characteristics such as spectral Centre of Gravity and duration, and phonetic accompaniments) and interactional function (sequence-managing or affect-laden) of Glasgow clicks; (2) how click phonetic form and interactional function vary according to linguistic and social factors in Glasgow; (3) how clicks in one particular interactional function, word search, are performed differently to clicks in other interactional functions and whether linguistic or social factors promote click presence within word search.

These research questions were investigated in the speech of a stratified sample of 50 native Glaswegian men and women between the ages of 17 and 60, who were recorded and filmed in same-gender, self-selected pairs. Participants were told to complain and tell stories of frustrating situations, in order to elicit stance-displaying clicks, which might have been less common in a different context (Moreno 2016). Clicks were identified auditorily, and coded for place of articulation, phonetic accompaniments, position in the speaker’s turn (i.e. before the turn, the middle of the turn, after the turn, or in isolation), and interactional function. Word search sequences with and without a click were identified and transcribed using a strict set of criteria from Conversation Analysis (e.g. Goodwin and Goodwin 1986), and coded for phonetic accompaniments, in order to study the variation of clicks in their interactional context as well as how the interactional function itself varies with and without a click.

Results revealed systematic patterning of clicks across phonetic features, interactional function, and age and gender. Glaswegian clicks were mostly produced with dental articulation and occurred with phonetic accompaniments. The presence of phonetic accompaniments was found to be subject to the interactional context, i.e. clicks with particles were more likely to be used in sequence-managing functions than affect-laden functions. Acoustic analysis of clicks showed that spectral frequency can be used as a measure of click place of articulation, much like for phonemic stops (e.g. Chodroff and Wilson 2014), with dental, dento-alveolar, and alveolar clicks having the highest mean frequency, and labial, palatal, and alveolar-lateral clicks showing lower mean frequencies. Clicks’ spectral frequency was constrained by speaker age, such that younger speakers produced clicks with higher spectral frequency, despite the lack of age-related physiological differences between younger and older speakers here. Click duration was also found to be indicative of the interactional function in which the click is embedded; clicks used in sequence-managing functions are shorter than affect-laden Clicks. Clicks could have both sequence-managing and affect-laden functions, though sequence managing functions were far more common. These interactional categories were dependent in complex ways on who performed the click and where; women were more likely than men to perform affect-laden clicks outside of their turn, i.e. as a listener Response.

Comparisons of word search clicks to clicks in other interactional functions revealed that the variation in clicks’ phonetic patterning is very much due to the interactional function in which they occur; word search clicks were more likely to be produced with dental, dento-alveolar, or alveolar articulation, more likely to co-occur with a particle, and occurred more frequently mid-turn. When all word searches with and without clicks were examined, results showed that the presence of phonetic accompaniments did not vary according to whether or not a click is present for these Glaswegian speakers. However, age did play a role in who performs a click within an interactional function, such that younger speakers performed more word searches but fewer clicks than the older speakers.

Together these results indicate that much of the phonetic form of clicks is due to the interactional function in which the click is embedded and socio-indexical information about who produces the click. These findings highlight how interactional function can constrain phonetic variation in conjunction with social factors, which demonstrates that examining both phonetic features and social factors, together with interactional context can contribute to crucial information about variation in future research for phonetics, sociolinguistics, and Conversation Analysis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: phonetics, sociophonetics, conversation analysis, clicks, talk-in-interaction.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PB Modern European Languages
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Stuart-Smith, Professor Jane and Smith, Dr. Rachel and Ogden, Professor Richard
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Julia Moreno
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81592
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Aug 2020 15:57
Last Modified: 12 May 2021 18:47
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81592

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