Cross-linguistic variation of /s/ as an index of non-normative sexual orientation and masculinity in French and German men
This thesis examines phonetic variation of /s/ in bilingual French and German gay and straight men. Previous studies have shown sibilant variation, specifically the voiceless sibilant /s/, to correlate with constructions of gay identity and ‘gay sounding voices’ in both production and perception. While most of this work concerns English, researchers have also explored /s/ variation and sexual orientation or non-normative masculinity in Afrikaans, Danish, Hungarian, and Spanish. Importantly, with the exception of only a small number of studies, this body of work has largely left the realm of /s/ variation and sexual orientation in bilingual speakers unexplored, and furthermore there is very little work which examines these voices in the context of French and German. The analyses show that some gay French and German men produce /s/ with a higher centre of gravity (CoG) and more negative skew than the straight speakers of the study, a result which dovetails with previous studies in languages such as English. Unlike English however, French and German listeners do not appear to associate /s/ variation with sexual orientation or (non)normative masculinities. I argue that the gay speakers who produce /s/ with a higher CoG than the other speakers of the study are doing so as a way to distance themselves from hegemonic masculinity. This thesis is structured into three stand-alone journal articles bookended with introductory and conclusion chapters which tie them together in the broader picture of /s/ variation and French/German speakers and listeners. The first of the three articles expands upon the previously established linguistic framework of indexing gayness by exploring /s/ variation in native and non-native speech, examining how the linguistic construction of gay identity interacts between their English production and the constraints of their native language. The data draws on read speech of 19 gay and straight French and German men across their L1 and L2 English to explore the social meaning of /s/. Results show that some gay speakers produce /s/ with a higher centre of gravity (CoG) and more negative skew than the straight speakers. These results are consistent with previous findings, which show sibilant variation to index sexual orientation in monolingual gay men’s speech, and provide evidence of this feature correlating with sexual orientation in French and German. Furthermore, the results presented here call for a greater level of inquiry into how the gay speakers who employ this feature construct their gay identities beyond a purely gay/straight dichotomy. The second study reports the results of a cross-linguistic matched guise test examining the role of /s/ variation and pitch in judgements of sexual orientation and non-normative masculinity in English, French, and German listeners. Listeners responded to manipulations of /s/ and pitch in their native language and all other stimuli languages (English, French, German, and Estonian). All listener groups rate higher pitch stimuli as more gay and more effeminate sounding than lower pitch guises. However, only the English listeners hear [s+] guises as sounding more gay and more effeminate than the [s] or [s-] guises. This effect is seen not only in their native language, but across all stimuli languages. French and German listeners, despite previous evidence showing /s/ to vary according to sexual orientation in men’s speech, do not hear [s+] guises as more gay or more effeminate in any of the stimuli languages including their native French or German. The final of the three articles takes the findings of the first two papers and attempts to reconcile the production/perception mismatch seen when comparing the results of the first two papers. The first article in this thesis revealed two groups of speakers which form the basis for analysis for this paper. The first group is a heterogeneous group of gay and straight speakers whose average /s/ productions are below 7,000 Hz ([s] speakers) and the second is a homogeneous group of gay speakers producing average /s/ CoG above 7,000 Hz ([s+] speakers). The analysis shows style shifting across task type with both groups of speakers producing higher /s/ CoG productions in L1 read speech contexts than any of the L2 speech contexts. Style shifting across conversation topic reveals that the [s+] speakers are producing higher /s/ CoG when discussing their coming out stories and topics of LGBT involvement. I argue that these [s+] speakers are employing these higher frequency /s/ variants to construct a very specific and identifiable gay persona, that of a counter-hegemonic effeminate gay man. This thesis is among the first to examine phonetic qualities of gay bilingual speakers and the ways in which they may index their sexual orientation. The inclusion of bilingual French and German speakers adds to our growing knowledge of ways in which these individuals navigate and construct their identities within both their L1 and, specifically, within an L2. In this regard, this thesis contributes to the growing body of knowledge concerning socioindexicality in L2 production more generally. This work thus speaks to these gaps within the sociolinguistic literature and provides strong evidence that /s/ variation is a valuable resource for some French and German men in the construction of a certain type of gay identity.