Variation and Perceptions of Male Sexuality in Denmark

Marie Maegaard and Nicolai Pharao


Previous research has shown that in Copenhagen /s/ variation (in both onset and coda) in male speakers is perceived to be strongly linked to sexuality (Pharao et al. 2014). However, this link is only found in standard Copenhagen speech, and not in so-called street language. Street language is a style of speech that differs from standard Copenhagen speech with respect to lexicon, grammar, prosody, and pronunciation. One of the phonetic features that differs from standard Copenhagen speech is the fronted /s/. Street language is usually associated with young speakers in urban heterogeneous environments (Madsen et al. 2013). Furthermore, it is usually associated with a tough, streetwise, and straight masculinity, which is why it is especially interesting that fronted /s/ is also found in this type of speech.

To investigate the relations between variation in /s/, different registers, and social meaning, we carried out an experiment among young Copenhageners. The experiment was a matched guise study where the /s/ quality had been manipulated so that we were able to investigate how even very subtle differences in /s/ quality influenced the stereotypical perceptions of listeners. In this chapter, we use the results of this /s/-study as a basis for further analysis of perceived links between register, sexuality, and other aspects of the perceived identity of the speaker. We use the study of this particular case of linguistic variation to show how different characteristics go together to form recognizable clusters in listeners’ perceptions. This is very well illustrated in the results from the /s/-study. Furthermore, by using the theoretical framework of intersectionality, we gain insights into the multifaceted identities that speakers and listeners can construct in interaction by using certain variants while seeing how limited the potential for constructing such identities is, since the stereotypes involved are very strong.

In this chapter, we discuss categories and intersections between them, in relation to the perceptions of both white majority Danes and minority Danes of immigrant backgrounds.

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