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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Language, sexuality, and power : studies in intersectional sociolinguistics
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Intersectionality theory emerged as a reaction to what was seen as insufficient accounts of membership and belonging in many feminist studies during the 1970s and 1980s. One of the problems was the very biased and one-sided view of what it means to belong to particular categories. As hooks (1981) remarks when commenting on the bias: “This suggest[s] that the term ‘women’ is synonymous with ‘white women’ and the term ‘blacks’ synonymous with ‘black men’” (8). In a way, what the results of the study we report on in this chapter show is that to many young listeners in Denmark, it is actually the case that (stereotypically) all “gays” are “white” and all “immigrants” are “hetero.” Furthermore, we have seen how these categories are linked to other categories, creating a fuller picture of the stereotypes. It was evident from the data that stereotypical perceptions of gay men include categorizations of class and ethnicity. Speakers perceived as “gay” are rated as both “feminine” and “upper class” and at the same time not gangster-like and not of immigrant background. Similarly, we found that speakers perceived as having immigrant background were at the same time perceived as gangster-like and not “feminine” and not “gay.” This shows how different categories intersect in listeners’ perceptions in very structured ways, and that categorizations of cultural background and ethnicity combine with categorizations of sexuality in a highly predictable fashion. It is clear from the previous analyses that perceptions of ethnicity and sexuality are to a large degree interconnected. Here, intersectionality becomes highly relevant as a theory providing a perspective that highlights the simultaneous categorization processes that take place when listeners react to the speech samples.

The study is based on variation of /s/-quality, and we have shown (in Pharao et al 2014) that in one register, “modern Copenhagen,” this variation changes the perception of the speaker quite dramatically, whereas in the other register, “street language,” it has no or little effect. One way of interpreting this is to conclude that the fronted /s/ is actually part of “street language,” and that this is why it does not make any difference whether a speaker includes it or not in his speech, when the speech already has several other features characteristic of the “street language.” Another interpretation would be that speakers perceived as “immigrants” are simultaneously, and very strongly, perceived as (a specific type of) heterosexual males, and that this categorization makes it very difficult to interpret the fronted /s/ as indexing (feminine) gender or (gay) sexuality. The correlation analyses have shown in a very clear way that different categorizations cluster together to form recognizable identities, and that this clustering is perhaps so influential that even signs that would typically point in another direction, toward other types of identities, are ignored in certain contexts.

 
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