This article investigates intonation’s place in what Sarah Bunin Benor calls the American Jewish English repertoire, a collection of features that speakers can use to index Jewish identity. Results from a perceptual experiment show variation in which intonational contours listeners associate with Jewishness. Jewish listeners, particularly those with connections with Yiddish speakers, pick out a phonetically distinct rise-fall as indicating Jewishness; however, non-Jewish listeners hear a different set of contours—a less phonetically distinct rise-fall and a rise—as sounding Jewish. The author proposes that there is a unifying feature being perceived as “Jewish”: specifically, more macro-rhythmic contours (with regular alternations of high and low pitch) are heard as more Jewish. For Jewish speakers, only the contour with the greatest degree of macro-rhythm (the rise-fall with higher peaks) is heard as Jewish; for non-Jewish speakers, a lower degree of macro-rhythm suffices. Intonation thus behaves much like other parts of the sound system in that the social meaning of a particular linguistic feature is highly dependent on an individual’s linguistic and social history.
The Perception of Macro-rhythm in Jewish English Intonation
rachel steindel burdin is assistant professor of linguistics in the Department of English at the University of New Hampshire. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in linguistics from the Ohio State University. Her research primarily revolves around Jewish identity and language and the study of intonational meaning. Email: email@example.com.
Rachel Steindel Burdin; The Perception of Macro-rhythm in Jewish English Intonation. American Speech 1 August 2020; 95 (3): 263–296. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-7706542
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