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.

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