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Exploring sibilants and gender: A lesson from the variation of /s/ production among transgender speakers

The variation of sibilant consonants is a well-studied topic in sociolinguistics, with previous studies showing variation across social axes of gender, sexuality, class, race, and region (e.g. Campbell-Kibler 2007; Levon 2007; Pharao et al. 2014; Podesva & Van Hofwegen 2015; Stuart- Smith 2007). More recently, scholars such as Zimman (2017) have raised questions about the social patterning of sibilants in regard to gender and speech production, given that the primary focus of gendered sibilant variation has been analyzed with only cisgender identity in mind. Using sibilant productions among transgender men and transmasculine people, Zimman (2017) discussed the social origins and implications of gender identity and gender expression on /s/ variation. The purpose of this study is to build on this recent research to explore how gender identity and expression influence sibilant production in a sample of transgender women and transfeminine speakers. As part of an undergraduate honours thesis, this study specifically attempts to address the following two questions regarding sibilant production, specifically /s/: What type of variation are present in the speech productions in the sample of speakers, particularly regarding the phonetic details of sibilants? How does speaker identity influence the patterns for these speech features? Sociolinguistic interviews are used to elicit natural sibilant production, then an acoustic measure and analysis is to be conducted, focusing on the frequency centre of gravity as characterised in sociophonetic research (Thomas 2011, Kendall and Fridland 2021).

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Kendall, Tyler and Valerie Fridland. (2021). Sociophonetics. Cambridge University Press.
Levon, Erez. (2007). Sexuality in context: Variation and the sociolinguistic perception of identity. Language in Society 36(4): 533-554. 
Pharao, Nicolai, Marie Maegaard, Janus Møller, Janus Spindler, and Tore Kristiansen. (2014). Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts. Language in Society 43(1): 1-31. 
Podesva, Robert J. and Janneke Van Hofwegen. (2015). How Conservatism and Normative Gender Constrain Variation in Inland California: The Case of /s/. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 20(2): Article 5.
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Zimman, Lal. (2017). Variability in /s/ amongr transgender speakers: Evidence for a socially grounded account of gender and sibilants. Linguistics 55(5): 993-1019.