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/s/tylizin’ the /s/elf: A First Look into the Concurrent Fluidity of Gender and Language

Identity, especially gender, is understood to be constructed through a variety of semiotic processes (Gratton, 2016). Extensive research has been done on how women and men construct their genders through their language, both trans (e.g. Zimman, 2017) and cis (e.g. Podesva & van Hofwegen, 2016), while research is generally lacking on people of other gender identities (see Gratton, 2016, Rechsteiner & Sneller, 2021). I apply ethnolinguistic repertoire theory (Benor, 2010) and stylistic bricolage (Zimman, 2017) to investigate style-shifting in gender fluid speakers, focusing on two phonetic features associated with binary gender identities in American English: /s/-articulation and g-dropping.
Eight genderfluid speakers will be asked to record themselves speaking extemporaneously and reading a passage at various points while they are differently gendered. After each recording, they will fill out a survey that captures information on how they are feeling in that moment, both in regard to gender as well as aspects of their overall emotional state (Gratton, 2016). The speakers were recruited from a college in the Pacific Northwest.
Each recording will be transcribed and forced-aligned. The variables of interest are the centre of gravity (COG) of /s/ (see Calder, 2019, Campbell-Kibler, 2011, Podesva & van Hofwegen, 2016) and g-dropping in (ING) (see Gratton, 2016, Rechsteiner & Sneller, 2021). Because the label “genderfluid” can mean different things to different people, who may not have other aspects of their identity in common, both within- and across-speaker analyses will be used to see what ways, if any, a speakers’ language changes as they experience, construct, and express their different genders.
Gender will be quantified on a variety of scales, most of which will be devised by the participants themselves through an initial interview. There will be Likert scales (0-6) for 12 different properties: masculine, feminine, and ten others, with each participant contributing two scales that accurately and affirmingly reflect the range of their gender.
Using the frameworks of ethnolinguistic repertoire theory (Benor, 2010) and stylistic bricolage (Zimman, 2017), I investigate how, if at all, genderfluid speakers use these variables in the construction of their own gender. Due to the limited amount of relevant research to this question, I have two hypotheses. In the first, I propose that genderfluid people use variables in ways that align with cis people and the hegemonic norms of gender, in that if they are feeling more masculine or feminine, they will use the variables associated with masculinity (increased g-dropping) or femininity (raised /s/ COG), respectively, making use of the semiotic process of highlighting (Bucholtz & Hall, 2004). My second hypothesis is that they will do the inverse to index their stance on and possible rejection of cisgender norms, making use of the semiotic process of distinction (Gal & Irvine, 1995, as cited in Bucholtz & Hall, 2004). I will also look for similar patterns between the participant-derived gender scales and the variables. 

Benor, S. B. (2010). Ethnolinguistic repertoire: Shifting the analytic focus in language and ethnicity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 14(2), 159–183. 
Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2004). Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. Language in Society, 33(04). 
Calder, J. (2019). From Sissy to Sickening: The Indexical Landscape of /s/ in SoMa, San Francisco. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 29(3), 332–358. 
Campbell-Kibler, K. (2011). Intersecting Variables and Perceived Sexual Orientation in Men. American Speech, 86(1), 52–68. 
Gratton, C. (2016). Resisting the Gender Binary: The Use of (ING) in the Construction of Non-binary Transgender Identities. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 22(2), 12.ompass, 1(5), 416–449. 
Podesva, R. J., & van Hofwegen, J. (2016). /s/exuality in small-town California: Gender normativity and the acoustic realization of /s/. In E. Levon & R. B. Mendes (Eds.), Language, sexuality, and power: Studies in intersectional sociolinguistics (pp. 168–188).
Rechsteiner, J. & Sneller, B. (2021, October 19). Nonbinary speakers' use of (ING) across gender-related topics [Conference presentation]. NWAV, Austin, TX, United States.
Zimman, L. (2017). Gender as stylistic bricolage: Transmasculine voices and the relationship between fundamental frequency and /s/. Language in Society, 46(3), 339–370.