Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5991-0215

Date of Award

8-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language

First Advisor

Stephanie Lindemann

Abstract

With white supremacist discourses on the rise in recent years, it is important to investigate the ideologies that construct whiteness in the United States. The definition of who is considered white has been quite vague throughout the history of the US, with conflicting views of who is considered white across society and generations. Language has been found to be a key factor in constructions of race (Alim, 2016a, 2016b) and varieties ideologized as Standard English tend to be associated with whiteness (Bucholtz, 2016).

This study sets out to develop a better understanding of how linguistic varieties relate to perceptions, categorizations, and constructions of race and whiteness in the United States. Specifically, in this sequential mixed-methods study, 128 participants completed a modified verbal guise experiment to assess how varieties ideologized as standard-, nonstandard-, and nonnative-accented English affect the perceived whiteness and racial categorization of five models from different regions. Additionally, nine participants completed the same task using the think-aloud protocol to investigate thought processes related to racial perception and categorization, followed by semi-structured interviews to understand what (language) ideologies serve to construct the racial category ‘white’ in the US.

Standard English and some nonstandard regional guises increased whiteness ratings relative to nonnative accents or a photo alone for four non-European models, and a nonnative accent decreased the whiteness rating relative to both photo and standard guises for a European model; however, these changes in perception tended not to be associated with a change in racial categorization for most models. The think-aloud revealed that, although language was an important secondary factor, racial perceptions and categorizations were most strongly connected to perceived physical traits. The interviews demonstrated that although a standard-speaking, European-descended, upper-middle-class preppiness was stereotypically and ideologically associated with whiteness, there was not one unified view of whiteness.

Due to the associations of standard English with whiteness, major institutions such as education and industry should acknowledge that the standard is not, in fact, a neutral code, but one clearly associated with whiteness. Furthermore, the US Census definition of whiteness did not fully reflect these participants’ understanding, questioning the validity of the definition.

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