L@L Distinguished Speaker 2021: Betsy Rymes

The Ironic Spirit and Citizen Sociolinguistics

Betsy Rymes (The University of Pennsylvania/Graduate School of Education)

Citizen sociolinguistics refers to the activity that everyday people engage in when they talk about their views on language. Someone who writes an Urban Dictionary definition for “Jawn” is doing Citizen Sociolinguists. Someone who posts a YouTube video about “How to sound Welsh,” is doing citizen sociolinguistics, as is the person who corrects you when you say “literally” figuratively, for emphasis, or introduces themselves with their “preferred pronouns,” or explains how to pronounce “Worcestershire Sauce.” Citizen sociolinguists are everyday people engaging with language as it is used around them. Often, citizen sociolinguists focus their opinionating on highly recognizable, iconic features of language. Where a professional linguist might attend to those aspects of speech they consider to be below conscious awareness (e.g., “vowel fronting”), citizen sociolinguistic discussion, in contrast, focuses on more obviously performative aspects of language. Citizen sociolinguists usually talk about those features of talk and communication that we can easily and consciously identify in each other’s speech, and that we might carefully adjust in our own presentations of self. This citizen sociolinguistic tendency to focus on iconic bits of language performances also frequently involves a collaboratively and finely tuned ironic spirit. Citizen sociolinguistic talk and examples are often very funny! In this talk I’ll illustrate some of the many acts of citizen sociolinguistics that involve this sense of ironic performance. This way of thinking about sociolinguistic knowledge provides a drastic reframing not only of traditional Sociolinguistic framings of difference (as based on linguistic systematicity), but also how we might address concepts like “academic literacies,” (as performances!) the way we understand multimodality (enhanced performances!), and most broadly, what counts as “critical language awareness.” I’ll illustrate each of these with examples from my own experiences in classrooms and conversation. I hope to discuss these ideas with you all, with respect to your own specialties, and to consider the potential relevance of the ironic spirit of citizen sociolinguists for research on, and education about, language.

The talk will be followed by a round-table discussion with experts from the University of Leeds: Dr Elisabetta Adami (multimodality), Dr Julia Snell (sociolinguistics), Dr Gill Main (childhood studies), Prof Mike Baynham (language and migration) and Prof Stephen Coleman (political communication and citizenship).

To register (for free): http://tiny.cc/LLDS2021