Indexing social meaning: Sociophonetic variables and listener perceptions of Turkish
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The communicative content taking place between speakers and listeners yield variation in which people transmit and interpret the messages. In regard to the variation in pronunciation, the phonemic nature of sounds and their implementations in various segmental environments constitute and transmit the message. When the phonological and phonetic aspects of speech are taken into consideration along with social aspects and social constructions, broader aspects of variation arise. In this sense, the broader aspects of variation exhibit the cumulation of knowledge in the society and they are realized and interpreted by language users as social meanings. In line with this, the current perception study aims to uncover the social meanings associated with the variant pronunciations of alveolar flap /ɾ/ and velar stop /k/ variables in Turkish. In regard to this preliminary aim, the study endeavours to bring an understanding to the social resources employed during the perception and lays out the indexical fields (Eckert, 2008) associated with the /ɾ/ and /k/ variables. In uncovering the socially accumulated knowledge in the perception of listeners, the study employs a tripartite experimental design. In the first phase, variant pronunciations of the sociophonetic variables (i.e., /ɾ/ and /k/) have been obtained through three distinct sociolinguistic data elicitation methods; sociolinguistic interviews, map task and read speech. In the second phase, the environmental aspects (i.e., duration and pitch) of these variables have been equalized and the tokens for the next phase have been determined. In the third phase, which focuses on the perception of these variables, qualitative and quantitative data have been gathered through sociolinguistic group interviews (N=110 in 30 groups) and matched guise survey (N=228) respectively. In the sociolinguistic group interviews, the listeners have been provided with social cues about the speaker as education and socioeconomic level. This interactional qualitative data have been analysed by employing ethnomethodological conversation analysis and further triangulated through a quantitative matched guise survey. The findings show that the /ɾ/ variation is perceived alongside two distinct social personae: tiki and gay men depending on who produces the variable. When produced by a female speaker, listeners have perceived the variable as a salient component of the sociolinguistic style of tiki persona, while they have perceived the same variable along with a gay persona when produced by a male speaker. On the /k/ variable, listeners have yielded an Inner Anatolian persona. In perceiving the speaker, it has been found that listeners exploit the social resources. These social resources, which are social cues and social information, have been employed by the listeners depending on the context of interaction. Thus, it can be argued that the context of interaction, which has been formulated through the social cues, themes and listeners’ backgrounds, is a mediator between listeners’ perception and the social persona of the speaker. Furthermore, stances adopted by the listeners are also determinant in the perception process and act as a mediator in the social meaning perceiving process. Thus, it can be stated that listeners’ stances and their level of stance takings calibrate whether a sociophonetic variable bear indexical or iconic associations. The findings also show that social meaning perceiving is a complex process that draws on the relationship between the sociophonetic variant perceived, the context of interaction and the perceived persona of the speaker.