Southern French and performance of competence and localness in political speech
2022-04-12, 12:00–12:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 4

This paper examines the roles a stigmatized variety of a language plays in the construction of an authoritative and competent face, in the recent local elections in Bordeaux, France.
In France, not all varieties of French are equally valued. At the national level, speakers of Southern French are stigmatized or discriminated, particularly regarding their phonological system (Meyer 2011). However, perceptual dialectology shows that at the local level these dynamics are sometime challenged (Pustka et al. 2019).
Research in language and place shows that indexical relations exist between language and local identities (Labov 1963). Linguistic variables convey multiple indexical meanings: e.g., social class, region and abstract traits like articulateness or coolness (Silverstein 2003, Eckert 2008). They are therefore deployed by speakers in strategic ways to project identities and construct specific personae.
Examining speech performance and performative registers allows to get insights into speakers’ perception of a variety, i.e., to detect salient features (Schiling-Estes 1998). Consequently, looking at political speeches allows to investigate the relations between language and local identities.
This paper contributes to work on language variation in political speech (Hernández-Campoy and Cutillas-Espinosa 2010; Podesva et al. 2012, Kirkham & Moore 2016). It examines the indexicalities and combinatorial power of linguistic features which carry different social meanings in isolation, in the speech of four main candidates (right-wing, centre-right, far-left, green) during French local elections of 2020.
Data come from two televised debates recorded before the first round of the election: on a national channel (30 minutes) and on a regional channel (55 minutes). Coding auditorily on ELAN (Wittenburg et al. 2006), I looked at the distribution of schwa retention ([səmɛnə] ‘week’), loi de position, henceforth LdP, (mid-vowels height depend on syllable structure) and NE retention (je (ne) veux pas – ‘I don’t want to’) across the four candidates. Schwa retention and LdP broadly index South of France and tend to lead to stigmatization. However, their indexicalities have been under-studied, thus this study presents a possible approach to their analysis. NE retention indexes formality and education (Armstrong & Smith 2002). I studied the distribution of these three variables to examine whether different combinations are possible, and whether their combinatorial power leads to different social meanings. I coded for TV channel (national vs regional) and speech activity (presenting self vs taking the floor vs answering questions), following Bell’s (1984) audience design.
Random forests and regression models show no significant difference between speakers for LdP. I argue it enables candidates to index their localness and reinforce their legitimacy as local leaders. However, they show significant contrastive uses of the two other features, leading to different indexicalities. I posit that this is the result of the four distinct faces of competence that speakers aim to display: the distinctive combinations of features indexing localness and education reflect the broader beliefs and attitudes associated with language within one place, where each speaker becomes an iconic representation of different idealised residents of Bordeaux.


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