Accent, Interaction, and Intimacy on the Autism Spectrum
University of Colorado Boulder
If intimacy is collaboratively produced in interaction, as discourse analysts argue, then how do individuals with atypical interactional behaviors achieve it? This paper addresses a sociolinguistic practice noted for individuals on the autism spectrum but rarely analyzed: the sustained adoption of non-local dialect features. For sociolinguists who view second dialect acquisition as a social achievement importantly related to identity, this practice presents a paradox: How do individuals with such a purportedly “asocial” syndrome accomplish an activity that is intensely social? To address this question, the talk draws from data collected by a team of linguists and anthropologists at the University of Colorado Boulder for a multi-year project on accent imitation in the autism spectrum. Focusing on the life narrative of an autistic man raised in Montgomery, Alabama who has adopted what he characterizes as a “South African Welsh” accent, the paper suggests that the cultivation of non-local accent enables autistic individuals to achieve the intimacy often precluded by the use of atypical prosody. Bringing together Bourdieu’s work on ‘shared timing’ with recent work on queer time and spatiotemporal scales, the paper questions fundamental sociolinguistic assumptions about the relationship between place, dialect, and speaker subjectivity.
Kira Hall is Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Current President of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, she has published on such topics as language and sexuality in India, Hinglish, mass hysteria, embodied sociolinguistics, and Trump’s use of comedic gesture. In addition to book publications that include Gender Articulated (with Mary Bucholtz, Routledge 1995), Queerly Phrased (with Anna Livia, Oxford 1997), Essays in Indian Folk Traditions (Archana 2007), and Studies in Inequality and Social Justice (Archana 2009), she is coeditor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Language and Sexuality (with Rusty Barrett, 2021).
The John J. Gumperz Memorial Lecture honors the life and work of John J. Gumperz, the founder of interactional sociolinguistics and a longtime member of the LISO community.
Sponsored by the IHC’s Language, Interaction, and Social Organization (LISO) Research Focus Group, UCSB Departments of Communication, Linguistics, and Education