Southern, Texan, or Both?: Southernness and Identity in Deer Park, Texas
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Perceptual dialectology researchers have reported that in “draw-a-map” tasks focused on non-linguists’ perceptions of dialect regions, the South is one of the most commonly identified regions in the United States, and that many subjects further differentiate the South into smaller core and peripherally Southern subregions. As a state with a “complex” and “complicated” relationship with the South (Johnstone 1999), Texas may be included in the South, but is often grouped with the West or labelled as its own region (Lance 1999, Niedzielski and Preston 1999, Preston 1986). This “complicated” relationship also has ramifications for Southern identity; research in Texas and other Southern “border” states suggests that residents of these states may claim both Southern and non-Southern identity (Cramer 2010, Hall-Lew and Stephens 2011, Johnstone 1999). This dissertation explores perceptual notions of “southernness” by examining perspectives in one East Texan community regarding internal differentiation within the Southern dialect region and the meaning of Southern identity. 90 subjects from Deer Park, Texas, indicated which states they considered part of the South, identified smaller subregions within the South, and chose the one state that they considered most Southern. At a more local level, subjects were asked to compare their city to the nearby cities of Pasadena and Houston, which differ from Deer Park in size, ethnic diversity, median income, and education level. 9 of these subjects completed a follow-up task which involved the generation and ranking of identity labels along a magnitude continuum to explore the importance of regional identity and the meaning of particular identity labels for these subjects. The results suggest that these respondents were heavily influenced by their local point of reference and by notions of Texan distinctiveness; the subregions within the South that subjects identified emphasized distinctions between Texas and other states, and subjects within the youngest age group were particularly likely to single out Texas as its own region. Analysis of the city-level commentary highlights salient distinctions between the Deer Park community and surrounding communities, particularly regarding ethnic diversity and “urbanness,” and suggests that subjects are able to engage with the concept of southernness at a more local level than has been explored in previous perceptual dialectology research. The results of the identity task provide evidence of the importance of regional identity for these subjects and illustrate the ways in which Deer Park residents index meaning through contrasting and overlapping regional identity labels. This study lends additional support to previous research which has argued that responses to perceptual dialectology tasks are sensitive to scale and that distinctions which are salient at the local level may be obscured in studies which examine dialect differences at the national level (Bucholtz et al. 2007, Evans 2013b). The identity interviews also illustrate the salience of regional identity in border states and permit a more nuanced understanding of how subjects identify with the South. By centering the task on one dialect region, this study allows for a more fine-grained examination of the South as understood by members of a peripherally Southern community.
- Linguistics