Race, belonging and linguistic identity in the 'offshore' anglophone world

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: School of Languages Linguistics and Film

Abstract

My research centres on Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic. Bermuda is an under-studied, often misunderstood context, home to a unique dialect of English under-represented in the literature on varieties of English around the world. It is also an unusual, not-quite-post-colonial, 'offshore' setting with an unusual immigration pattern to match, which sets the scene for intense debates about the meaning of national identity and 'authentic' Bermudian-ness. These debates are, inevitably, related to and reflected in language.
My doctoral thesis introduced Bermuda as a sociolinguistic setting and gave an overview of the sounds of Bermudian English, providing an essential basis for further analyses of the variety. My thesis also investigated the relationship between social conditions and linguistic practice in Bermuda. Through qualitative and quantitative analyses, I studied a particular genre of parodic dialect performance, common among white speakers in Bermuda, and showed it to be a type of racialized mock language. My data, collected during fieldwork visits between 2011 and 2016, reveal double standards in Bermudian language attitudes, and show that marked, theatrical linguistic performances by white Bermudians reflect and reproduce language and race hierarchies in Bermudian society.
My proposed Fellowship programme will support me in disseminating my work and readying myself for an academic career. Primarily this will be through preparing my existing work for publication. A major objective for my Fellowship is to complete the first draft of a monograph based on my thesis, and I will also produce two articles for leading journals in my field.
I will be supported in these goals at Queen Mary, which is recognised internationally as a centre for excellence in sociolinguistics. There I will receive expert academic and career development support as I prepare applications for postdoctoral positions and permanent jobs with the guidance of my proposed mentor Erez Levon. I also aim to improve my academic networks, engaging with senior scholars and immersing myself in London's vibrant wider sociolinguistic research community. During the Fellowship I will undergo training in softwares used by sociolinguists for advanced statistical analysis.
As an early career researcher, I plan over the next five years to draw on my work in Bermuda by exploring language practice and ideologies in other 'offshore' settings, since contexts in which nationality and belonging are socially contested and politically sensitive are fertile ground for examining place-making and identity construction through language. In order to lay the foundations for this research programme, I will spend 10-15% of my Fellowship time investigating the context of the Cayman Islands, including a short period of library research and a preliminary visit to Grand Cayman. Towards the end of the Fellowship, I will attend Sociolinguistics Symposium, the leading international conference in my field, in order to present early observations and expand my international networks.
Finally, I aim to to implement a social impact strategy in Bermuda during the Fellowship, in order to give back to the community I have been researching for nearly 10 years. I am working to create a Bermudian oral history archive, made up of my own recordings and other audio material that has not previously been catalogued. On an outreach visit to Bermuda I will finalise and launch the archive, creating an important corpus of Bermudian speech available to Bermudians and future researchers of local language and history. I also plan to hold an awareness-raising public event discussing racialized dialect parody in Bermuda. This is vital in exposing linguistic prejudice as a proxy for racism and a means through which oppression is upheld, and has potential for influencing policy makers and educators.

Publications

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