Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Gay American English: Language attitudes, language perceptions, and gay men's discourses of connectedness to family, LGBTQ networks, and the American South

Stephen L. Mann

[Full text of dissertation in ProQuest]

Committee Members: Tracey Weldon (Director), Anne Bezuidenhout, William Leap, Jennifer Reynolds

Abstract

This dissertation explores attitudes toward and perceptions of gay male varieties of American English, or Gay American English (GAE). Building on language attitude research in folk dialectology and social psychology, I use both quantitative and qualitative techniques to analyze interview data, an attitude and perception study, and two focus groups. I also adapt methodologies from social network theory to examine how gay men’s individual attitudes toward and usage of GAE are influenced by their connectedness to (1) family of origin and created kinship networks, (2) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer (LGBTQ) networks and practices, and (3) the American South.

My results show a conflicting image of GAE’s social status, which seems to lie somewhere between the traditional categories of standard and nonstandard. According to my results, GAE speakers receive positive assessments in status characteristics (e.g., intelligence), consistent with standard language varieties. They also receive positive assessments in solidarity characteristics (e.g., friendliness), consistent with many nonstandard varieties. However, GAE is often associated with “effeminacy,” which is negatively evaluated by the participants in my study. As a result, unlike other varieties of English that utilize standard language features, GAE may hinder a speaker’s chances of upward social mobility.

Less surprisingly, the data show that connectedness to LGBTQ networks and practices is positively correlated with attitudes toward/usage of GAE. The strongest correlation found is the association between connectedness to created kinship networks and attitudes toward/usage of GAE. Additionally, the data show that weak family of origin ties increase the likelihood that a gay man will have positive attitudes toward GAE and use it. These findings suggest that for gay men who have built kinship networks within LGBTQ communities, created kinship networks may be more influential than family of origin networks in terms of language practices. Finally, my analysis of gay men’s connectedness to the South reveals that gay men’s attitudes toward/usage of GAE are complicated by ideologies of class, gender, and rurality – ideologies, which are also linked together in complex ways.