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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 1

Judith Misrahi-Barak
Claudine Raynaud

Diasporic Negotiations and Passages

Diaspora and Sociolinguistic space: the Jamaican Community in Toronto

Lars Hinrichs


Diasporic settings confront scholars with mixes among cultures, dialects, and languages. Sociolinguists must describe the specific forms of that mix, then explain it by considering the social dynamics that produce it. This task presents above all a methodological challenge. Most scholars of culture and society agree that diasporic mixing between dialects and languages will become drastically more frequent in the nascent 21st century, and will come to dominate urban sociolinguistic space in many places. We have to ask: what methods are best suited to study the social meanings and structural changes of linguistic forms under conditions of ’super-diversity’ (Blommaert 2010; Vertovec 2007)? And how can we model community-level mixing while adequately accounting for the vast amount of observed idiolectal variation? In work on the Jamaican diaspora, I have conducted video-observations of Reggae and Rap artists of Jamaican heritage in Toronto. This paper presents an example of a frequency-based analysis of vocalic variation and discourse analyses of selected transcripts. Bridging the divide between quantitative and qualitative methodologies in sociolinguistics I employ Bourdieu’s (1982) notion of the symbolic capital of linguistic forms to explain the observable structural features of the diasporic dialect mix that occurs in the Jamaican Canadian community.

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1Language systems are immediately and deeply affected when cultures move and then mix with other cultures under diasporic conditions. Thus, migration yields locally specific linguistic mixes and, in some cases, produces new dialects or languages. Transnational migration, in turn, has been studied as the defining sociodemographic trend of globalization, which is likely to steadily increase throughout the present century. It is therefore surprising that the sub-field of linguistics that studies the link between linguistic form on one side and the social-interactional context of language use on the other, i. e. sociolinguistics, has not dedicated itself more thoroughly to themes of globalization and transnationalism, and that it does not figure more prominently in the interdisciplinary academic discourse on diaspora of the humanities and social sciences.

2Sociolinguistics is devoted to describing and explaining linguistic variation, a cover term denoting heterogeneity of form in any (or several) of a number of dimensions: among individuals, within individuals, in geographic space, over time, and so on. The core of the discipline is commonly referred to as variationist sociolinguistics and has traditionally concentrated on mostly quantitative studies of speech differences within the community. Meanwhile, the past two decades have seen an expansion of interest in the connection between linguistic performance (and resulting variation) and individual identity, causing qualitative methodologies such as ethnography and discourse analysis to be more frequently applied throughout Sociolinguistics (Eckert under review; Bucholtz & Hall 2008).

  • 1 Modeling the New York City speech community as monolingually English was of course an idealistic ab (...)

3Because the theoretical structure of the variationist paradigm rests on empirical work in monolingual speech communities-Labov (1966) on English in New York City is widely regarded as the field’s founding publication1-sociolinguistics as a discipline faces certain difficulties in addressing the questions that arise in diaspora situations. Monolingual speech communities have been assumed to be linguistically monosystemic, and to be varying primarily between formal and informal expressions of the same language. Because standard and vernacular varieties of the language of a given monolingual locale have grown gradually and over the course of centuries, they have ended up in a unilinear continuum of form, corresponding to a unilinear continuum of social function. Such order is rarely present in diaspora situations. When peoples move into new territories, their dialects or languages meet with the dialects or languages of host communities, and no a priori historical relationship between the two can be assumed. Speech performance in diasporic settings may resemble monolingual communities and show shifts along a continuum from formal to informal speech, but it may also involve switches among historically unrelated language varieties that may well appear random to the outsider.

4Sociolinguists, knowing that globalization and mobility will be the backdrop of all sociodemographic change in the coming century, are beginning to sort out the theoretical and methodological challenges of diasporic language variation to their field (Bonnici 2010; Hinrichs 2011; Johnstone 2004; Sharma 2011). The most explicit discussion of these issues to date is found in Blommaert’s work (2003; 2010). He writes:

We possess (if we use it well) a descriptive apparatus of unparalleled precision, capable of reading infinitely big features of society from infinitely small details of communicative behaviour. Our most persuasive discourse is empirical and descriptive: we are at our best when we provide theoretically grounded and sophisticated descriptions of language problems in the world. The theoretical challenges of globalization may make some scholars inclined to produce more theory than description; in my view this would mean that we thereby sacrifice some of our best and most powerful tools.
(Blommaert 2010: xiv)

5There is a growing consensus among authors in this new area of study, resonating in the present paper, that the application of quantitative survey methods alone to diasporic speech is not sufficient in our efforts to understand the linguistic effects of transnational mobility.

  • 2 Anthias (1998) has discussed what can be re-phrased as the danger of ’iconization, fractal recursiv (...)

6One goal of this paper is to highlight the potential mutual benefits of a heightened sociolinguistic engagement in diaspora studies. Broadly speaking, sociolinguistics provides a rigorously empirical perspective on the social dynamics of diasporic cultural life. Language as a symbolic system is not only a toolset that accomplishes social action, it can also reflect and create relationships among groups and individuals. By drawing on the by now well-developed body of research on the link between language and identity, sociolinguistics can contribute important insights to the discussion of central issues in diaspora studies such as the dynamic nature of cultural representation in diasporic groups (Hall 1990) or the role of intersectionality in the study of diasporic groups (Anthias 1998).2

7In fieldwork conducted in Toronto since 2006, I have been studying language use among Canadian-born individuals of Jamaican background, i. e. of members of the second generation of Toronto Jamaicans. Early immigrants-individuals who came to Canada at age 7 or younger-were also included. Participants of my study are active practitioners in the Toronto Reggae scene and include musicians, event managers, TV and radio hosts, and hangers-on. Their speech was recorded in video observation (with primary informants wearing wireless clip-on microphones for extended periods of time) as well as one-on-one interviews, which were audio-recorded.

8This paper presents a case study of one ’linguistic individual’ (Johnstone 1996) who occupies a specific social position within the Toronto Jamaican community. She acts as a ’cultural broker’ (further defined below) between the Jamaican diaspora community and the surrounding majority community of Toronto. By virtue of her biracial and bicultural identity, her full competence in both Canadian English and Jamaican Creole, and her biographical background, this speaker is able to create a culturally integrated diasporic entertainment program in her weekly radio show. In her mediation of cultural contrasts, her use of language as a site of symbolic representation plays a crucial role. Because an understanding of this individual’s specific background and position in the community is crucial to a study of variation in her linguistic performance, qualitative micro-analysis emerges as a necessary prerequisite to any quantitative survey work in diasporic speech communities. Such linguistic work benefits from an analytic stance that takes existing work on diaspora and transnationalism into account.

  • 3 Aside from Creole, another variety of English is domestic to Jamaica: Jamaican English (Devonish &  (...)

9To illustrate the importance of a discourse analysis rooted in inter-actional context, I contrast the micro-analysis of this cultural broker with a survey study of a group of speakers, a subset of those interviewed for the larger project, showcasing the quantitative sociolinguistic approach to variation in the community. Typically, sociolinguistic analyses of variation attend to selected linguistic features that exhibit variation (Walker 2010). In the diasporic community at hand, two different varieties of English, Canadian English and Jamaican Creole,3 are in contact with one another. Since a large number of linguistic features are identical among varieties of the same language, a study of variation based on contact between two varieties must consider those parts of the linguistic system that are realized differently between the two varieties.

  • 4 FACE is used as a keyword for the class of words containing the same vowel as the word face. The co (...)

10One such feature is the FACE vowel, i. e. the vowel occurring in words such as may, chase, rain, hale, etc.4 In North American, including Canadian, English, this vowel is phonetically a diphthong (Boberg 2008), which means that it is a vowel sound that starts with one quality and is modulated to another quality across its duration. Specifically, it is a raising diphthong, because its onset is lower (in terms of articulatory mechanics) than its offglide. By contrast, Jamaican Creole realizes the FACE vowel as a falling diphthong, which begins high in phonetic space and ends lower.

11Due to the contrast between the Canadian English (CanE) and the Jamaican Creole (JamC) phonological systems in the area of the FACE vowel, bicultural individuals of Jamaican-Canadian background are forced to make a choice as to how to realize that vowel each time it occurs in their speech. At minimum, and after slight simplification, it can be said that they have three different forms of the vowel to choose from: (1) a JamC-like production of the vowel (falling diphthong), (2) a CanE-like realization (raising diphthong), and (3) a compromise realization, which would be a monophthong, i. e. a vowel which neither falls nor raises.

  • 5 Spectographic measurements of vowel formants were conducted using the freely available software pac (...)
  • 6 The offglide of a diphthong would typically be measured at the 75 %-point. That measurement is not (...)

12Because variation in the vowel system is actually continuous-there are many intermediate stages between two given positions in the two-dimensional vowel system-the realizations of the FACE vowel in actual speech data must be measured instrumentally, and tokens categorized on a continuum. For this analysis of FACE vowel tokens in the interview and observation data, the response variable was vowel height, measured as the first formant of the vowel at 25 % of its total duration.5 The 25 %-point corresponds to the onset of the vowel.6

13The first step of the study was the construction of a non-Caribbean baseline. Using a subset of the digital recordings of the sociolinguistic interviews with non-Caribbean English speakers that were conducted for Hoffman & Walker’s ongoing survey study of linguistic variation in Toronto (Hoffman & Walker 2010), I obtained aggregate vowel measurements for Italian-, Anglo-, and Chinese-Canadian speakers. All speakers in the baseline sample were under 35 years old, and all had been shown by Hoffman & Walker to have low scores for ’Ethnic Orientation (EO)’ (46)-that is to say, they identified primarily as Canadian and only to a small extent as members of their heritage culture.

Fig. 1. — Aggregate vowel frequencies for a baseline dataset of non-Caribbean Toronto English (Italian-, Anglo-, and Chinese-heritage speakers of Toronto English; data described in Hoffman & Walker 2010). FACE onset robustly lower than KIT (overlapped by GOOSE).

Fig. 1. — Aggregate vowel frequencies for a baseline dataset of non-Caribbean Toronto English (Italian-, Anglo-, and Chinese-heritage speakers of Toronto English; data described in Hoffman & Walker 2010). FACE onset robustly lower than KIT (overlapped by GOOSE).

14Figure 1 shows the aggregate vowel measurements (based on 610 tokens) in 2-dimensional space, with the first formant (F1), which corresponds to vowel height, plotted on the y-axis, and F2, corresponding to vowel frontness, on the x-axis. The differentiation into three ethnic groups shows that the onset of the FACE-vowel is lower than the KIT-vowel for each of the subgroups; this observation also holds for the individual vowel systems of all included speakers. This finding suggests that the baseline dataset includes generally diphthongal realizations of the FACE vowel. Monophthongization of the FACE-vowel would be showing as a raised onset of the vowel-in terms of graphical representation, the plotting point of the FACE-vowel would encroach on the space of the KIT-vowel. Given this finding, we will conclude that non-Caribbean English in Toronto features a FACE-vowel whose onset is consistently lower than the KIT-vowel.

15To this finding from the baseline we can now compare the measurements from the speech of Toronto Jamaicans. First, two speakers with impressionistically different speech styles will be considered: Frank (Figure 2) and Carrie (Figure 3).

  • 7 In fact, some of Frank’s FACE-vowel tokens are falling diphthongs, i. e. clearly JamC-like forms.

16The analysis of the first two speakers shows only one of them to produce FACE vowels that are measurably influenced by the JamC system: Frank’s onset for the FACE vowels is clearly higher than his KIT vowel (Figure 2), which suggests on average monophthongal, CanE-JamC-compromise forms.7 By contrast, Carrie’s FACE vowel onset is considerably lower than her KIT vowel, reflecting the fact that her realizations of FACE are clearly raising diphthongs, i. e. CanE-oriented.

17Both Frank and Carrie were born and raised in Toronto, both are in their late thirties, and both have had extensive exposure to both Jamaican and Canadian forms of English throughout their lives. Therefore, it is surprising that Frank’s speech shows a much stronger degree of JamC substrate influence than Carrie’s. In order to understand which ethnographic factors may have the greatest explanatory bearing on this contradiction, I open up the analysis to a few more speakers. In total, I consider seven speakers, all of them second-generation Toronto Jamaicans. Four of them were born in Toronto, and three arrived with their parents at age seven or younger.

Fig. 2. — Vowel system plot for Toronto-Jamaican English speaker Frank.

Fig. 2. — Vowel system plot for Toronto-Jamaican English speaker Frank.

18Table 1 introduces the subjects of this sample with biographical facts. While subjects’ linguistic competence varies, it is important to note that in the analysis only interview speech in English, not Creole, was considered. Note further that socioeconomic does not feature as a dimension of comparison as all subjects were making between 15,000 and 30,000 Canadian dollars per year at the time of the interviews, and their parents’ homes could be described in similar terms.

Fig. 3. — Vowel system plot for Toronto-Jamaican English speaker Carrie.

Fig. 3. — Vowel system plot for Toronto-Jamaican English speaker Carrie.

19Figure 4 shows for each speaker the extent and direction of the difference in height between their aggregate measures for the FACE-vowel onset and their KIT vowel, calculated as the mean F1 for KIT at 25 % minus the mean F1 for FACE. In measurements of the first formant, lower values correspond to higher vowels, and vice versa. Therefore, negative values obtained in this calculation correspond to relatively low onsets of the FACE-vowel (implying raising-diphthongal, more CanE-like realizations). Positive values correspond to FACE-vowels with onsets higher than KIT, implying monophthongal or falling-diphthongal (more JamC-like) realizations of the vowel.

Tableau 1. — Speakers included in quantitative analysis (* highest level completed)

In Toronto since age

Age at time of interview






high school

student (BA)




high school

student (BA)





Reggae host/producer




high school






news anchor





student (MA)





student (MA)

  • 8 Dwight, Natoya, and Shanique moved from Jamaica to Canada with their parents at, respectively, six, (...)

20Figure 4 separates speakers into Toronto-born and Jamaican-born (i. e. early immigrant) members of the Jamaican diaspora in Toronto. It is evident from the graph that the Jamaican-born speakers in this data, plotted on the right-hand side, have consistently positive values for their FACE-raising indices. This indicates that their realizations of the FACE-vowel consistently and clearly follow the Jamaican pattern, not the Canadian pattern. Being born in Jamaica and spending the early years of language acquisition in a Creole-speaking society8 appears to have a strong foundational influence on this part of the linguistic system. Meanwhile, the Toronto-born speakers vary strongly, with two speakers showing positive values and the other two showing negative values.

21As an intermediate finding of the quantitative analysis of vocalic variation, we can state that the early years of language acquisition strongly influence idiolectal realizations of the FACE-vowel. In particular, it is evident that a Jamaican-like realization of the vowel acquired in the speech community of the Creole-speaking homeland, Jamaica, resists the later influence of a North American majority accent, even when that influence begins at age seven or younger. This finding is in line with the fact that raised-onset realizations of the FACE-vowel are typologically unmarked, i. e. they occur in a great number of varieties of English, both in the British Isles (cf. Scottish and Irish English) and in postcolonial New Englishes (cf. all Caribbean varieties of English, Indian English, and others). Raising of the FACE-vowel onset is arguably an easy entry point for substrate influence from varieties that have raised-onset FACE-vowels, relative to varieties with lower-onset FACE-vowels, such as CanE (Hinrichs 2011).

Fig. 4. — Mean difference between onset of FACE- and KIT-vowel tokens by speaker.

Fig. 4. — Mean difference between onset of FACE- and KIT-vowel tokens by speaker.

22In order to understand why two of the speakers-Simonette and Carrie-choose much more Canadian-like realizations of the FACE-vowel than the other two members of the Canadian-born group, we must look both to the context and the content of the interactions in which the vowels that were measured occurred. To do so implies a critical, ethnographically informed reading of the transcripts, and in essence a broadening of the methodological portfolio so as to include subtle ways of attending to discourse (see Blommaert 2005 for an introduction that is sensitive to the topic of language and globalization).

  • 9 A much shorter analysis of this transcript was presented in Hinrichs (2011).

23In what follows, I focus on one of the two speakers, Carrie, and present an analysis of a transcript of her observed speech.9 Carrie is the host of a weekly radio show dedicated to Canadian Reggae, i. e. Reggae music produced in Canada (Figure 5). Her show is broadcast on Mondays between 10am and 12pm by a community radio station that serves Greater Metropolitan Toronto on an FM frequency. The station has a strong, but non-exclusive, orientation to the Caribbean community: a station manager estimates that Caribbean-related content accounts for 60 % of its programming and Caribbean businesses for 80 % of its advertizing revenue. Carrie’s Reggae show is thus directed at the station’s primary listenership, but non-Caribbean listeners are likely to be tuned in to her show as well at any given point in time.

  • 10 Patwa, stressed on the first syllable, is the most frequently used term among native speakers to re (...)

24Carrie’s father is a black Jamaican man who immigrated to Canada in the 1960s, and passed away in 2005; her mother is a white Canadian woman. Carrie was born in 1969. Her father was a strong promoter of Caribbean culture, especially music, in Toronto. Most notably, he founded Caribana, the pan-Caribbean carnival that takes place in Toronto each August. Recently, the Caribana parades have drawn millions of visitors into the streets of Toronto each summer. The preservation of his Jamaican heritage within his family was of great importance to Carrie’s father, and she stresses in one interview that he made a point of speaking only Patwa10 when at home. In essence, Carrie is bi-ethnic, bi-dialectal, and bi-cultural-a thoroughly diasporic individual. In comparison, the other speakers presented in Table 1 grew up in families that promoted negative attitudes toward Patwa. According to a narrative that was presented to me in interviews by several second-generation Jamaican Canadians, the generation of their parents belongs to the skilled, educated first big wave of immigrants from Jamaica. In Jamaica, higher levels of education traditionally correlate with negative language ideologies toward Patwa. Recent efforts to obtain official recognition of Jamaican Creole as a language in the island nation are driven by a group of public intellectuals, among them linguist Hubert Devonish and literary critic Carolyn Cooper. In fighting for Creole language rights (Devonish 1986), they hold what is still a minority opinion among educated Jamaicans, most of whom believe that only Standard English should be promoted by the state. Over the last decade, the debate between proponents and opponents of Creole language rights has been held very publicly in the Jamaican media. Carrie’s father, who was educated in Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s, is an unusual case of a Jamaican who held a positive attitude toward Creole at an early point in time, soon after the country’s independence from Britain, reached in 1962. Among the group of immigrants to Canada, this attitude was especially rare, and Carrie’s upbringing in a home that fully embraced Patwa is not a typical story among members of the second generation. Much more frequently, I heard of stories like Simonette’s, whose father is a teacher and values only ’correct’, i. e. Standard, English, and whose relatives tended to make fun of aspects of her Patwa phonology that exposed her as a nonnative speaker. Similarly, Dwight reports that his parents were educators and that he therefore did not become fluent in Patwa until he arrived in Canada at age seven, where he grew up in a high-density Caribbean neighborhood and spoke Patwa outside the home. Other speakers grew up in homes that made no particular effort to hold on to Patwa as an aspect of their heritage.

Fig. 5. — Carrie during an on-air segment of her radio show (screenshot from video data, May 2008).

Fig. 5. — Carrie during an on-air segment of her radio show (screenshot from video data, May 2008).
  • 11 The four constraints on Carrie’s performance (authenticity, intelligibility, spontaneous fluency, a (...)

25Carrie’s role as host of a diasporic radio show places her in the position of a cultural broker. The social role of the member of one social group who mediates between that group and others has been a longstanding interest in social and cultural anthropology (Rasmussen 2003 provides an overview). A common case is mediation across linguistic and cultural boundaries between a small minority group and the surrounding majority. The term cultural broker is most often employed in studies on these kinds of community members, but other terms such as ’facilitator’ (Rasmussen 2003), ’go-between’ (Hagedorn 1988), or ’translator between languages and cultures’ (Hagedorn 1988; Penfield 1987) have been applied as well. It is characteristic of cultural brokers to be specially equipped, often by virtue of their linguistic skills (Penfield 1987: 162), for the task of presenting their own community’s interest to other groups. Carrie has unusually complete levels of competence in both Jamaican and Canadian linguistic resources. Her mixed ethnic identity associates her with both the black minority in Toronto and the white majority. This role of cultural broker manifests itself as a set of different demands which are placed on Carrie’s performance as host of a diasporic radio show. It will become clear that Carrie meets these demands in part through the strategic deployment of different linguistic styles. They can be described as being grouped into four types: authenticity, intelligibility, spontaneous fluency, and positive representation.11

  • Authenticity. The core audience of Rebel Vibez is made up of members of the Caribbean, and especially Jamaican, community in Toronto. The use of Patwa is a symbolic strategy of creating authenticity through code choice as a linguistic act of identity (Le Page & Tabouret-Keller 1985). Such purely symbolic creation of authenticity can be achieved through the use of shibboleths that are well known even in the majority community. However, when discourse requires in-depth knowledge of Jamaican culture in order to be understood, the ideology of authenticity (Coupland
    2003) is also served iconically: non-Jamaicans are excluded from communication, and only the authentically Jamaican can be part of the in-group.

  • Intelligibility. Carrie has to make sure that listeners, regardless of their competence in Patwa, understand most of the language used on Rebel Vibez. Both her core audience-Caribbeans in Toronto-and the surrounding community include many speakers who are only superficially acquainted with Patwa.

    • 12 Goffman (1981a) gives two concrete examples: the need to project personal belief in a product for w (...)

    Spontaneousfluency. In his study of the language of radio announcers, Goffman (1981a) formulates one demand that every radio broadcaster faces: ’The key contingency in radio announcing
    (I take it) is to produce the effect of a spontaneous, fluent flow of words-if not a forceful, pleasing personality-under conditions that lay speakers would be unable to manage’ (198).
    12 This demand applies especially to the host of an entertainment program such as Rebel Vibez.

    • 13 As Henry (1994) documents, the opinion of the Torontonian public of the Caribbean community in gene (...)

    Positive representation. The diasporic community for which Carrie acts as spokesperson is under a specific kind of cultural pressure in the social context of the surrounding community. Jamaican drug gangs perpetrated a series of killings that haunted Toronto in 2005, the year of the ’summer of the gun’, and which extended into subsequent years (Appleby 2007). Some public discourse presented these killings as characteristic of Jamaicans in general, and many Jamaican-Canadian participants spoke of a sense of cultural embattlement among the community.13 Carrie said in interviews that she is careful not to broadcast on her show a representation of Jamaicans that would support this negative view of Jamaicans.

26To summarize, Carrie has to converse spontaneously and fluently while representing her diasporic group positively to the majority culture in Toronto, but also creating a sense of in-group solidarity and authentic Jamaicanness among the diasporic core audience. Further abstracted, Carrie’s task is a bidirectional act of representation: representation of herself as a legitimate focal point to the diasporic group, and representation of the entire group to the surrounding majority culture.

27In Bourdieu’s ideas on the role of the symbolic in the creation and organization of social relations, acts of symbolic representation-by individuals or groups-are seen as contributing to social ’distinction’ (1984; 1985), with distinction serving as the basis of societal functioning and the precondition for achievement and expansion of social privilege. Applying Bourdieu’s ideas to variation in the speech of individuals, Irvine (2001) shows that linguistic style plays a central role in the work of representation.

  • 14 Hinrichs 2011 (8) contains a schematic map of the recording situation in the on-air studio.

28This background can help us frame Carrie’s linguistic choices as devices in her multiply constrained work of symbolic representation. Reproduced below is a transcript from a video observation conducted during a live broadcast of Carrie’s radio show ’Rebel Vibez’ on May 19th, 2008. The recording was conducted using two video cameras on tripods, one trained on Carrie, the other following Carrie’s sister Tanya, the show’s co-host, and others in the on-air studio.14

  • 15 They place high value on stylistic practice: Kynt’s Myspace profile gives as his ’favorite quote’: (...)

29On this particular day, two guests were present at the show: Kynt and Vyxsin. In 2007, they had participated in the twelfth season of the elimination TV show ’The Amazing Race’, produced by the American network CBS and simulcasted in Canada by CTV. They had been eliminated during the eighth (of eleven) ’leg’ of the season, which aired in late December 2007. Kynt and Vyxsin come from Kentucky. They are a couple, and both are affiliated with the Goth subculture. In one episode of season 12 they describe themselves as ’just a couple of Goth kids from Louisville, Kentucky’. In the episode in which they were eliminated from the race, the host of the show, Phil Keoghan, jokingly told them that he ’would have to give [them] the award for the most fashionable couple ever on the Amazing Race’. Indeed, both Kynt and Vyxsin, who were 32 and 29 years old in May 2008, use extravagant make-up and clothing in constructing their ’Goth’ look (see Figure 6; Kynt is visible at the left margin of the frame at many points in the raw video data clip).15 Following the exposure to large television audiences both in the U.S. and Canada, the couple decided to pursue fashion modeling. In May of 2008, this new career brought them to Toronto. Despite the lack of any obvious connection between Kynt and Vyxsin’s background, or Goth style more generally, with Reggae music, their booking agent had arranged with Carrie’s station that they would appear on Rebel Vibez for a promotional interview, and Carrie had agreed to their appearance.

Fig. 6. — Kynt and Vyxsin

Fig. 6. — Kynt and Vyxsin

30The transcript covers Carrie’s first on-air mentioning of her two guests in a teaser between two music segments.

  • 16 The raw video data for this excerpt can be viewed at http: // 7-414WU. Jason’s and (...)

A group a Rastaman16

Jason: ((on air)) what do you think ss- we should give them a little piece of “Singers in the Neighborhood” a little later on in the day [()

[38] Carrie: [↑oh my ↑gosh you know you you ey you you know who’s inside CHRY studios (.95)
super↓stars (.35)
a↓gain (.94)
super↓stars (.17) a↓gain (.) The Amazing Race
Kynt [kInt] ah Kent [kεnt] I’m calling him Kynt
[kInt] sorry Kent [kεnt] you know what I said
Kent [kεnt] (.29) Kent [kεnt] and Vyxsin let me tell you something (.) they cause controversy
on the television screen ((laughter among all in the studio))

[39] a gruup a Rastaman goin waak insaid ya
a group of Rastamen might walk in here
an se um (.) wo::: w (.)
and say
I’m telling you they have such a good vibe
so far.hh

[40] we’re gonna get to talk to them they’re here for fashion and supporting different um designers ah ah it’s it’s it’s a good thing it’s a good thing and they’re gonna be in different magazines and (.) um hem=yah (.84)

  • 17 Harlem Night Club in Toronto, where Carrie had hosted a live Reggae music event the previous night.

[41] talk se sompm Brother Jason
say something
[mi de pon a hai tide (.62) I’m tired]
I’m on a high today
I’m [2 tired yesterday hh oh (1.1) yeah2]]
Jason: [.hh (1.0) ((laughs)) yeah]
Tanya: [2 yes (.5) I had to drag her out last
night from Harlem17 I’m going radio tomorrow
come on she said she’s not2] as disciplined as

  • 18 At the spiritual core of Rastafarianism is a religious philosophy. ’Being Rasta’ implies any of a n (...)
  • 19 Aside from the lexical aspect (Rebel), note that the name employs z-fors spelling substitution, an (...)

31Kynt and Vyxsin claim an affiliation with Goth, a predominantly white youth subculture (Thomas 2009). Reggae music, to which Carrie’s show is dedicated, is tightly connected with Rastafarianism, a black subculture (Alleyne 2000). While Carrie is not herself Rastafarian, most Reggae artists whose music is played on her show, and who come to the studio as live guests, are Rastafarians of afro-Caribbean background.18 Both Goth and Rastafarianism pursue similar regimes of Bourdieusian distinction with regard to mainstream culture: they are organized around ways of resisting the mainstream (papers in Hall & Jefferson 2006). In Carrie’s case, the notion of resistance is encoded in the name of her show, which is ’Rebel Vibez’.19

32The clash between Goth and Reggae as primarily white vs. black subcultures magnifies the demands placed on Carrie’s brokerage. As host she is charged with producing an entertaining program that integrates her dissimilar guests into the show’s usual basic participation framework (Goffman 1981b), which is in itself contradictory (see above). In essence, Carrie’s work of representation in this hour of her show is defined by the need to broker between two distinct subcultures on the one hand, and between those two and the surrounding mainstream culture on the other.

33Variation in Carrie’s speech in the recording is a site for achieving the work of cultural brokerage at the level of symbolic representation. The symbolic meaning of Carrie’s use of either more Canadian-sounding or more Jamaican-sounding speech forms can be captured more precisely in up-close analysis. In the logic of the indexical field as articulated by Eckert (2008; building on Silverstein 2003), Carrie’s use of Patwa can index cultural meaning of a general sense, broadly summarizable as the indexical field ’Jamaican culture and identity’. This umbrella meaning is constituted by a set of more specific meanings, which are activated in and by the specific context of each utterance. Similarly, uses of CanE linguistic forms always index ’Canadian culture and identity’ in a general sense, but more concrete manifestations of that meaning become apparent in context.

  • 20 Lect is here used to mean ’distinct way of speaking within an individual’s repertoire of ways of sp (...)
  • 21 While Sharma & Rampton (2011) propose segmenting the discourse into either turn-constructional unit (...)

34Any utterance can be more Jamaican or more Canadian on the formal level to varying degrees. Using the rhetoric proposed by Le Page & Tabouret-Keller (1985), Sharma & Rampton (2011) refer to the degree to which either lect20 is formally realized as focusing. To sharpen and facilitate the analysis of degrees of focusing of lects in interaction, they propose a visualization technique for ’lectal focusing in interaction’ (LFI). Transcripts are segmented into discourse units based on the configuration of the participation framework;21 the numbering in square brackets in the left margin of the transcript above refers to these discourse segments. Figure 7 shows the LFI measures for all discourse segments across the duration of the transcript.

  • 22 Because his hometown, Louisville, is situated right at the isogloss between the Southern US ’PIN/PE (...)

35As the transcript shows, Carrie’s announcement in 38, ’you know who’s inside CHRY studios? Superstars-again’, follows talk by Brother Jason, the regular on-air DJ, offering the ’Singers in the Neighborhood’ segment of Rebel Vibez. This segment regularly introduces new Canadian Reggae artists to the audience. As such, Jason’s suggestion focuses on Rebel Vibez’s core audience. Carrie’s decision in 38 to ignore Jason’s suggestion and instead to offer a teaser for the upcoming Kynt and Vyxsin interview can be understood as an effort to open up the show’s appeal to a broader audience, including members of the surrounding mainstream culture, thus correcting for Jason’s strongly in-group directed discourse. Consequently, this segment shows a high degree of phonetic focusing for CanE, with a measure of.91, compared to.09 for JamC. Segment 38 shows a high level of engagement with Kynt and Vyxsin, while at the same time constructing alterity in the lengthy riff on the pronunciation of Kynt’s name. Kynt’s real name is Kent, but he uses the alternative spelling with a <y>in conscious22 recognition of the fact that /i/ and /ε/ are pronounced identically when preceding nasal consonants in his home dialect region, but not in other parts of North America. Here Carrie as a speaker of two different varieties of English (CanE and JamC), both of which have distinct pronunciations for the /i/ and /ε/ vowels in all phonetic environments, in effect communicates that the wittiness of Kynt’s respelling of his own name is lost on her.

Fig. 7. — Lectal focusing in interaction in the “Rastaman” passage.

Fig. 7. — Lectal focusing in interaction in the “Rastaman” passage.

36Throughout 38, the use of CanE phonetics undergoes a shift of indexical function: it begins as an index of local majority culture, and thus as a device of integrating non-Caribbean Toronto listeners. By the end of 38 however, Carrie’s discourse seems tangled up in her treatment of Kynt and Vyxsin, and she runs the risk of losing appeal to her core audience. The indexicality of CanE phonetics has shifted from the positively local to anything that is North-American and non-Caribbean, and a negative indexical opposition to the Caribbean core audience is threatening to emerge-but conflict between the discourse of the radio host and any participant of the interaction must be avoided by maxim (Goffman 1981a).

37At the end of 38, Carrie therefore offers repair designed to harmonize between her core audience, represented by herself and a few DJs and Reggae musicians present in the studio, and Kynt and Vyxsin: she points out that the pair caused ’controversy on the television screen’. In actual fact, they are quite non-confrontational individuals, not known to have engaged in any actual opposition with other contestants or the makers of ’Amazing Race’. By characterizing them as prone to controversy, Carrie appeals to their identity as members of the Goth subculture, which shares with Rasta a stance of resistance toward the mainstream, and the CBS Network is here coded as an icon of anything that is culturally mainstream. The general laughter at the end of 38 shows that this smoothing move was successful.

38The following segment (39) extends the repair by implementing further counter-correction to the near-exclusive North-American indexicality of phonetic forms used in 38, with a dramatic shift toward Patwa (1.00, cp..50 for CanE) and the discursive construction of an icon of the show’s main cultural practice: a group of Rastamen is imagined as walking into the studio and confronting the unexpected sight of Kynt and Vyxsin as guests on Rebel Vibez. It is interesting to note that Carrie does not explicitly elaborate on the manifest appearance of Kynt and Vyxsin (they are racially white and extremely pale, wear large dark sunglasses and black clothing, thus differing radically from the visual of a typical Rastaman). Instead, she enacts the reaction of the imagined ’group a Rastaman’: ’wo::: w’, they would say as an expression of surprise and, potentially, recognition of the resistance expressed through Kynt and Vyxsin’s Goth attire. By taking the exclusive point of view of imaginary Rastamen and voicing their surprise, and foregoing description of what she is actually talking about, repair is completed.

39Carrie can now turn to the next part of this teaser: in 40 she attempts to inform her listeners of the reason for Kynt and Vyxsin’s visit in the studio. A practical problem arises: Carrie does not know the reason for their visit in any great detail herself. Before the beginning of the live broadcast, she told them that she ’didn’t get the bio’, invoking failed e-mail communication with Kynt as the reason why she does not have any background information on the pair. Therefore, Carrie runs into problems as she tries to explain what Kynt and Vyxsin are actually doing in Toronto: ’they’re here for fashion and supporting different um designers ah ah it’s it’s it’s a good thing it’s a good thing’, she improvises. Ultimately she has to give up and ends: ’they’re gonna be in different magazines and (.) um hem=yah’. Her linguistic performance in this segment is more balanced than before between her two lects, with CanE being favored somewhat (CanE: .66, JamC: .25).

40This new instance of conversational trouble-her lack of preparation which is threatening to become all too obvious, upstaging the overall smoothness of her ’radio host talk’, is repaired by connecting to the beginning of this teaser segment. In 38, Carrie had marginalized Brother Jason, and linguistically corrected for the strong ingroup-orientation of his talk. Now, in 41, she draws him back into the conversation by saying in focused Patwa: ’talk, se sompm, Brother Jason’ (CanE: .33, JamC: .67). She thus playfully accuses Jason of not talking enough and thus causing the momentary drought of smooth, entertaining host talk (which had actually resulted from Carrie’s lack of background information). In Jason’s place, Tanya picks up and responds by talking about the previous night, on which she attended an event together with Carrie.

41The analysis presented here started from a methodological argument on the need for qualitative methods in the analysis of diasporic language variation due to the lacunae of quantitative methods. It has revealed a dynamic of intra-individual variation in one speaker that can at least begin to inform the quantitative analysis presented at the outset: Carrie commands a very wide range of linguistic styles, resulting from combinations of JamC and CanE at different levels of focusing. The up-close analysis of her discourse has shown that she tunes the mix of Jamaican and Canadian linguistic features in her speech very finely and according to shifts in the inter-actional context, the demands placed on her as a host and (as such) cultural broker, and her own conversational objectives.

42Returning to the open question of why Carrie emerged in the quantitative analysis as one of the speakers with the most Canadian-like FACE vowel, we can begin to make sense of that observation based on her high degree of stylistic flexibility. The language data that was measured in the analysis of FACE vowel tokens consisted purely of interview data, i. e. conversations between informants and myself. Since no Toronto Jamaicans were present at those interactions other than Carrie, and since these interviews did not take place in a live broadcast context, she did not alter her speech to contain any formal indices of Jamaican language and culture-instead, she used her most outgroup-directed speech, her most homogeneously CanE-like speech, in interviews with me. This is a different way of saying that, as would be predicted by the audience design model of stylistic variation (Bell 1984, 2001), Carrie adjusts her speech to be maximally like her interlocutor’s, which in my case means ’non-Jamaican’.

43This paper has presented sociolinguistic research on diaspora situations as an opportunity for the detailed, methodic observation of the symbolic negotiation of cultural identities. From the perspective of the two analyses presented here, one avenue for sociolinguistics to contribute empirically grounded insights to diaspora studies emerges as a methodological exhortation to look closely at individual patterns of variation. What was found to be true for Carrie’s use of language is unlikely to be accurate in the case of other individuals. The only way that the mix of cultures and languages encountered in diaspora situations can be accurately understood and modeled is by creating solid empirical foundations for theory, i. e. through a bottom-up approach-an admonition that is already part and parcel of ethnography, the methodological backdrop for most research on social interaction. At the same time, sociolinguistics must stay mindful of the ’messy’ (Blommaert 2010) conditions of diasporic language mixing, which makes qualitative studies of context imperative, and which may re-orient sociolinguistics away from the strongly quantitative place in which it currently finds itself.

44Future research may further address the dynamic aspects of diasporic speakers’ transnational linguistic repertoires. Jamaicans generally describe Patwa as a particularly innovative vernacular in which new slang is coined at very high speed. The rate of innovation in Jamaica accounts for some of the differences in usage between diasporic and homeland speakers due to a necessary lag in adoption. Carrie pointed out to me that the phrase yu don nuo ’you already know’ is an innovation from the 1980s which is no longer in frequent usage in Kingston, but whose usage in 2008 still could serve to index authentic Jamaicanness in Toronto.

45During fieldwork in August of 2011, I found that even the digital media do not fully close the gap between the homeland and the diaspora. In the spring of that year, a linguistic event on Jamaican TV became a much discussed pop-cultural phenomenon, transported through the media within Jamaica as well as Youtube and Facebook. An interview with a working-class man in a rural part of Jamaica was shown on the nation television news, when he described the measures taken locally to deal with the flooding of an access road to his small town following heavy rains. Asked who was currently able to cross the river, he replied ’nobadi kana kraas it’, a syntactically and lexically Creole utterance (gloss: ’nobody cannot cross it’). However, his pronunciation betrayed an effort to accommodate to the formality of the TV interview situation: the vowel in kraas ’cross’ was pronounced with a low back rounded vowel, i. e. with a quality much like the Southern British English realization of cross [ɒ]. But Jamaican Creole phonology does not have a low back round vowel; unround [a?] would be expected. The speaker’s use of [ɒ] was thus transparent to more educated Jamaican viewers as an imperfect effort to produce Standard English. The video clip of the interview with the worker went viral on Youtube and turned into the subject of a stream of mocking public discourse. A musician sampled the audio track and produced a dance tune from it, and TV and radio stations in Jamaica interviewed the worker, who in none of the interviews seems to be aware of the reason for his fame. The phrase nobadi kana kraas it became a slang item in Jamaica. The dance tune came to be called ’the summer hit’ of 2011. I heard of the TV clip by coincidence in early summer 2011, and while in Toronto in August, was able to witness its slow, belated spread among diasporic speakers. On at least four occasions, I was present when members of the Toronto Jamaican community heard of it, or watched the original Youtube clip, for the first time.

46Another source of differences in usage between diasporic and homeland Creole is the local reindexicalization of vernacular items. For example, the term outanashinal ’outernational’ is a Dread Talk innovation based on international that means ’from somewhere outside of Jamaica’. In the context of Carrie’s radio show, however, it means ’from somewhere outside of Toronto’-in fact, it is most frequently used in reference to Jamaican Reggae musicians who are actually from Jamaica, rather than from the Canadian diaspora. Blommaert (2010) describes reindexicalization processes such as this as reorganizations of ’sociolinguistic scales’ (32), i. e. the spatial frame in which linguistic forms operate, under diasporic conditions.

47In summary, the transnational dimensions of Creole as a globalizing vernacular provide rich and untilled grounds for future work in diasporic sociolinguistics.


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1 Modeling the New York City speech community as monolingually English was of course an idealistic abstraction even in the 1960s, one that erases the consequences of migration-induced contact between cultures and languages for the sake of theoretical tidiness.

2 Anthias (1998) has discussed what can be re-phrased as the danger of ’iconization, fractal recursivity, and erasure’ (Irvine & Gal 2009) in analytical perspectives on diaspora. Providing a critique of ethnicity/race on the one hand and diaspora on the other as competing paradigms for the study of inequality in migration-based social contact, she points out the risks of the exclusive use of either term. She thus questions an aspect of the work of analysts like Stuart Hall (e.g. 1990) and Paul Gilroy (e.g. 1987; 1993) who have proposed a foregrounding of the diaspora paradigm to supersede the ethnicity/race paradigm in cultural studies.

3 Aside from Creole, another variety of English is domestic to Jamaica: Jamaican English (Devonish & Harry 2008). Both varieties exist in a structural continuum from one to the other, and any given utterance can be realized in varying degrees of greater creoleness or greater Englishness (Decamp 1971). Speakers command varying ranges of the continuum in their individual repertoire. A majority of (non-diasporic) Jamaicans speaks some form of the Creole natively and acquire Jamaican English in the educational system. In my study of diasporic Jamaican speech, I disregard Jamaican English because I was unable to find any evidence that Jamaican English is used as symbol of Jamaican identity in the diaspora-this function is occupied exclusively by Jamaican Creole.

4 FACE is used as a keyword for the class of words containing the same vowel as the word face. The convention of labeling the vowels of English with representative keywords, which are written in all-caps, was introduced by the phonetician John C. Wells (1982).

5 Spectographic measurements of vowel formants were conducted using the freely available software package Praat (Boersma & Weenink 2010).

6 The offglide of a diphthong would typically be measured at the 75 %-point. That measurement is not reported in the data considered here.

7 In fact, some of Frank’s FACE-vowel tokens are falling diphthongs, i. e. clearly JamC-like forms.

8 Dwight, Natoya, and Shanique moved from Jamaica to Canada with their parents at, respectively, six, five, and seven years old.

9 A much shorter analysis of this transcript was presented in Hinrichs (2011).

10 Patwa, stressed on the first syllable, is the most frequently used term among native speakers to refer to JamC.

11 The four constraints on Carrie’s performance (authenticity, intelligibility, spontaneous fluency, and positive representation) were first presented in Hinrichs (2011); parts of that exposition are repeated here.

12 Goffman (1981a) gives two concrete examples: the need to project personal belief in a product for which the announcer must read an advertisement on air, even when they are reading the ad not out of personal interest but in order to meet the commercial needs of the station that employs them; and the need to make their speech sound spontaneous even at times when it is being read from a script.

13 As Henry (1994) documents, the opinion of the Torontonian public of the Caribbean community in general and Jamaicans in particular is generally negative, supported by, for example, ’evidence’ such as low educational achievement and economic performance.

14 Hinrichs 2011 (8) contains a schematic map of the recording situation in the on-air studio.

15 They place high value on stylistic practice: Kynt’s Myspace profile gives as his ’favorite quote’: ’Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself’ Accessed 12 May, 2011.

16 The raw video data for this excerpt can be viewed at http: // 7-414WU. Jason’s and Tanya’s speech does not appear very clearly on the video data, therefore it was transcribed with the additional help of the radio station’s audio log (both Jason and Tanya have their own microphones during on-air segments and so can be heard clearly on the broadcast signal). Transcription conventions largely follow Jefferson’s system as summarized in, for example, Atkinson & Heritage, eds., 1984. In addition to these, underlining was used for stretches of discourse that contain JamC for an entire clause or utterance (in these cases, Creole was transcribed using the phonemic orthography proposed in Cassidy & Le Page 1967). Instead of line numbers, discourse segment numbers are given in square brackets (more on which below).

17 Harlem Night Club in Toronto, where Carrie had hosted a live Reggae music event the previous night.

18 At the spiritual core of Rastafarianism is a religious philosophy. ’Being Rasta’ implies any of a number of possible degrees of affiliation with Rastafarianism, which can be either a subcultural identity choice or a religion, or both. Without being Rasta in the religious sense, individuals may choose to only show affiliation, as Carrie does, by symbolically using forms of Rasta’s characteristic vernacular, Dread Talk, which is a form of JamC (Pollard 2000). In addition they may don the typical dreadlock hairdo, dress in the typical colorful Rasta way, and engage in other aspects of the Rasta lifestyle.

19 Aside from the lexical aspect (Rebel), note that the name employs z-fors spelling substitution, an internationally established means of graphemically expressing resistance (Hinrichs 2012; Sebba 2007).

20 Lect is here used to mean ’distinct way of speaking within an individual’s repertoire of ways of speaking’. Both here and in Sharma & Rampton (2011), the lects in speakers’ repertoires are seen as their individual version of the different varieties of the diasporic contact situation.

21 While Sharma & Rampton (2011) propose segmenting the discourse into either turn-constructional units or clauses-whichever is smaller-I segment discourse into stretches of homogeneous audience configuration, which is to say that each shift in the participation framework (in the sense of Goffman 1981b) forces the beginning of a new discourse segment. See Hinrichs (2011) for an elaboration of differences between Sharma & Rampton’s proposal and my adaptation of it. Craig and Washington’s ’dialect density measure’ (e.g. 2000) is similar to the LFI in spirit, as it also quantifies a range of linguistic variables to assess dialect performance in a continuous model, but rests on a greater degree of linguistic formalization, employs a significant number of morphosyntactic (as opposed to phonetic) variables, does not draw on Le Page & Tabouret-Keller (1985), and is designed to deliver a statistical measure of per-speaker dialect density, rather than to facilitate visualization of variation in interaction for varietal focusing.

22 Because his hometown, Louisville, is situated right at the isogloss between the Southern US ’PIN/PEN-merger’ (i. e. phonetic merger between /i/ and /ε/ before nasals) and the non-Southern non-merger, it is likely that Kynt would have acquired a certain awareness of the feature’s regional distribution (Labov, Ash, & Boberg 2006).

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. — Aggregate vowel frequencies for a baseline dataset of non-Caribbean Toronto English (Italian-, Anglo-, and Chinese-heritage speakers of Toronto English; data described in Hoffman & Walker 2010). FACE onset robustly lower than KIT (overlapped by GOOSE).
Fichier image/jpeg, 14k
Titre Fig. 2. — Vowel system plot for Toronto-Jamaican English speaker Frank.
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Titre Fig. 3. — Vowel system plot for Toronto-Jamaican English speaker Carrie.
Fichier image/jpeg, 12k
Titre Fig. 4. — Mean difference between onset of FACE- and KIT-vowel tokens by speaker.
Fichier image/jpeg, 25k
Titre Fig. 5. — Carrie during an on-air segment of her radio show (screenshot from video data, May 2008).
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Titre Fig. 6. — Kynt and Vyxsin
Fichier image/jpeg, 43k
Titre Fig. 7. — Lectal focusing in interaction in the “Rastaman” passage.
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