Language, indexicality and gender ideologies
contextual effects on the perceived credibility of women
Keywords:indexicality, perception, credibility, gender, uptalk, rape myths
It is well established that listeners’ attitudes to variability in language are affected by context. One speaker’s use of a particular form will not necessarily be evaluated in the same way as another’s use of that same form, and the pragmatic meanings listeners associate with speech depend on the specific social setting in which that speech occurs. In this article, we explore how this contextual sensitivity of sociolinguistic perception interacts with broader ideologies about gender. Specifically, we examine how the use of ‘uptalk’, or rising final intonation on declarative utterances, impacts the perceived credibility of women versus men in different legal contexts, including those characterized by strong ideologies of gender (e.g. a rape trial) and those in which that ideological framing is less pronounced (e.g. a medical malpractice trial). Our goal is to identify how social ideologies about gender affect listeners’ perceptions of uptalk, and to explore the ramifications that these perceptions have on women’s ability to be believed in a courtroom.
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