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Academic Paper


Title: Speaking beauties: Linguistic posturing, language inequality, and the construction of a Tanzanian beauty queen
Author: Sabrina Billings
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: University of Arkansas
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Abstract: This article considers language use in Tanzanian beauty pageants, where contestants’ onstage speech is the focus of explicit and implicit critique. In particular, contestants who speak English are far more likely to win than are their Swahili-speaking counterparts. But because English has limited circulation and is restricted to the educated elite, speaking English is, for most contestants, possible only through memorization. Local ideologies that give preference to purity over standardness mean that, while contestants’ speeches are often full of grammatical oddities, their linguistic posturing is typically well received. Yet once a contestant reaches the pinnacle of competition, expectations for language use rise, and once-successful contestants find themselves at a glass ceiling. Findings presented here point to the local and hierarchical nature of language ideologies, and to the need to account for the common practice in multilingual communities of successfully employing “incomplete” linguistic knowledge for indexical and referential effect. (Language ideology, multilingualism, Swahili, English, language purity, beauty pageants, education)

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This article appears IN Language in Society Vol. 38, Issue 5, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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