«This paper looks at the role of prosody and intonation in the negotiation of social identities on talk-radio. Analysis of tape-recorded interactions ...»
On the Mediation of Class, Race & Gender:
Intonation on Sports Radio Talk Shows
University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
This paper looks at the role of prosody and intonation in the negotiation of
social identities on talk-radio. Analysis of tape-recorded interactions
between hosts and callers on sports-talk radio call-in shows demonstrates
the use of variation in linguistic form to negotiate social identities, while
showing how the interactional achievement of identity mediates public discourses of race, class, and gender in American society.
Data for this study come from tape-recordings of listener call-in shows aired on Albuquerque's AM sports-talk radio station. Intonational patterns are analyzed instrumentally, using pitch-tracking software implemented on an ffiM-compatible personal computer. The meaning and function of these intonational forms are elaborated through analysis of the interactional and discursive context within which the forms are used.
Findings indicate that hosts manipulate their prosodic style as a claim to a particular form of masculinity, and that this claim gains its efficacy by evoking the culturally meaningful trope of liveness.
Investigation of the dialogic and intertextual cultural meanings generated by such stylistic variation in language use illustrates change and transformation in American discourses of gender. The discourse of sport in the U.S. is of crucial importance because prominent cultural images, such as masculinity, health, power, success, and free enterprise are metaphorically represented, and thereby mediated through sport.
Interactive talk-shows play an increasingly significant role in American media, as social, political, and moral issues are publicly debated on popular television and radio shows.
Paralleling this growth in talk radio, is the growth of sports talk shows. Discourse about sports has recently exploded into public consciousness, as the spectacular coverage of OJ Simpson's murder trial, Magic Johnson's HIV infection and subsequent return to professional basketball, and the 1995 baseball strike attest. These media events dramatically show that gender identities, racial tensions, and class relations in American society are worked out in discourse about sports. The medium of talk radio is a powerful force both in shaping and contesting public consciousness, and this paper describes the linguistic mechanisms central to this process.
Specifically, I look at the language of sports-talk radio shows to discuss the use of intonational style in negotiating social identities. Talk shows exemplify the creative use of language in the negotiation of identities, and sports-talk radio shows are distinctive in their elaboration of speech styles and focus on performance. I will argue that nationally syndicated sports-talk show hosts share a distinctive feature of intonational style- namely a lack of phrase-final lowering- which constructs a particular (and particularly dominant) form of masculinity because it evokes the cultural trope of liveness (cf. Meintjes 1995).
The lack of phrase-final lowering constitutes a very marked style in the context of talk-radio UPenn Working Papers in Linguistics Volume 3,1 (1996) shows, but an unmarked (i.e. normal) style in the speech of announcers doing play-by-play broadcasts of live sporting events. Use of this intonational style in talk-radio shows therefore evokes the social meaning of liveness associated with live sporting events and central to (certain) dominant forms of masculinity.
1.1 Theoretical Approach to Discourse and Society This work is based on an approach to the study of language, culture, and society that views language as both (and simultaneously) reflective, and constitutive of social life. Discoursethe patterns of actual use of language in social interaction - forms the nexus of this interaction, as well as the site of its unfolding (Sherzer 1987; Urban & Sherzer 1991).
Such a view requires that the relationship between language and society be seen as a process, as a spiral relationship between structures and structuring tendencies (cf. Bourdieu 1977), and opens up the analysis of power relations obtaining within social formations to the role of individual agency. Within such a perspective, the notion of mediation - the relationship between two
entities in the process of mutual influence and adaptation
- becomes very important. Talk Radio is a classic mediator: representing both the institutional voice of power and the individual voice of resistance, it mediates between the individual and the institution, the personal and the structural.
1.2 Sports and Society In his essay on Balinese cockfighting, Clifford Geertz summarizes the relationship between
sports and society:
As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf links, at a race track, or around a poker table, much of Bali surfaces in a cock ring. For it is only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually, it is men. (Geertz 1973:417) Sporting events in American society are, in Geertzian terms, a text that Americans enact in order to be able to interpret. Like other cultural practices it represents - in order to mediate
- social structure and cultural values. The meaning of American sport is closely tied to cultural notions of masculinity. As Robert Connell puts it, "images of ideal masculinity are constructed and promoted most systematically through competitive sport... sport is one of the main ways in which the [social] power of men becomes 'naturalized"' (Connell 1990:84-5). Yet sport is also a "contested terrain," as Michael Messner has pointed out, in which historically specific notions of masculinity are interwoven among, mediated by, and co-constructed with, equally historically specific structures of nation, race, and class (Messneretal.1993:122).
Spectator sports arose in the United States in the late 19th century, a time of massive social and cultural change brought about in part by the industrial revolution.
Sporting events functioned to symbolically reinforce social identities that were increasingly corning under question. National identity, for example, came to be felt and expressed in the celebration of Thanksgiving as a national and secular holiday, and Thanksgiving emerged as an important popular ritual in conjunction with a sporting event, as 40,000 people Intonation on Sports Radio Lefkowitz paraded to the 1893 Princeton-Yale football game. It is not long thereafter that the Olympic Games began to link sport and national identity in more direct ways.
Social class identities are historically mediated by spectator sports as well. In the wake of the industrial revolution, precisely the time that physical labor- associated with working classes - lost prestige, the upper classes became athletic. The original Thanksgiving Day football game involved two elite colleges, Princeton and Yale; the holiday and the sport were popularized much later when the traditional rivalry between the Army and Navy academies emerged. Christopher Lasch comments that "having suppressed or driven to the margins of society many of the recreations of the people, the haute bourgeoisie proceeded to adapt the games of its class enemies to its own purposes" (Lasch 1985:58).
Racial difference is also constructed through sport. The late 19th century was a time when policies restricting immigration into the United States became a battleground for racist ideologies (cf. Gould 1981), as well as a time when (male) athletic prowess was constructed as proof of racial superiority. Thus in turn-of-the-century boxing, promising white prizefighters, such as Jim Jeffries, were labeled The Great White Hope, and professional sports leagues were off-limits to black athletes until the 1950s.
As restrictions on minority participation in American sports eased, however, discursive constructions of racial difference increased. Many modern professional sports show prominent differences in the participation roles allotted to black and white athletes. In American Football, for example, running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends, and cornerbacks are disproportionately black, while linebackers, kickers, offensive linemen, and quarterbacks, are disproportionately white. Similar racial differentiation by position exists in professional basketball and baseball.! These distinctions draw on the cultural opposition between the 'wild and explosive' ('black') and 'rational and controlled' ('white') positions, an expression of the nature/culture, body/mind oppositions, worked out in this case in terms of the epitomization of black bodies. It has often been noted, for example, that sports announcers tend to praise white players with reference to their intelligence and hard work, while black players are often credited with 'natural athletic ability' (Messner et al. 1993).
Organized spectator sports also defined and reinforced gender identities. The turn of the century brought about the crisis of masculinity, in which "the... decline of the practical relevance of physical strength in work and in warfare [made] representations of the male body as strong, virile, and powerful [take] on increasingly important ideological and symbolic significance" (Messner 1992:168). Female participation in sports was powerfully constrained by discourses of medicine, as well as etiquette. As women began to participate in organized sporting activities, beginning in the early 20th century, they did so in powerfully gender-marked ways. Basketball, for example, was modified for female participation by "purging the game of any objectionable, 'unladylike' features...
[restricting] women from excessive running, close guarding, ball-snatching, arm movement, and perspiration" (Cahn 1994). Such constraints on female athletics held sway until the 1950s.
Sport is thus a cultural domain on which ideologies of social identity are contested.
Importantly, this contestation occurs in discourse as much as in practice. As Christopher Lasch notes, "the rise of spectator sports to their present importance coincides historically with the rise of mass production, which intensifies the needs sport satisfies while at the same time creating the technical capacity to promote and market athletic contests to a vast 1 These positions have disproportionately high numbers of white or black players within the overall context of a numerical dominance of black players in the sport as a whole.
market" (Lasch 1985:51). Yet, as Michael Messner has pointed out, "viewing an athletic contest on television is not the same as watching a contest 'live'" (Messner eta!. 1993: 132) and "any analysis of the broader social meanings of contemporary sport must take into account the fact that for millions of people, their dominant experience of sport is not as athletes, but as spectators of a mediated public spectacle" (Messner 1992: 164). There is thus a hierarchy of signification involving sports practice, sports presentation, or broadcasting, and sports representation, or discourse about sport.2 In order to understand the meanings of sport, one must understand the meaning of discourse-about-sport.
2 Sports Discourse
2.1 Data: Sports Talk Radio Data for this study come from tape-recordings of local and national sports talk-shows aired on the Albuquerque All-Sports radio station between March and October of 1995. KRZY was an AM country music station until July 1994 when they switched the bulk of their programming to sports talk radio, a move which catapulted the station into ratings prominence despite the loss of their female audience.3 The station maintains affiliations with several nationwide sports networks, which provide both talk-show programming, and play-by-play broadcasts of live sporting events. My corpus includes over ten hours of recordings from five different talk-shows, as well as several hours of play-by-play broadcast from two kinds of live sporting event.
Call-in talk shows organize talk formulaically: calls last just a few minutes; the caller provides an opinion for the host to comment on; and speech is characteristically informal. Transcript #1, taken from The Sports Animal House, a call-in show produced locally in Albuquerque and hosted by the local personality Andrew Paul, illustrates these
2This 3-way division is analogous to Barthes' distinction between matter, use, and langue in non-linguistic semiotic systems (Barthes 1981). For Barthes, looking at fashion, it was important to distinguish between clothes as items of practical consequence, or matter (keep warm, cover the body, etc.) and clothes as worn, in semiotically meaningful combinations and alternations (low-cut dresses, muscle shirts and tight jeans, etc.), and the discourse about clothing found in (for example) fashion magazines. Barthes argues that it is only at the level of langue, i.e. magazine discourse, that a truly arbitrary (and socially significant) relationship exists between form and meaning, since it is here that a particular set of individuals set up these relationships which then obtain for the masses of 'speaking' (i.e. clothes-wearing) individuals. The parallel drawn here is between the discourse about sport and the discourse of fashion magazines.
3The station's own listenership statistics show that KRZY has the highest percentage of male listeners of any radio station in Albuquerque.
4At the time that this data was collected, The Sports Animal House was broadcast weekday evenings from 5:00 to 8:00 pm.
Considerable attention is paid in this segment to formulaic greeting routines. The host, for example, takes the call with an elaborately embedded, four-tiered first-pair part to a formulaic adjacency pair used in telephone greetings. The host calls the caller by his first name, provides a welcome-message, introduces himself by name, and asks 'How you doin?'. This elaborate tum embeds multiple forms of the greeting routine as choices for the caller to respond to. By the time the greeting routine is concluded caller and host have exchanged six turns at talk.