Scott Kiesling: Research Projects

Curriculum Vitae

Major research foci

I'm interested in understanding the relationship between the language produced by humans and our social identities. By social identities, I mean our relationships with the people we are speaking to in a particular interaction, as well as our relationships to all the other people in our society, and their values and ideologies (not that these are necessarily separable). I've been particularly interested in gender identity and language, specifically men's identities and language, which was the subject of my dissertation. In this vein, I have also been investigating how dominant or hegemonic (young white male middle class heterosexual) identities are performed, and how these performances (re)create structure and power in society. When I was in Sydney in 1996-1999, I also became interested in the role of ethnic identity in the actuation and spread of linguistic change in Australian English. Currently, I am beginning a project to describe and explain variation and change in what is locally called 'Pittsburghese.' Most recently, I have been working with Suzanne Curtin on issues relating to the perception of gender in children’s voices.

These interests put me in the following fields/subfields:
          Discourse Analysis
          Language Variation and Change
          Interactional Sociolinguistics
          Linguistic Anthropology
          Language and Gender
          Language and Power
          Men and Masculinities

Language and Identity in a College Fraternity

My dissertation work focused on gender identity, particularly on masculinity. This work is important because, rather than investigating how marginalized or subordinate groups create identity in society, I ask how dominant groups create identity. Because part of the power of these groups is based on their invisibility or assumed normativity, this project is considerably difficult. Nevertheless, I believe I have seen the outlines of how such a theoretical approach is possible, beginning in my dissertation but evolving and developing over the years since. In those years, I have examined other aspects of the fraternity men's identities, by investigating how they display race (whiteness) and sexuality (heterosexuality). I have also focused on diversity among the men, and I have shown what kind of diversity there is in the men's identities, and even on how a single man creates diverse versions of a masculine identity.

Recent papers:


Homosociality in Men’s Talk: Balancing and Recreating Cultural Discourses of Masculinity

Relevant publications:

1997 “Power and the Language of Men.” In Language and Masculinity, Sally Johnson and Ulrike Meinhof (eds.) Oxford: Blackwell. 65-85.
Reprinted 2001 in The Masculinities Reader, Stephen M. Whitehead and Frank J. Barrett (eds.), Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers (Polity Press).

1998 “Variation and Men’s Identity in a Fraternity.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 2:1, 69-100.

2001 “‘Now I Gotta Watch What I Say’: Shifting Constructions of Gender and Dominance in Discourse.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11:2.

2001 “Stances of Whiteness and Hegemony in Fraternity Men’s Discourse” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11:1, 101-115.

2002 "Playing the Straight Man: Displaying and Maintaining Male Heterosexuality in Discourse." In Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, Robert Podesva, Sarah Roberts, and Andrew Wong (eds). Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Migration and Australian English in Sydney

When I arrived in Australia in 1996, one of the first parts of the public discourse I became aware of was the complex discourse about ethnic identity and migration. One aspect of this discourse revolves around language, and the belief that recent non-Anglo-Irish migrant groups have a particular way of speaking English. This way of speaking did not refer to non-native English speakers, but to native (or bilingual) speakers of English who grew up in Australia. At the same time, I noted that very little recent  research had been done on variation and change in Australian English (Horvath's 1985 study is the only full-scale sociolinguistic work). My work, which I still consider to be at the earliest stages, focuses on providing a true description of the variability in Australian English, and especially on the description of 'migrant Australian English.' With the help of a small grant, data were gathered from a multiethnic area of Sydney. Sociolinguistic interviews were performed in 1997-1999 by one of my graduate students at Sydney, and the analysis of this data (almost 100 speakers) is ongoing.

Recent paper:

A Variable, a Style, a Stance: Word-final -er and Ethnicity in Australian English

Relevant publications:

2000 “Australian English and Recent Migrant Groups.” In Varieties of English Around the World: Focus on Australia, David Blair and Michael Collins (eds.). Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins.

In press. “English Input to Australia.” In Transported Dialects: The Legacy of Non-standard Colonial English, Raymond Hickey (ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

‘Pittsburghese’: Variation and Change in the Industrial Midland

Pittsburgh and the surrounding area is a place that defines itself significantly by the way people talk, and there is a folk label for this variety: 'Pittsburghese.' Pittsburghers can describe features of the dialect, they make jokes with it, and even identify a certain kind of Pittsburgher with a derivation of a dialect item ('yinzer, from the second person singular pronoun 'yinz,' or 'you-uns'). It is surprising, therefore, that no large scale sociolinguistic study has been performed in Pittsburgh to describe the actual patterning of this variety. Soon after I arrived at Pitt, I was invited by Barbara Johnstone to collaborate on a project she had just begun which focused on 'Pittsburghese' and local identity. Dr. Johnstone is particularly interested in the central place the Pittsburgh way of speaking – or the "Industrial Midland dialect" as we are beginning to call it – has in the construction of a local identity, and Pittsburgh's regional identity. We are both particularly interested in how this linguistic awareness affects the actual spread of the variety, whether it promotes or retards distinctiveness, and what dialect features are actually discussed by speakers.

Dr. Johnstone and I have thus begun a joint project on the Industrial Midland. Thanks to funding from the University of Pittsburgh's College of Arts and Sciences and Carnegie Mellon University, this past March, we held a workshop that brought together sociolinguists with expertise in American dialects – especially the Midland and Appalachian dialects, as well non-linguists who work on and in Pittsburgh. This workshop helped us to more clearly formulate questions about Pittsburgh and to begin to decide on methods for investigating them. It was also a rare opportunity for sociolinguists to see society, history, and culture through the eyes of other disciplines, as well as an opportunity for non-linguists to learn about the relationship between language and society.

One of the clear recommendations arising out of that workshop was to get a broad sense of the distribution of features of the Industrial Midland dialect. I have obtained funding from University of Pittsburgh's Central research Development Fund to begin a randomly-sampled telephone survey of the Pittsburgh metropolitan standard area (the six counties surrounding Pittsburgh), which is currently underway. This survey will form part of the larger project, which will eventually use methods that are qualitative (interviews and participant observation) as well as quantitative, and will draw on other sources such as media representations and archival film.

See the description of the project, and links to other information and papers on the Inustrial Midland, at

Recent paper:

Competing norms, heritage prestige, and /aw/-monophthongization in Pittsburgh