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Abstract

In the previous chapter I avoided the word ‘meaning’ and instead used the phrase ‘what is presented or represented by the sound’. This distinction derives from the work of Martinec (1996). I use it here to indicate that sounds can both present their source (identify who or what their source is and does), and convey what it means to be that source, or to be like that source. The linguist J.R. Firth (1957: 225) wrote: ‘Surely it is part of the meaning of an American to sound like one.’ In other words, by ‘sounding American’, Americans present themselves as Americans to others, whether these others are also American or not, and wittingly or unwittingly signify what ‘America’ stands for in the eyes of those others) — what this is will of course depend on the context, for example, on whether the ‘others’ are also American or not, and if not, on what they know about Americans and how they feel about them. In other cases non-Americans can select features of American English to represent Americans or ‘Americanness’ — British actors playing an American, for instance; or the disc jockeys of Australian commercial radio stations at the time when American-style radio music formats were first introduced in Australia (Sussex, 1977); or young Swedish musicians trying to sound like Elvis Presley (Lilliestam, 1990).

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© Theo van Leeuwen 1999

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