- White kids: Language, race, and styles of youth identity
Bay City High School is the locus for Mary Bucholtz's careful and insightful ethnolinguistic studies of white teens who attend a multiracial school near San Francisco, California. American racial ideologies are central to this magnificent book. B draws upon experiences in Texas, where her professorial career began in College Station at Texas A&M University, and California, where she studied and conducted fieldwork at Bay City High (a pseudonym).
Although this book will hold great appeal for scholars in anthropology, sociology, education, urban studies, and ethnic studies, linguists will gain tremendously from B's meticulous research. Consistent with the tradition of Sacks, Schegloff, and Jefferson (1974), transcription conventions are provided at the outset that are crucial to the depiction of intonation, pauses, and other tonal qualities that enrich each transcription and its interpretation. Phonetic representations of vowels, diphthongs, consonants, and diacritic symbols precede Ch. 1, 'White styles: Language, race, and youth identities'.
The complexity of this thesis is established at the outset. B briefly mentions that Bay City High School is 'a large, multiracial urban public school in the San Francisco Bay Area' (1), before introducing 'Damien', a white male teen whose 'speech was influenced by African American Vernacular English' (1). At Bay City High, language usage, perceptions of race, and matters of personal identity collide in diverse ways. Moreover, B observes that these youth identities are not merely psychological outcomes; they are the result of 'social practice and social interaction' (1).
Building directly on the previous work of Bucholtz & Hall 2005, this book 'is rooted in an understanding of identity as the social positioning of self and other' (2). The text also concentrates on European American students, based on 'the specific historical, cultural, and geographic context' (3) in which the research was conducted. Moreover, 'the experience of white students at Bay City High in the mid-1990's was part of a much larger ethnoracial shift' (3) throughout the United States.
Readers who are already familiar with Eckert's (1989) Jocks and burnouts will find a combination of similarities and noteworthy differences regarding the evolution of white teen identity. Eckert took great care to disassociate from the school, whereas B collaborated directly with a teacher who introduced her as an ethnographic researcher; moreover, because of this direct collaboration with a highly cooperative teacher, students were encouraged to speak with B in direct [End Page 416] support of her research. Because B's students attended a multiracial high school, matters of language and race are paramount in her research, and she opens the book with a lucid exploration of a racially relevant lexicon, including terms and labels.
The first chapter provides readers with an overview of language and race, including the semiotics of race through language usage. Racial identity through linguistic style is discussed with keen attention to operational definitions of 'whiteness' and how matters of racial identity are maintained and perpetuated through day-to-day language usage. Much of this discussion is relevant to studies of other ethnic groups; however, conceptual emphasis is devoted to the question, 'What is whiteness?'. These foundational remarks precede an overview of the book, which provides sequential discussion of the text. It is noteworthy that the overview is not highly technical and therefore accessible to general readers and scholars alike.
Ch. 2, 'Listening to whiteness: Researching language and race in a California high school', opens with a brief anecdote about a European American parent who tried to enlist B to obtain 'carefully guarded school demographic records' (21). It is noteworthy that the school had a 'relatively strong academic reputation' (21), but white flight to private schools had created a special circumstance where Bay City High School contained a substantial African American population. Asian Americans and Latinos/Latinas represented smaller groups on the campus. This noteworthy black-white racial dynamic has been exquisitely captured in this exceptional book, that is, regarding how white students perceived blacks in general, and their African American classmates in particular. This chapter...