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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton June 17, 2010

Joking as boundary negotiation among “good old boys”: “White trash” as a social category at the bottom of the Southern working class in Alabama

  • Catherine Evans Davies
From the journal HUMOR


The point of this article is to show how the “You might be a redneck” joke cycle is appropriated to designate a lower social category within the Southern working class in Alabama, and to negotiate the boundaries between the good old boy working class “red neck” and the lower category of “white trash.” Close attention to language is important in the analysis because the jokers exaggerate features of the vernacular dialect to perform members of the lower social category. Within the tradition of the study of conversational joking (Fry, Sweet madness: A study of humor, Pacific Books, 1963; Tannen, Conversational style: Analyzing talk among friends, Oxford University Press, 1984; Davies, C. E., Joint joking: Improvisational humorous episodes in conversation: 360–371, 1984, Language and American ‘good taste’: Martha Stewart as mass-media role model, Routledge, 2003a, Journal of Pragmatics 35: 361–1385, 2003b; Norrick, Conversational joking: Humor in everyday talk, Indiana University Press, 1993; Kotthoff, Coherent keying in conversational humour: Contextualizing joint fictionalisation, John Benjamins, 1999), combined with the discourse analyis of radio talk (Coupland, Language, situation, and the relational self: Theorizing dialect-style in sociolinguistics, Cambridge University Press, 2002; Goffman, Forms of talk, The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), and “performance speech” (Schilling-Estes, Language in Society 27: 53–83, 1998), this study examines joking interaction on a popular morning radio talk show in Alabama that is hosted by two men, known to their audience as Jack and Bubba. The data are a set of CD recordings identified as “The Best of . . .” supplemented with additional regular shows. Examining the joking as an important part of a linguistic “presentation of self” (Goffman, The presentation of self in everyday life, Doubleday, 1959; Davies, C. E., Texas Linguistic Forum 44: 73–89, 2002), the analysis reveals how the joking between the two hosts and with members of the studio audience is rooted in sociolinguistic and cultural dimensions of the working class American South.

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Published Online: 2010-06-17
Published in Print: 2010-May

© 2010 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/New York

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