Lisping on the elevator

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From the LiveJournal of lord_whimsy, a social report, with amateur dialectology. The setting:

Last week, the Missus and I attended Interview's relaunch party, held on the top floor of the partially-completed Standard New York, a retro-brutalist sort of structure which towers on tall stilts over the Meatpacking District.

and now the observation:

we followed the gaggle of impossibly tall, thin models and sundry gay boys through the construction site to the elevators, whose walls were still bare plywood. We literally came up to the waist of some of these striking extraterrestrials. I calculated the lisp per capita ratio in the elevator to be an astounding 3:1, which had a similar aural effect as a swarm of summer locusts. My ears literally hurt from the insectoid crispness of the diction being volleyed overhead. I've long suspected that there's a third dimension to regional dialects: not just geographical, but vertical. Someone should do a linguistic field study of New York elevators that lead to media offices: A much overlooked micro-dialect is thriving in elevator shafts all over Midtown Manhattan. 

Some of this — in particular, the hyperbolic "my ears literally hurt from the insectoid crispness" — is just routine disdain for the gay voice (similar to the intense disdain many people freely express about the speech of young women, various social and geographical dialects, and so on). But there's a small chance that lord_whimsy was on to something about the vertical dimension in this particular case.

(Hat tip to Joe Clark.)

The point is that the elevators led to media offices, indeed offices where a party for a trendy publication was being held. A party where there were plenty of gay men and largely gay-friendly guests. A gay-friendly space where gay men could display their fabulousness.

It's now well established that men with linguistic features that indirectly index their sexuality — and there are a number of these — use these features differently in different contexts. (Rob Podesva has discussed the phenomenon in detail in several places, most significantly in his 2006 Stanford Ph.D dissertation, Phonetic detail in sociolinguistic variation: Its linguistic significance and role in the construction of social meaning.) An elevator to a party for Interview would strike me as a natural place for gay men who have these features available to them (many do not) to deploy them.

I am of course dubious about lord_whimsy's claim, which of course wasn't intended seriously, to have calculated the lisp-per-capita ratio (three lisps per person? what would that mean?) in the elevator. What he's reporting is that he noticed some "lisping" going on and it annoyed the hell out of him.


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