Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Tracey L. Weldon


This dissertation examines the language practices and ideologies of Gullah Geechee (GG) tour guides in Charleston, South Carolina, particularly analyzing how language stylization is used by tour guides in the construction of personae as intercommunity culture and language brokers. Often, indigenous cultural artifacts are commodified through the setting of the tourism industry for consumption by outsiders; Gullah Geechee, a Sea Island creole language spoken along the southeastern United States coast, is directly affected by this characteristic of tourism. GG has been exposed to rapid de-isolation in the past 80 years; this exposure has brought isolated enclaves of GG communities into contact with the consumerism, capitalism, and tourism characteristics of other developing metropolitan areas. The linkage between ethnicity and perceived authenticity and epistemic authority is a critical aspect of this industry. This project studies how the expectations surrounding touristic experiences are highly based on a monolithic racialized language ideology, where authenticity is often tied to an essentialized perception of race. Although tourism as commodification and stylization within Black language have significant representation in the literature, this research instead analyzes the ways in which particular language practices become stylized, commodified, and curated in the creation and maintenance of tour guide brands that allow them to navigate outsider and institutional perceptions of authenticity and authority.

The data collected consists of over twenty hours of ethnographic tour and interview audio, seven tour guide websites and supplementary materials, hundreds of TripAdvisor reviews, a survey concerning tourist expectations, evaluations and experiences pre- and post- tour, and multiple tourist and tour guide YouTube videos. The tours and interviews have been discursively analyzed for observations concerning tour guide and tourist language ideologies, metalinguistic awareness, and stylization practices of tour guides both on and off tours; additional tourist ideologies were elicited from reviews and surveys, and additional moments of tour guide stylization from websites, supplementary materials, social media, and YouTube videos. This provides a typology of moments and genres of stylization; linguistic features of marked stylization; the metalinguistic, metapragmatic, and metadiscursive practices of tour guides; and tensions between intercommunity stances and language ideologies of one another.

Research finds that tour guides operate with a high level of metapragmatic awareness concerning performance register (self-)stylization as a tool of linguistic commodification, in that outsider perceptions of authenticity and authority are closely tied to stylized language practices. Guides use metatouristic stancetaking to navigate and negotiate tensions between tourist expectations and evaluations, guides’ own agency and positioning within their communities, and as intercommunity intermediaries. As GG is not spoken or easily understood by the majority of tourists, guides also curate these moments of stylization into digestible moments that fall into purposes of reported and constructed speech, language-sharing, and epistemic authority as curated enregistered commodification. Stylization is largely indicated with phonetic and prosodic markedness; however, lexical items tend to be the most recognizable by tourists and those that are showcased and repeated by outsiders as part of the branding of ‘authentic’ native and localized GG intercommunity experiences.


© 2023, John Kibler McCullough

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