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Language, Sexuality, and PowerStudies in Intersectional Sociolinguistics$

Erez Levon and Ronald Beline Mendes

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190210366

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190210366.001.0001

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Conflicted Selves

Conflicted Selves

Language, Religion, and Same-Sex Desire in Israel

(p.215) 11 Conflicted Selves
Language, Sexuality, and Power

Erez Levon

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

A central tenet of recent sociolinguistic theorizing is the belief that individual subjectivity—and hence observed social and linguistic practice—results from the intersection of multiple potentially conflicting identifications. This chapter focuses on the issue of identificational conflict and, in particular, how it gets materialized through language. The discussion is based on a case study of the intersection of sexuality and religion in Israel. Data is drawn from an interview with “Igal,” a forty-year-old Orthodox Jewish man who is married, has children, and also engages in sexual and romantic relationships with other men. The focus is on Igal’s use of creaky voice throughout the interview. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of topic-conditioned style shifting, the chapter argues that Igal uses creaky voice as a way of negotiating the conflict between his sexual and religious identifications, and materialize what has been termed a multidimensional understanding of self.

Keywords:   creaky voice, gay sexuality, religion, Orthodox Judaism, Israel, subjectivity, intersectionality, stylistic variation, self-lamination

I’m in the closet. Completely. Even though in reality there’s no such thing since every time you go out and you want to meet people, you’re exposing yourself whether you want to or not.

This quote comes from an interview I conducted in Jerusalem with “Igal,” a forty-year-old Orthodox Jewish man who is married, has children, and also engages in sexual and romantic relationships with other men.1 The quote provides one example of a series of conflicts Igal describes between his sexual desires (to go out and meet people) and the religious valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism within which he organizes his life—a framework that requires that his sexual desires not be exposed. Igal’s comments in this regard resonate with much previous research on the intersection of religion and sexuality. Yip (1999, 2002), for example, discusses how nonheterosexual Catholics often experience an “intractable opposition” between their sexualities and normative articulations of their Christian faith (see also, e.g., Yarhouse 2001). Despite this opposition, however, Yip (2002) argues that the majority of the individuals he studied managed to reconcile these conflicting identifications by “harmoniously incorporating” both their sexual and religious identifications into a unified conceptualization of self (203). According to Yip, this incorporation is made possible by his informants’ reinterpretations of religious doctrinal strictures in light of their own understandings of self. In other words, rather than giving up on their faith altogether, Yip’s informants transform what it means for them to be Catholic, such that their religious and sexual identifications are rendered compatible.

The process of transformation and integration that Yip describes is a clear example of what developmental psychologists term identity synthesis, or the incorporation of multiple constitutive aspects of self into an internally consistent whole (e.g., Erikson 1968; Syed 2012). For many writers in both the scholarly and popular literature, synthesis of this kind has been considered a (p.216) necessary precursor to psychic health given the self’s assumed abhorrence of internal dissonance and its inability to accommodate inconsistency. Yet, more recent research in psychology on identificational conflict has argued that synthesis is not the only option available. Halbertal & Koren (2006), for example, draw on alternative models of identity formation (e.g., Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon 1992; Côté 1996) to argue that the lesbian and gay Orthodox Jews they study do not work to assimilate their sexual and religious identifications or to resolve the opposition between them but instead develop multidimensional understandings of self that allow these conflicting identifications to coexist. According to Halbertal & Koren (2006), this is because, despite identifying as lesbian or gay, the individuals in their study also “internally identify with the antigay valuative framework” of Orthodox Judaism (56; emphasis in the original). What this means is that externalizing or abandoning any aspect of Jewish law or tradition is not an option, even when that law explicitly repudiates homosexuality. In this situation, a multidimensional understanding of self is what emerges, in which there are multiple I positions such that the “I in one position can agree, disagree, understand, misunderstand, oppose, contradict, question and even ridicule the I in another position” (Hermans, Kempen, & Van Loon 1992: 29).

In this chapter, I build on Halbertal & Koren’s research to examine the role that linguistic variation plays in the construction of these sorts of multidimensional understandings of self. I draw my data from a case study of Igal, the Orthodox Jewish man I mentioned previously. I focus in my discussion on Igal’s use of creaky voice throughout the interview I conducted with him. I argue that Igal uses creaky voice as a means to negotiate his conflicting sexual and religious identifications, and so construct the kind of multidimensional understanding of self that Halbertal & Koren describe. Crucially, I do not argue that Igal uses creak in an effort to present a distinct “gay” or “religious” self. Rather, I suggest that creaky voice serves as a way for Igal to adopt a particular deontic stance (Shoaps 2004) through which he reaffirms his commitment to Jewish laws and customs despite the transgression of these laws that his identification with same-sex desire represents. In using creaky voice to take this stance, I argue that Igal is able to orient himself to homosexuality while simultaneously signaling an awareness of the impossibility of this orientation. It is through this linguistic process then that Igal succeeds in materializing a multidimensional self of which both homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism are an integral part.

Language and the Disunity of Identity

Unlike in psychology, research in linguistics has long recognized the ability of individuals to hold multiple and conflicting understandings of self. Rather than assuming identificational consistency and closure, research has (p.217) instead been devoted to investigating the ways in which speakers use language in an effort to construct the semblance of subjective coherence (e.g., Linde 1993; Ochs & Capps 2001). Work in this paradigm has been heavily influenced by Goffman’s (1974) theory of production formats, and particularly the idea that speakers can “animate” different selves over the course of an interaction through the strategic deployment of socially salient voices. For Goffman, it is this act of lamination (the layering of multiple voices in the mouth of a single speaker) that demonstrates that the self need not be singular. Instead, it can be viewed as a “loosely compacted person” (Peirce 1955: 258) potentially comprised of several distinct “individuals” (see also Singer 1980, 1984).

Goffman’s arguments in this regard are in many ways similar to Bakhtin’s (1981) theory of the emergence of subjectivity (what he calls consciousness) in discourse, though Bakhtin is more explicit than Goffman about the relationship between the self and broader social structures and ideologies. According to Bakhtin (1981), the formation of consciousness requires negotiating the heteroglossia that is present among any community of speakers. This heteroglossia is characterized by the coexistence of a multiplicity of “languages” (i.e., ways of speaking), each one linked to particular “ideological systems and approaches to the world” (296). Adopting a language also entails adopting its associated ideological system, and so, according to Bakhtin, serves to position a “self” in the heteroglossic universe. In other words, the formation of consciousness for Bakhtin is essentially a process of orienting one’s self to an ideological system by adopting the language with which that system is affiliated. Bakhtin views this process (which he terms voicing) as an active one, and, like Goffman, he allows for the possibility that individuals can “voice” multiple and contradictory selves over the course of an interaction. Similar to the psychological theories of the multidimensional self noted previously, Bakhtin maintains that there can be multiple “I”s in discourse, with each “I” corresponding to a different social or moral positioning yet all of them ultimately referring to the same individual.

Both Bakhtin’s theory of voicing and Goffman’s concept of self-lamination have been fruitfully applied to the study of the emergence of multidimensional selves in spoken interaction. Hill (1995), for example, describes how Don Gabriel, a Mexican peasant, deploys multiple voices in narrating the story of his son’s murder by business partners who were envious of the son’s financial successes. The voices, which are distinguished by such features as code choice (i.e., Mexicano vs. Spanish), pitch, voice quality, and intonational contour, include both participants and bystanders to the action as well as multiple laminations of Don Gabriel himself. Hill argues that Don Gabriel uses these voices to identify and juxtapose two competing moral universes: a peasant ideology of solidarity and communal reciprocity and a capitalist one of individualism and “business-for-profit.” While Don Gabriel mostly associates capitalism with voices external to himself (through the use of reported (p.218) speech and the construction of different “figures” in the story; Goffman 1974), he is nevertheless occasionally required to assimilate capitalist beliefs into his own narrative voice, despite the fact that these beliefs are antithetical to the peasant values Don Gabriel holds dear. Hill demonstrates how Don Gabriel accomplishes this via a series of self-laminations, in effect creating a distinct voice of “neutral narrator” that, while still his own, he contrasts with a more morally central voice that rejects capitalism and everything it stands for. For Hill, this interplay of self-laminations in Don Gabriel’s story indicates that subjectivity is by no means unitary. Rather, she claims that it is comprised of a “kaleidoscope” of selves, each with a foot planted in a distinct moral universe.

While Hill’s account posits the existence of multiple selves, it nevertheless maintains that there is a central or primary “authorial” self that can be taken to represent the essence of individual consciousness. More recently, however, research has questioned whether we need to posit the existence of such a unified inner core, or whether the authorial self itself can instead be comprised of multiple and conflicting identifications and orientations (e.g., Cameron & Kulick 2003; Kulick 2005). This is an issue addressed, for example, in McIntosh’s (2009) examination of white Kenyan narratives about the African occult. According to McIntosh, the subject of the occult is particularly fraught for white Kenyans because it brings to the fore a potential subjective conflict in white Kenyans’ experiences as being descendants of European Christian missionaries who simultaneously view themselves as “native” Africans. Distancing themselves from occult beliefs and practices allows white Kenyans to orient to the European (and Christian) values of their families and communities. At the same time, they must also orient (at least partially) to occult mythology or risk losing their claim to authentic “African-ness.” In short then, white Kenyan subjectivity (or consciousness, to use Bakhtin’s term) requires a simultaneous orientation to two mutually incompatible belief systems.

In her work, McIntosh examines how white Kenyans accomplish these conflicting positionings of self through language. She grounds her analysis in a theory of stance, or the linguistic strategies speakers use to construct orientations to the content of their talk and to the more durable identities and activities indexed through that talk (Du Bois 2007; Jaffe 2009). In contrast to concepts such as voice or persona, which presume a somewhat more durable and holistic positioning, stances are by definition necessarily fleeting—they are orientations speakers adopt in specific moments of interaction. This is not to say that stances cannot become habitual or that they are not linked to more static identity frames. Research on stance accretion has demonstrated the ways in which speakers engage in repeated acts of stance-taking in order to construct durable personae that exceed the confines of a single interaction (e.g., Ochs 1992; Rauniomaa 2003; Bucholtz 2009; Damari 2010). But stance itself (p.219) crucially refers to a momentary orientation that speakers adopt in a specific interactional context. It is this inherent dynamism of stance that makes it a useful tool for examining the kind of subjective conflict experienced by white Kenyans. As McIntosh (2009) puts it, “stance-taking may raise contradictions, but it does not always require a final declaration or resolution on the part of the stance-taker” (74).

McIntosh focuses on a variety of different stance-taking strategies that white Kenyans adopt to simultaneously distance themselves from and orient to the African occult. These include, for example, the use of certain entextualized utterances to materialize a social stance away from the occult while explicitly adopting an ontological stance of belief in occult powers. McIntosh argues that these acts of stance-taking serve as self-laminations, allowing white Kenyans to construct contradictory images of self with correspondingly contradictory footings toward “native” African beliefs. In contrast, however, to Don Gabriel, these contradictory footings are not distributed among external others or set in opposition to a “true” inner self. They are instead integral and constitutive aspects of her informants’ subjectivities. That said, McIntosh also describes how her informants work to discursively privilege certain footings over others. The result of this is the appearance of a hierarchy of selves, in which particular orientations are rendered more prominent and presented as more important than others. Crucially, McIntosh views this privileging of selves as a discursive accomplishment, as something that is done through language and not something that simply reflects an already existing distinction between more core and more peripheral aspects of self. In other words, McIntosh argues that white Kenyans privilege certain selves over others for specific social and interactional reasons, not because the development of such a hierarchy is inherent to the formation of subjectivity itself (cf. Billig 1997, 1999; Cameron & Kulick 2005).

In my discussion, I follow McIntosh’s lead by examining the ways in which Igal uses stance to adopt contradictory footings to both Orthodox Judaism and same-sex desire. I document how, for Igal, these footings are not treated as belonging to entirely distinct selves or personae but are instead presented as conflicting aspects of a multidimensional subjectivity. I argue, moreover, that Igal enacts this multidimensionality via the strategic use of creaky voice throughout his interview. I therefore turn to a brief discussion of treatments of creaky voice in the sociolinguistic literature on stance, before going on to the main body of my analysis.

Stance and Creaky Voice

Of the various linguistic strategies available for stance-taking, manipulation of voice quality is arguably one of the most salient and the most prevalent. In (p.220) an early discussion of the topic, Sapir (1927) observes that variation in voice quality is a social phenomenon, a “symbolic index of personality” (896) that is akin to gesture in its ability to express thought or emotion. Since this initial observation, a substantial body of research has been devoted to identifying the various social and interactional meanings of voice quality, and, in particular, of creaky voice (see, e.g., Laver 1968; Couper-Kuhlen 2003; Sicoli 2010 for reviews).

The term creaky voice refers to a range of articulatory configurations, all of them characterized by high levels of adductive tension of the vocal folds (Ladefoged 1971; Gordon & Ladefoged 2001).2 This tension diminishes the ability of air to flow through the glottis, resulting in low frequency and often aperiodic vocal fold vibration. Acoustically, this corresponds to a low pitch and discernible glottal tapping in the voice, or, in the words of Sicoli (2010) a voice that sounds like “an old hinge needing oil” (523). Given these perceptual characteristics, it perhaps not surprising that creaky voice has historically been found to predominate in the speech of men (e.g., Esling 1978; Henton & Bladon 1988; Stuart-Smith 1999), and has been argued to be iconically related to notions of hegemonic masculinity. More recent research, however, has also shown creaky voice to be prevalent in the speech of women, especially in the United States. Lefkowitz & Sicoli (2007), for example, identified frequent use of creak among university-age women in Virginia, while Podesva (2013) reports that women in a stratified sample of Washington, DC speakers use creaky voice more than three times as much as men. Similarly, Yuasa (2010) argues that creaky voice has come to be associated with an “upwardly mobile professional woman” persona in northern California.

These more recent studies indicate that the social meanings of creaky voice extend beyond simple one-to-one mappings between voice quality and gender and are instead situated within a more complex indexical field (Eckert 2008; Podesva 2013). Returning to the example of Lefkowitz & Sicoli’s (2007) examination of creaky voice in Virginia, not only do they demonstrate that the young women in their sample use creaky voice frequently, they also show that they do so as a way of taking authoritative stances through speech. This argument resonates with research on the functions of creaky voice in talk-in-interaction more broadly. Laver (1994), for example, reports that, in British English, creaky voice signals a lack of interest in the topic of conversation and a “bored resignation” to the prospect of continuing to discuss it. Similarly, in their examination of the use of creaky voice and turn-final yeah in US English, Grivičić & Nilep (2004) argue that creak in this position serves to indicate a dispreference to continue with the current topic of conversation and/or a disalignment with the current speaker. In other words, Grivičić & Nilep claim that creaky voice allows speakers to establish interactional distance from the immediate context. Both of these meanings—bored resignation and interactional distance—are also apparent (p.221) in how the Latina gang girls described by Mendoza-Denton use the feature (Jannedy & Mendoza-Denton 1998; Mendoza-Denton 2008, 2011). Part of a broader symbolic economy of affect, creaky voice is deployed by the girls at particular interactional moments as a means of constructing a persona centered on the values of “being silent, being hard of heart (hardcore), and being toughened through experience” (Mendoza-Denton 2011: 269). Whereas many popular conceptualizations of what it means to be a “man” share these values of silence and affective restraint, Mendoza-Denton clearly demonstrates that the girls do not use creaky voice to index masculinity. Rather, creak provides the girls with a mechanism for signaling control, both emotional and interactional, and, in doing so, to materialize a locally relevant “hardcore” persona (see also Bolinger 1982).

In what follows, I examine the extent to which my informant Igal recruits the meanings of “authority,” “distance,” and “emotional restraint” that have been associated with creaky voice in his own use of the feature. As described earlier, I do so in an effort to understand how Igal negotiates the subjective contradiction that exists between his Orthodox Judaism and his same-sex desire. I begin by investigating the quantitative distribution of creaky voice across my conversation with Igal. This helps me to demonstrate creak’s socioindexical relevance in the interview and to pinpoint locations for subsequent qualitative analysis. I then turn to a close examination of those instances where Igal uses creak to illustrate how it serves as a tool for stance-taking and, ultimately, for the construction of a multidimensional self.

Distributional Analysis

My interview with Igal occurred in the context of a larger sociolinguistic ethnography of sexuality in Israel (Levon 2010). Unlike with the other participants in that study, the interview was the first and only time that I met or spoke to Igal at length.3 The interview took place in 2005 in a small café in West Jerusalem and lasted for just over an hour. The interview was semistructured in format and began with Igal providing a chronological narrative of his life story, followed by a discussion of his views on both Israeli politics generally and lesbian and gay politics in Israel more specifically (for further details of the basic interview structure, see Levon 2009, 2010). Because in this chapter I focus on language use in a single interview with one speaker, the analysis I provide is grounded in a framework of language style, and particularly stylistic variation by speech topic (Bell 1984, 2001). While an admittedly somewhat blunt instrument for examining speakers’ sociolinguistic moves in interaction, topic has nevertheless been shown to be a robust heuristic for tracking speakers’ shifting orientations through talk (e.g., Schilling-Estes 2004; Levon 2009).

(p.222) For the purposes of quantitative analysis, I divide Igal’s speech into five topic categories: Personal Biography, Gay Life, Sexuality and Religion, Israeli Politics, and Mechanics. Personal Biography covers Igal’s retelling of past events in his life, including his childhood and schooling, his military service, and his present occupation. Gay Life refers to Igal’s description of his realization of his same-sex desires, his erotic and romantic experiences with men, and his opinions regarding configurations of gayness and “the gay community” in Israel. Sexuality and Religion is comprised of Igal’s explicit discussions of the intersection of these two constructs, including a narrative about his marriage (to a woman). Israeli Politics refers to instances where Igal provided his opinions about then-current events taking place in the Israeli sociopolitical sphere. Finally, Mechanics is talk about the interview itself (e.g., ask whatever you like) or about goings-on in the immediate context (e.g., can we move to another table?). Topic was coded at the level of the intonational phrase (IP) in order to allow me to capture turn-internal topic shifts.

The presence or absence of creaky voice was coded auditorily as a binary factor on a syllable-by-syllable basis. In other words, for each syllable in Igal’s speech, I coded for whether creaky voice was impressionistically present or not. Waveforms were inspected to verify the presence of creak in auditorily ambiguous cases. In addition to topic, I also coded for four other factors that can potentially constrain the appearance of creaky voice. Research has shown that creaky voice is common at the end of IPs, as a result of a regular process of declination (whereby fundamental frequencies decrease over the course of an utterance) and speakers’ overall diminished capacity to sustain the airflow required for modal voicing as an IP reaches its end (Henton & Bladon 1988). Creaked tokens were therefore coded as being in either final or nonfinal position.4 Additionally, Dilley, Shattuck-Hufnagel, & Ostendorf (1996) and Podesva (2007) note that creaky voice is more common in syllables containing other glottal elements (such as glottal stops or glottalized plosives). Creaked syllables were therefore also coded as to whether other glottal elements occurred within the same syllable. Podesva (2007) further states that creaky voice can be an articulatory by-product of the elasticity of the vocal folds as they move from some other nonmodal phonation (like falsetto) back to modal voice. The idea here is that the release of a phonatory setting like falsetto (where the vocal folds are stretched longitudinally) to the more neutral modal position can cause the vocal folds to “snap” into the medially compressed position that gives rise to creaky voice. All syllables were therefore coded for the other phonation types that occurred in the same IP (modal, creaky, breathy, falsetto, or some combination thereof). Finally, all syllables were also coded for whether they occurred during constructed dialogue as opposed to direct speech, based on earlier work (e.g., Podesva 2013) showing that shifts in production format are often accompanied by a change in voice quality.

(p.223) In total, there were 8,123 syllables in Igal’s speech across the interview. Of these, 365 (or 4.5%) contained creaky voice. To test whether any of the independent factors described earlier influence the appearance of creak, I built a binomial logistic regression (in R) that modeled the prevalence of creak in Igal’s speech according to speech topic, the presence or absence of constructed dialogue, and the other phonation types present in the IP. I examined position in the IP (final or nonfinal) and the existence of other glottal segments in the syllable via contingency tables for creaked tokens only.

Conflicted SelvesLanguage, Religion, and Same-Sex Desire in Israel

Figure 11.1 Proportion of creaked syllables across topic categories

Results of the regression analysis indicate that topic is the only significant constraint on the appearance of creaky voice among the factors considered (p = 0.000). Neither “type of speech” (i.e., constructed dialogue vs. direct speech) nor “other phonation types present in the IP” were selected as having a significant effect. Figure 11.1 provides a representation of the distribution of creaked syllables across topic categories. In that figure we see that talk in the Sexuality & Religion category has the highest proportion of creaky voice (9.1% creaked syllables), followed by Personal Biography (6.7%), Gay Life (5.4%), Israeli Politics (3.9%), and Mechanics (2.9%). Post-hoc pairwise comparisons among these topic categories further indicate that the only significant difference within the group is between Sexuality & Religion and all other topic categories (which are not themselves significantly differentiated from one another). Overall, then, the regression analysis demonstrates that Igal creaks significantly more when talking about sexuality and religion than on any other topic, and that these other topics are not distinguished from one another in terms of frequencies of creak observed.

Conflicted SelvesLanguage, Religion, and Same-Sex Desire in Israel

Figure 11.2 Proportion of creaky voice by position in IP and topic

The importance of topic in constraining the appearance of creaky voice is further demonstrated by significant interactions between topic (p.224) and both IP position and the presence of other glottal segments in the syllable. Recall from earlier that creaky voice is normally more likely to occur in IP-final position, due to the regular process of declination across utterances, as well as in syllables containing other glottal(ized) segments. Figures 11.2 and 11.3, however, illustrate that, for Igal, topic serves to at least partially override both of these linguistically driven patterns. In Figure 11.2, we find that tokens of creak in both the Gay Life and Sexuality & Religion categories occur predominantly in nonfinal position (the grey portions of the bars). While it is true that in Igal’s speech creak occurs more frequently in nonfinal positions in all categories, the ratio of creak in nonfinal versus final position is significantly greater for talk on Gay Life and Sexuality & Religion than it is for talk on Personal Biography, Israeli Politics, or Mechanics (which are not significantly differentiated from one another; p = 0.041). Similarly, Figure 11.3 shows that when talking on topics related to Gay Life, Sexuality & Religion, and Mechanics, Igal uses creaky voice in syllables that do not contain other glottal elements (the black portions of the bars) proportionally more often than he does when speaking on Personal Biography or Israeli Politics (p = 0.024). In both Figure 11.2 and Figure 11.3, then, we find that speech in the Gay Life and the Sexuality & Religion categories is “creakier” than the linguistic factors would lead us to expect. This, taken together with the fact that creaky voice is significantly more frequent on Sexuality & Religion topics overall, provides us with initial evidence that Igal uses creak strategically as a way of achieving some stylistic or interactional goal when speaking about sexuality and religion.

Conflicted SelvesLanguage, Religion, and Same-Sex Desire in Israel

Figure 11.3 Proportion of creaky voice by other glottal elements in the IP and topic

(p.225) Creak in Context

The distributional analysis of creaky voice in the preceding section provides two important pieces of information about Igal’s use of the feature. First, it indicates that creaky voice carries social and/or interactional meaning for Igal. This is demonstrated by the fact that Igal’s use of creak cannot be modeled by internal linguistic factors alone. Rather, the variation we find in the use of creak across topic categories can be taken as evidence that creak has a specific socioindexical value for Igal in this conversation. The second piece of information that the distributional analysis provides is that this socioindexical value is in some way related to Igal’s understanding of the intersection of sexuality and religion. This is apparent in that talk on this topic features proportionally more creaky voice overall and more creak in linguistically unexpected contexts (i.e., IP nonfinally and without other glottal elements in the syllable) than talk on other topics does. What the distributional analysis cannot tell us, however, is what precisely the socioindexical value of creaky voice is, or what sociolinguistic move Igal is using it to make. Answering these questions requires a close qualitative analysis of creaky voice “in action,” which is what I aim to do in this section.

As I have already noted, the stylistic distribution of creaky voice across the interview indicates that the feature carries particular meaning for Igal in discussions of the intersection of sexuality and religion. I therefore begin my examination by looking at the orientations that Igal adopts with respect to Orthodox Judaism and same-sex desire separately, before turning to discussions of how the two interact. Aside from a couple of very brief introductory comments about (p.226) how he “grew up in an Orthodox household” and “went to an Orthodox primary school,” Igal never explicitly describes his faith or his relationship with Judaism in the interview. His orientation to religion is nevertheless implicit in his discussion of other major events in his life, most notably the story of his marriage to his wife of seventeen years. This story, which appears in (1), was volunteered by Igal toward the beginning of the interview in the course of providing a chronological history of his life and was not offered in response to any specific question on my part. Boldface and underlined text represent best approximations in the English translation of where creaky voice occurs in the original Hebrew.5

(1) “time to get married”

Igal: A:::nd I finished my BA. And I decided that it’s necessary, that the time had come to get married. So I started going out with women. People introduced me to women. Friends. Family. From here from there. Would go out with women (Heb. haja jotse im baxurot). Sometimes I didn’t like her sometimes she didn’t like me. Once it’s one thing, the next time it’s another. e:m I have no idea how many women I went out with. And I hated it. I hated that whole period. You need to show yourself off and to sell yourself. e::::

EL: When was this? When you were in=

Igal: =24. I was 24. I finished my BA and said OK I have some time now to do this. e:m in the end I met- also there never really was this feeling of (1) yes this will work or no this won’t work. You you (.) it’s like with a man that you (.) you weigh all sorts of things. He looks good, he’s smart, intelligent, he’s interesting. He’s serious. e:: if there s a chance or there isn’t a chance. A::nd fine so at the end of the day I met someone (Heb. mišehi) and. We went out for three months and then we got engaged. And three months later we got married. And a year after that the eldest son was born, who’s already 15 years old now. e: a year and a half after him the second son was born. A::nd (.) that’s it.

Igal introduces the topic of marriage by describing it as a necessary step in the progression of his life (the time had come to get married). He goes on to recount in a straightforward and generally affectless fashion how, after obtaining his undergraduate degree, he therefore began to go out with women to whom he was introduced by his friends and family. Igal’s description of these events is succinct and told in a detached narrative voice. He summarizes this period of his life with the phrase haja jotse im baxurot (‘would go out with women’), employing the third-person singular past habitual form haja jotse (‘he would go out’) rather than the first person hajiti jotse (‘I would go out’), in effect positioning himself as an external character in the story. He goes on to describe the transactional nature of these meetings, where you weigh all sorts (p.227) of things . . . [to see] if there’s a chance or there isn’t a chance. Interestingly, he explains the terms of these transactions through analogy to romantic encounters with men, where a generic “you” determines whether the man in question matches the various criteria that have been set. Igal finishes the story by stating that, in the end, he met a woman (using the feminine form of the Hebrew word for “someone”), and moved quickly through dating to engagement to marriage to children. And that’s it.

Save the passing analogy to same-sex romance, Igal’s story is a fairly standard description of courtship and marriage within Orthodox Jewish communities, where marriage is something that is entered into relatively quickly, normally as early as possible and with the help of parents and friends who act as formal (or semiformal) matchmakers, and with the express purpose of having children very soon thereafter (Safir 1991; Lavee & Katz 2003). Igal does not, however, present his own story as a specifically Orthodox one or contrast it to other possible life trajectories. The analogy that he makes with same-sex romance (it’s like with a man) can actually be seen as a way to try to normalize his own experiences and render them comparable with the experiences of others (including, perhaps, me, the non-Orthodox gay man he was talking to). In the end, the events surrounding Igal’s marriage are presented as necessary and inevitable—things that had to happen once he had the time for them. I would argue that by backgrounding Orthodox conceptualizations of marriage and family in this way, Igal’s telling of this story serves to express an implicit orientation to the valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism. I suggest, moreover, that this orientation is characterized by a resigned acceptance of the expectations and obligations incumbent in Orthodox life, including, notably, those associated with marriage and family. Given my argument in this regard, it is perhaps interesting to note that there are eighteen tokens of creaky voice, which Laver (1994) has argued can serve to signal a stance of “bored resignation,” clustered toward the end of Igal’s story. It is unclear, however, whether these tokens function as acts of interactional stance-taking given that they all occur either IP-finally or in syllables that (in Hebrew) contain other glottal segments. It could therefore be the case that the appearance of creaky voice here is entirely determined by linguistic factors, and that the co-occurrence of creak with what I argue is a more general stance of “resigned acceptance” is coincidental. This possibility notwithstanding, the story in (1) is nevertheless useful in illustrating Igal’s alignment to the principles and practices of Orthodox Judaism, an alignment that engenders no emotion or affect on Igal’s part and is instead presented as an unquestioned and fundamental component of his subjectivity.

Immediately following this story, Igal segues into a new narrative about his first experience of same-sex desire. This narrative is presented in (2).

(2) “apparently I’m in love with him”

I:: (1) all this time nothing was clear to me about e (1) who I am or what I want or or (.) what it even means to be gay. e:::: and there (p.228) wasn t any way to check it out or t- to ask anybody. u::m but e around around age thirty:: (2) there were two things. I went to to (.) abroad to (.) I went to study a language and and (.) there I met a man. We became really good friends. There was never anything between us. And only on the last day the day before the last day ((in English)) it dawned on me that that (.) that apparently I was in love with him. And and that there was something more there. And then uh I was already lying in bed, I couldn’t fall asleep, I called him to me and (1) for an hour tentatively and circling around it and here and there tell me are you are you (.) straight o:r (.) not? So he said he didn’t know a:nd. And that he had had experiences with men. And that’s it, it ended at that. e he was the first person I had ever even talked to about it.

Igal begins by stating that throughout his engagement and the first five years of his marriage, he did not know who I am or what I want or or (.) what it even means to be gay. He continues by describing how this all changed when he went abroad, where he met a man and soon after discovered that he was in love with him. Unlike the story of his marriage, Igal provides a detailed recounting of the specific events in question, describing lying in bed unable to sleep until he finally musters the courage to ask the man directly whether he is straight o:r (.) not. And while nothing physical or romantic comes out of this exchange, it is clear from Igal’s telling that this was a turning point in his life, the first time that he had ever even talked about it.

In comparison with the unproblematic and inevitable character of the events in (1), the story in (2) reveals a much more personal and conflicted relationship with same-sex desire. From the very start, Igal expresses ignorance about what it means to be gay, implicitly indicating an orientation to that category without necessarily knowing what that orientation entails. This ignorance is juxtaposed with Igal’s subsequent realization that he was in love, and that there was something more there. This “something” is presented as both deeply subjective and demanding to be shared (I couldn’t sleep, I called him to me), in stark contrast with his realization six years prior that the time had come to get married. What I would argue emerges from the story in (2), then, is an orientation to same-sex desire that is much more affectively loaded than the orientation to Orthodox Judaism was in (1). It is, for example, telling that the concept of love appears nowhere in Igal’s description of his married family life, whereas it is through being in love that Igal’s orientation to gayness is realized. That said, it is I think equally important that Igal’s realization of same-sex desire does not actually involve his engaging in any same-sex acts, sexual or otherwise. In his story, Igal never tells his friend that he is in love with him, and clearly states that after asking his friend whether he was straight or not, it ended at that. In other words, Igal’s portrays his sexuality in a way that does not (p.229) explicitly conflict with his commitment to Orthodox Judaism, allowing him to express affiliations with both of these otherwise contradictory identifications simultaneously.

From a linguistic perspective, the story in (2) is the first time that we encounter instances of creaky voice in Igal’s speech that cannot be accounted for by properties of the linguistic context. Both of these occurrences (that there was something more there, when Igal realizes that he is in love with a man, and tell me are you are you, when he voices his former self uttering those words to the man in question) are located at moments in the narrative when Igal’s personal affiliation with same-sex desire is the most heightened and, conversely, his orientation to Orthodox Judaism the most threatened. Crucially, it is not the case that we find creak appearing whenever Igal expresses an identification with homosexuality. The beginning of the narrative, for example, is the first (and only) time that Igal explicitly orients to the category gay, and yet there is no evidence that he is using creaky voice stylistically there. Instead, we only find stylistic creak employed when the conflict between same-sex desire and Orthodox Judaism is emphasized, and Igal’s affiliation with the former threatens to contravene his obligations to the latter. I would argue, therefore, that in these instances creaky voice functions as a stance-taking device. Specifically, I suggest that Igal uses creaky voice to adopt a deontic stance (Shoaps 2004, 2009), through which he acknowledges his moral responsibilities to the values of Orthodox Judaism despite his orientation to same-sex desire. According to Shoaps, acts of deontic stance-taking provide speakers with a mechanism for positioning themselves with respect to a set of moral rules and obligations and, from that position, to evaluate the people and activities described in speech. Here, I claim that Igal uses creak to adopt a deontic stance that positions himself within the valuative system of Orthodox Judaism and therefore to evaluate with ambivalence his expressed identification with same-sex desire. I believe that it is through this act of stance-taking that Igal manages to contain his affective connection with homosexuality in favor of a discursively privileged identification with Orthodox Judaism (cf. McIntosh 2009).

Further support for my assertion that creaky voice functions as a deontic stance-taking device can be found at points in the interview where Igal explicitly alludes to the conflict between his religion and his sexuality. In the extract in (3), Igal recounts a somewhat lengthy narrative about meeting the man who he describes as the biggest love of his life. This extract appears as one of a sequence of short narratives about the different sexual and romantic relationships that Igal had had over the past ten years.

(3) “the biggest love of my life”

And then e:: someone approached me who had already approached me a year earlier and I had said no no (.) that I wasn’t interested. e:: because (1) I didn’t even know who he was and he wasn’t (p.230) attractive and. I told him that he was embarrassing me and that was the end of the story. A year later he tried again. And somehow we got into a conversation. And even though we were (.) complete opposites. He came a few times to Jerusalem and we talked and we talked and we talked and we talked. A:::nd that’s it. And then I went to him in Tel Aviv. And we slept together. And slowly something that he thought would just be this fun summer romance for him (.) e: turned into love that for me was the biggest love of my life. I never loved like I loved him. I guess I’d never truly loved anyone until I loved him. And also for him it was (2) things got a lot more complicated than he thought they would be. e:: uh u:::h I don’t know how t- t- to explain it. I was really in love. And and (.) I I (.) for him I was ready e (1) I fought with my wife and (.) I would go stay at his sometimes and stay over the night and come back the next day. Which I had never done before. e::: but from his point of view after a few months it became intolerable. Because he wanted, he said that he couldn t be satisfied with once a week. And with all the patience, with all of that. And and he wanted me to come and live with him. And I said that there’s no chance. We both knew the restrictions on our relationship from the beginning. And that I had no intention of breaking up my marriage for something unknown. e:: (1) that’s it. it it. He said let’s stop then and I said no I don’t want to stop I love you and and. No it’ll be harder later, I said what do you care? I’m a big boy. And I want to stay, if it’ll hurt more then it’ll hurt more but as long as I can stay with you I want to stay with you. So we had about two arguments like that. And each time we stayed together a bit longer. And in the end we were together for seven months. e it was exactly at the end of de- December two years ago that we split up. e and I was ((in English)) devastated.

There are four clearly stylistic uses of creaky voice in (3). The first occurs when Igal states that he had never loved anyone like he loved the man in the story. In the context of the rest of the interview, this statement is unusual for its transparent emotional honesty. It also contrasts with Igal’s descriptions of his feelings toward other men he had been with, which are always portrayed sardonically and dismissively. Here, though, Igal expresses a deeply held affective commitment to this man, a commitment we are given to understand he has never felt before (including, presumably, for his wife). The second instance of creaky voice then occurs when Igal reports that the other man felt the same way about him. Again, this statement is unique in the context of the rest of the interview as it is the only time that Igal describes reciprocal feelings of love and affection. Finally, the last two stylistic uses of creaky voice appear when Igal describes the eventual dissolution of the relationship. This dissolution is (p.231) brought about the fact that the other man couldn’t be satisfied with once a week, essentially disrupting the balance that Igal had achieved between his sexual and familial (i.e., Jewish) identifications. Yet despite the potential hazard that the relationship posed to Igal’s family life (exemplified most concretely by his arguing with his wife), the two manage to stay together a bit longer until, eventually, the relationship ends. These four instances of creak, then, occur at four pivotal moments in the story, moments when Igal’s same-sex desires threaten to exceed the space that he has allotted for them in his life. Elsewhere, this space is characterized by a lack of deep emotion and a set of very specific rules about what is possible (e.g., sex and fun) and what is not (e.g., spending the night). I therefore argue that, once again, Igal uses creaky voice at these moments as a way of (re)grounding himself within an Orthodox Jewish frame, from which he evaluates with ambivalence the acts and emotions he describes.

Finally, there are two instances in the interview in which Igal explicitly discusses the conflict between sexuality and religion, both of which contain telling examples of creaky voice. The first, extracted in (4), comes at the end of a lengthy discussion about lesbian and gay rights in Israel, during which Igal expresses the view popular among many Israelis (see Levon 2010) that there have been huge advances in this area over the past ten to fifteen years such that lesbians and gays are almost fully enfranchised in the Israeli context.

(4) “I also pay a heavy price”

but e:: absurdly this makes things harder for people who who who are in a situation like m- (.) my situation. e: I don’t envy a a person who (.) who is married today and who needs to decide (.) a religious guy and he needs to decide what to do. e:: let’s say that he decides that he wants to live with a man or for the moment to live like a gay man (Heb. ki homo). And he ruins his life because becau:::se. e he goes into a place that there’s no coming back from afterwards. It’s really hard to disconnect from this later and (.) and e (.) to to to build a family and to get married and all that. So I’m happy that I got into it (.) e without knowing and and and I’m not alone. I also pay a heavy price but but e:. I think that it’s worth it.

In the extract in (4), Igal describes how, in his opinion, the more generalized acceptance of lesbians and gays in Israeli society today makes life more difficult for people who are in a situation like m- (.) my situation. Though not explicitly articulated as such, I would argue that (4) can be taken as an example of what Ochs & Capps (2001) term side-shadowing, or narrative episodes in which narrators present a hypothetical series of events that could have happened had some earlier decision been made differently. For Igal, I suggest that what he is doing in (4) is describing the kind of life he could have led had he been born at a later time or made different choices. In terms of creaky voice, we find that it occurs in three places. The first is when Igal describes his own (p.232) “situation,” directly admitting that it is a conflicted one. The second then occurs when he articulates the source of that conflict, namely, a desire to live with a man or for the moment to live like a gay man. The final instance of creak appears when Igal states that he pay[s]‌ a heavy price for the choices he has made. In all three occurrences, the use of creaky voice coincides with an ambivalent self-positioning on Igal’s part, an evaluation of his own same-sex desires as something that cause significant strain but that he is nevertheless unwilling to give up. I would thus argue that, as before, creaky voice allows Igal to adopt a deontic stance of upholding Orthodox Jewish values even as he acknowledges an affiliation with same-sex desire that contradicts those same values.

The final extract I consider occurred immediately after Igal’s comments in (4). Responding to his statements regarding how difficult it would be to be accepted in an Orthodox context after having lived a “gay life” previously, I wanted to ask Igal about whether there are any overt discussions of homosexuality within Orthodox communities. Igal, however, interprets the beginning of my question differently, and interrupts me to comment on how men in his position negotiate the biblical prohibition on same-sex sex (i.e., Leviticus, ch. 18).

(5) “nowhere is it written”

EL: I wanted to ask a few questions about within the Orthodox community, e like=

Igal: = look (.) in the beginning (2) it’s it really bothered me. Later you come to understand that (1) e (.) as long as you don t get into having anal relations e (.) then you haven’t really done anything worse than than masturbation. And that’s fine. You’ve done it before, you ll do it again. If you find someone that you’re happy with, fine. Nowhere is it written that you’re not allowed to love a man or to hug him or to kiss him or to caress him. (1) e:: the the the: the other issue is much more problematic and. So some of the religious people (Heb. ha-dati’im) e (.) stop here. And say that I m not going to do. And some of them (1) e everyone has (.) some some kind of different excuse some kind of different story (.) gets over it and says. OK. e: I don’t care so I ll I ll get my punishment in the next world or I’ll deal with it or it’s not relevant to me and so on and so on and so on. And and this too passes.

Compared to standard Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law (Heb. halaxa), Igal’s comments in (5) about what is and what is not permissible are relatively progressive (see Halbertal & Koren 2006). Igal, for example, argues that as long as individuals do not engage in anal sex, no biblical proscriptions have been breached. This contrasts with most Orthodox rabbinic commentary on the subject, which claims that all forms of sexual contact between men (including masturbation) are forbidden. Similarly, Igal argues that nowhere in (p.233) the Bible is it written that men are not allowed to love one another, or to hug, kiss, or caress one another. While this is technically true, both traditional and modern interpretations of halaxa consider all these acts to be nonpermissible. Finally, when discussing engaging in behavior (like anal sex) that is clearly disallowed by Jewish law, Igal suggests that there are ways to get over it, by, for example, accepting the fact that a punishment will be forthcoming in the afterlife. The sort of personal and transactional relationship with God and divine law described by Igal here (i.e., “I’ll pay for it later”) stands in stark opposition to standard Orthodox beliefs about the necessity of “integrating biblical and rabbinic imperatives with internal experience” (Halbertal & Koren 2006: 44), such that one’s commitment to Judaism is expressed not (only) by individual faith but by daily obedience to communally shared commandments (Heb. mitsvot).When looking at the distribution of creaky voice across Igal’s comments in (5), we find that creak appears whenever Igal offers a reinterpretation of normative Orthodox beliefs. Creak is used, for example, when Igal claims that loving and hugging and kissing a man are permissible, and it is also used when he suggests that even if one engages in anal sex, punishment for that act can be postponed. As I have argued earlier, I therefore suggest that Igal’s use of creak in (5) is an act of deontic stance-taking through which he reaffirms his positioning within the valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism even while the content of his talk troubles that positioning.


My primary goal in this chapter has been to examine how Igal negotiates his conflicting identifications with both Orthodox Judaism and homosexuality. To that end, I examine Igal’s use of creaky voice in the interview I conducted with him. A quantitative distributional analysis of creak demonstrates that Igal uses this feature significantly more frequently and in more unexpected linguistic contexts when talking about the intersection of sexuality and religion than when talking on other topics. I argue that this finding indicates that Igal is using creaky voice stylistically and in order to achieve some social and/or interactional goal related to his sexual and religious identifications. A qualitative analysis of creak in context then reveals that Igal deploys the feature whenever he expresses an affective alignment with same-sex desire that threatens to disrupt his simultaneous alignment with Orthodox Judaism. In other words, it is not the case that creak coincides with all instances of Igal orienting to homosexuality. There are many examples of Igal describing same-sex desires and experiences that contain no stylistic creak whatsoever. Rather, creak only occurs when the specific orientation to homosexuality that Igal adopts potentially undermines his positioning as an Orthodox Jew (because, for example, that orientation is too affective or personal, or because it involves engaging in explicitly forbidden acts).

(p.234) For this reason, I argue that creaky voice serves as a deontic stance-marker for Igal, through which he signals his continued commitment to the valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism. In essence, I suggest that with creaky voice Igal laminates a deontic stance of Orthodox positionality onto a simultaneous expression of orientation to same-sex desire. This has the effect of discursively containing his identification with homosexuality and relegating it to a hierarchically lower position than his identification with Orthodox Judaism. Put another way, creaky voice allows Igal to layer an identificationally privileged commitment to religion onto a simultaneous commitment to same-sex desire. Crucially, I argue that simultaneity here does not imply a harmonious reconciliation of these two conflicting identifications (cf. Yip 2002) but, rather, a state in which the contradiction remains in stable tension.

I believe that this argument has several important ramifications. First, my analysis supports the claim that linguistic practice can result from the existence of multiple and conflicting identifications (Cameron & Kulick 2003; Kulick 2005). Essentially, I argue that creaky voice is a materialization of the subjective conflict that Igal experiences between his sexual and religious identifications. What I mean by this is that we find creaky voice precisely at those moments when Igal aligns himself with a potentially threatening articulation of homosexuality (e.g., homosexuality as reciprocal love or as engaging in forbidden sexual acts). I suggest that creaky voice provides Igal with a mechanism for laminating a strategic and partial disalignment with these articulations of homosexuality at the very same time that he is also aligning with them. In other words, I argue that at these moments Igal simultaneously orients to and away from particular conceptualizations of same-sex desire, and that it is creaky voice that allows him to adopt this internally contradictory positioning. What this means is that neither Igal’s identification with homosexuality nor his identification with Judaism can account for the observed patterns of language use. Rather, it is the combination (and contradiction) of the two that does.

The second ramification of this analysis, then, is that it highlights the importance of a theory of stance to our understandings of the social meaning of variation. I argue that it is not the case that Igal deploys creaky voice in an effort to actively construct a “gay” or “Orthodox” or even “gay Orthodox” persona. While I acknowledge that such a persona may emerge from Igal’s speech (Podesva 2007), I maintain that a close analysis of Igal’s use of creaky voice demonstrates that it functions as a means for Igal to adopt a deontic stance and so position himself with respect to both his sexual and religious identifications. Given this, I would argue that the primary meaning of creaky voice in the interview is not (as a simple correlational analysis might assume) “gayness” or “masculinity” or “religion.” Rather, I propose that the reason Igal uses creak to take a deontic stance is because of the feature’s association with “contained” or “suppressed” emotion, what Bolinger (1982) calls “tension under control.” I believe that Igal recruits this meaning as a way of limiting or, perhaps more (p.235) appropriately, managing his affective and personal orientation to “troublesome” articulations of same-sex desire. Ultimately, I argue that managing his affective orientation toward homosexuality via creaky voice is the means through which Igal adopts a deontic stance that positions him firmly within the valuative framework of Orthodox Judaism. In this sense, then, the meaning of creaky voice for Igal is not so much about “identity” or “personae” as it is about the stances that he takes with respect to his identifications.

Conflicted SelvesLanguage, Religion, and Same-Sex Desire in Israel

Figure 11.4 An indexical field for creaky voice (adapted from Podesva 2013: 436)

To conclude, I would note that this proposed meaning of “suppressed or contained affect” for creaky voice also applies to all of the previous analyses of creak mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Creak’s association with men and masculinity, for example, could result from the normative linking of “manliness” with rational and affect-free behavior (e.g., Sattel 1983). Similarly, the use of creak by young women in the United States to take stances of “authority” or to portray “upwardly-mobile professional” personae could also be based on a belief that professionalism and authority entail suppressing one’s emotions. And, finally, Mendoza-Denton (2011) explicitly links the “tough” and “hardcore” meaning of creaky voice among Latina gang girls with emotional distance and being “hard of heart.” It therefore appears that all the uses of creak that have been identified previously in the literature can be seen as ideological elaborations of a fundamental (and perhaps iconic) association between creaky voice and suppressed affect. I would therefore propose that “suppression/containment of affect” is the core meaning that anchors the indexical field of creaky voice (see Figure 11.4), making the feature available for a variety of related social and interactional purposes, including, in the case of Igal, negotiating the subjective conflict between Orthodox Judaism and same-sex desire.


The research that the data for this chapter are drawn from would not have been possible without the guidance of Renée Blake, Rudi Gaudio, Greg Guy, (p.236) Don Kulick, and John Singler and the support of the Social Science Research Council (with funds provided by the Andrew Mellon Foundation) and the Torch Fellowship Program at NYU. Special thanks as well to audience members at Stanford University, the University of York, and the University of Cape Town for their comments on the work presented here. I, of course, am alone responsible for all errors and shortcomings.


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(1.) Igal is a pseudonym. My interview with Igal took place entirely in Hebrew, though in the interest of space I only provide English translations here. The translation of this quote, like all other translations in the chapter, is my own.

(2.) For the purposes of my discussion here, I abstract away from the difference between creak (sometimes also called glottal fry), characterized by maximal adduction of the vocal folds, and creaky voice, a compound phonation type derived from the combination of creak and modal voicing (see Laver 1980, 1994). While there are important phonetic differences between the two, they are tangential to my arguments here and so I use the terms creaky voice and creak interchangeably.

(3.) I had originally hoped to solicit participation from a network of Orthodox Jewish women and men who engage in same-sex practice, but this ultimately proved to be impossible. My interview with Igal can thus serve as no more than a case study of individuals in that situation.

(4.) If an instance of creak began in a nonfinal syllable and continued to final position (in a multisyllabic word, for example), all syllables were coded as “final.”

(5.) Transcription conventions are as follows:

  • .?, Intonation contour

  • ::: Vowel lengthening

  • (.) Short pause (less than 0.5 seconds)

  • (1) Numbers of seconds of pause

  • = latching (no audible break between speakers)

  • - speaker abruptly stopping

  • (()) transcriber comments

  • word Speech in English