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Pittsburghese shirts: Commodification and the enregisterment of an urban dialect

Barbara Johnstone, Carnegie Mellon University

Abstract

This article considers a type of material artifact that circulates ideas about regional speech in the United States: T-shirts bearing words and phrases thought to be unique to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I argue that Pittsburghese shirts, seen for themselves and in the context of their production, distribution, and consumption, are part of a process leading to the creation and focusing of the idea that there is a Pittsburgh dialect. To describe how particular locally hearable forms have become linked with the city, I invoke Asif Agha’s concept of “enregisterment.” To understand why this has happened at the time and in the way it has, I draw on Arjun Appadurai’s model of the “commodity situation.” I suggest that Pittsburghese shirts contribute to dialect enregisterment in at least four ways: they put local speech on display, they imbue local speech with value, they standardize local speech, and they link local speech with particular social meanings.

Suggested Citation

Barbara Johnstone. "Pittsburghese shirts: Commodification and the enregisterment of an urban dialect" American Speech 84.2 (2009): 157-175.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/barbara_johnstone/45