<i>“A she gi me words; well me gi she back de change”</i>

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The poetic and strategic use of language by women in rural St Vincent is explored. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in 1992&#8211;1993 and 1998 in three leeward villages, the author offers examples of women using their verbal skills to reframe instances of stigmatized talk as part of their reputation-management. Women&#8217;s speech practices are shaped in part by a verbal aesthetic and sensitivity to voice that is noticeable in St Vincent. Their speech practices are also shaped by an ideology that stigmatizes certain speech genres as <i>low-minded</i>, yet which also stereotypes those genres as women&#8217;s genres. Finally, women&#8217;s speech practices are shaped by an ideology that &#8220;respectable&#8221; women should limit their public visibility. This is a challenge for women who must be more publicly visible in order to access the support networks beyond their houses/yards. But these ideological constraints also create the conditions for some very creative use of language. Some women are able to reframe stigmatized talk as acceptable talk by exploiting the somewhat ambiguous boundary between speech genres. Their verbal artistry is an important resource in this protection of reputation. Keywords: women and language strategies; reframing; stigmatized talk; reputation; gender stereotype


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