Category Archives: example

Coffeetalk: Starbucks and the Commercialization of Casual Conversation

In “Coffeetalk: StarbucksTM and the commercialization of casual conversation”, Rudolf P. Gaudio addresses ideas and literature regarding “casualness” and dissects the North American practice of meeting others for coffee in a so-called casual manner.

Gaudio’s primary argument is that “casualness” is culturally constructed- not naturally occurring. The author states that such constructions of casualness are predicated upon various cultural practices and ideologies. Furthermore, Gaudio argues that coffeetalk is a specific form of constructed casualness which was largely influenced by commercialization and capitalism.

The author uses a variety of research and evidence to support his arguments. He opens with and continuously refers back to a scene in the movie, “Good Will Hunting”, where two characters of vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds discuss getting coffee. The posh Harvard student, Skylar, suggests to the lower-class main character, Will, that they should get coffee sometime. To which Will responds, “Or maybe we can just get together and eat a bunch of caramels… When you think about it, it’s as arbitrary as drinking coffee.” Though this example is not typical ethnographic evidence, in this instance, it perfectly encapsulates what the author is trying to say in an easily-understood, relatable manner: getting coffee is a default idea for casually socializing in North America, but it is by no means inherent.

The author uses an example from his previous research in Nigeria to further this point. He states that scheduling to meet for food or drink is “virtually unheard of” in northern Nigeria, effectively introducing an instance of casualness which opposes the Western idea of casual coffeetalk (660). Gaudio also refers to past literature to reveal Western coffeetalk’s “bourgeois” history and bias, noting that conversing over coffee was originally an activity specific to British elite.

Relatedly, Gaudio’s ethnographic evidence highlights coffeetalk as a form of casualness which is highly dependent upon financial status. The author uses his own ethnographic research on coffeetalk practices in Tucson, Arizona and other North American cities to display the significant influence of capitalism on “casual”, Coffeetalk culture. He especially highlights the common necessity of scheduling coffee meet-ups due to busy schedules in the average person’s life. Gaudio’s ethnographic evidence successfully portrays the commercialization of casualness by the coffeehouse chain, Starbucks, through their creation of a “safe” and “cultured” environment to meet customer’s needs or wants of casualness. Specific ethnographic details as minute as the importance of drink names at Starbucks- such as “Frappucino” or “grande”- go above and beyond to show the intentionality of commodifying a certain ambience for conversation.

Overall, Gaudio’s article generates larger implications that conversation and settings of conversation are not inherently “casual” or otherwise. It reiterates that uses and ideas of language are predicated upon cultural factors.

Gaudio, R. P. (2003). Coffeetalk: StarbucksTM and the Commercialization of Casual Conversation. Language in Society, 32(5), 659–691.

Summary of “The Language of Multiple Identities among Dominican Americans” by Benjamin Bailey

The Language of Multiple Identities among Dominican Americans by Benjamin Bailey explores the language used by Dominican Americans and its relationship to their identities in the United States. Dominican American lineage includes Hispanic, American, and African. Therefore, the majority of group members are racially mixed. On top of being racially mixed, Dominican American group members are multilingual speakers (Spanish and English). Due to the multiracial and multi-linguistic traits that the group holds, not all group members agree on the same self-identification. To further understand how linguistics play a role in shaping self-identity, including racial and ethnic categories, Bailey conducted ethnographic research on mostly low-income Dominican Americans second-generation high school students at Rhode Island, focusing on their use of language. 

The second generation high school Dominican American students alternate their language from Dominican Spanish, African American English (AAVE), and the standard form of English; generally code-switching between Spanish and English. The students use and alternate between these languages to differentiate themselves from European Americans, African Americans, as well as in-group Dominican American members. Unlike European and African Americans who choose their identity that’s determined on a black and white scale, the Dominican American students choose to identify themselves through their ethnic traits: language. In a conversation that Bailey observed between two students named Isabelle and Janelle, the students were speaking in Spanish and English, casually code-switching between the two languages as they conversed. They were speaking in English, however, AAVE was used instead of standard English. Bailey writes, “…AAVE linguistic forms not only display a sociopolitical position or stance to others, but rather also suggest membership in an essentialized racial group” (204). This demonstrates the idea that Dominican Americans use AAVE to distinguish from the dominant group. They are choosing to classify themselves in a group that is neither Black nor White.

The students’ relationships are closer to their African American peers than their White peers, but they do not consider themselves Black.  Even when they are phenotypically similar to their African American friends, and even when they are seen as African American by others, they argue that they are not Black because they speak Spanish. For Dominican American students, phenotype and ancestry are ignored if they are Dominican and Spanish speaking. Thus, this system of classifying identity is based on traits of individuals and not one’s race. For this reason, Bailey makes it clear that language is a tool in shaping Dominican American’s identity. 

As Dominican American students oppose self-identifying as Black, they also oppose self-identifying as White even though they may appear white in skin color. Dominican American students use both AAVE and Spanish to differentiate themselves from being White. Oftentimes when an in-group member speaks standard English, they are criticized for “talking White”. In a sense, Dominican American students are mocking the standard form of English, as well as their own group members for using it. Mocking the standard form of English is a way that Dominican American students are resisting to become part of the dominant group and to maintain the social boundaries with White group members. However, this mockery of using standard English can lead in-group members to feel like an outcast. A student named Rosa that Bailey interviewed stated that she felt at ease with White Americans, but she had to be careful with switching communicative styles when she interacted with members of different groups due to fear of being criticized (Bailey, 200). Consequently, this mockery can break the solidarity within the group. Nonetheless, Dominican Americans still do not self-identify as White even though they may use standard form English. In addition to mocking in-group members for using standard English, recent Dominican immigrants are also mocked for their usage of Spanish. Due to the difference in language use (code-switching) of Dominican American students and recently immigrated Dominicans, there is a distinction that makes in-group members different. Therefore Dominican Americans can be sometimes called “bootleg Dominican,” and similar negative comments are also made against Dominican immigrants. In sum, Bailey showcases that language is the main source of maintaining one’s identity, such as resisting standard English or that not knowing enough of the language may revoke one’s status of being an in-group member. 

Capturing the main points of the article, Bailey concluded that: Dominican Americans adopted AAVE to distinguish from the dominant group and to mock standard forms of English; Dominican Americans use the Spanish language rather than the racial category to self-identify; Dominican Americans also use Spanish to distinguish within in-group members. Through these points, it shows how language is used as a classification tool. Since Dominican Americans value their Spanish traits, their racial or ethnic category would be closer to Hispanic or Latinx as opposed to African American. By using language to determine self-identity, Dominican Americans are dismantling the racial hierarchy. In other words, Bailey’s arguments may be to point out how race is a social construct.  All in all, language isn’t just a spoken instrument but plays a significant role in one’s identity, including race and ethnicity.

Bailey, Benjamin. 2000. “The Language of Multiple Identities among Dominican Americans.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 10 (2): 190–223.