Pittsburghese shirts: Commodification and the enregisterment of an urban dialect
journal contributionposted on 01.01.2009, 00:00 by Barbara JohnstoneBarbara Johnstone
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.