Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Ruth Wright


This five-family case study examined how five families in Miami-Dade County (Miami, FL), in which neither parent self-identified as a musician, talked about music. Through Internet-facilitated interviews and e-journals, participants responded to questions about music in their family and the listening guidelines that were communicated between members. Study participants included five mothers of similar ages, incomes, and educational backgrounds. Six children participated in the study; they ranged in age from six to thirteen years of age, and included both males and females. The goal of the study was to gain an understanding of the types of discourse around music listening in these families, and to examine the content of their shared family talk about and in response to music.

The theoretical framework for this study was rooted in both sociolinguistics, through the investigation of the relationship between language and society, and family script theory (Byng-Hall, 1995, 1998), which provided guidance in analyzing the intergenerational transmission of music values. Narrative self-reports offered by participating parents and children demonstrated how discourse was used to describe, interpret, construct, and disseminate musical meaning within families. Listening guidelines and listenership roles, enacted and enforced in contextual and reactive ways within a body of shared discourse, were found to both facilitate and influence family members’ music listening exposures. The study yielded fruitful descriptive data regarding the nature of musical exposures and music-use in the participating families in addition to findings facilitated by sociolinguistic analysis.

For each of the five participating families, their communal discourse—their family’s script—described situational music listening guidelines and roles which contended with certain “bad” words and attempted to limit exposure to questionable themes. Sociolinguistic terminology, including notions of age appropriateness and taboo, helped explain several ways in which discourse can link music exposure with the development of music listening preferences. The present study supports previous findings (Borthwick & Davidson, 2002) regarding the important role family plays in shaping individual identities and music listening preferences. Further, this multiple-case study offers compelling evidence as to how intimate relationships, defined and negotiated through shared discourse, can influence individuals’ decisions about what music they value.