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Street women and their verbal transactions : some aspects of the oral culture of female prostitute drug addicts Layton, Monique Jacqueline Berthe


This study attempts to describe, through the combination of an interactional framework, an ethnographic semantic approach and an analysis of the folklore, the oral culture of female prostitute drug addicts and the forms of verbal exchange through which they appear to exercise some control over their socio-economic environment. The verbal transactions examined take place on and off the street, but always involve "street" participants: people whose business is on the street, where they casually meet friends and foes, where they make the initial contacts and contracts which lead to further transactions, and where they report finding an excitement and a pace of life they enjoy. Many of these transactions are described as "bullshitting": the flexibility of meaning of this term enables us to use it to indicate a variety of verbal exchanges among street people on the one hand, and between street people and "square Johns" on the other. In the first instance, it covers amicable greetings, small talk, anecdotes, gossip, jokes, warnings: didactic narratives and manipulative exercises whose function is to a large extent one of socialization. They serve as a stern description of the rules of behaviour among members of the street group and as means of integrating newcomers to the subculture of the street by describing the contrasting characteristics of "straight" and "street" culture members. In the second instance, speech acts serve mostly as an instrument of manipulation and exploitation. The most developed type of transaction examined is the one taking place between prostitutes and their customers, and the strategies developed to cope with problematic cases. The informants are also considered as drug addicts involved in non-prostitutional though exploitative transactions. As incarcerated informants, they are further involved in "interview transactions" based on firmly defined cultural boundaries between straight and street participants. The informants' perception of the two groups' contrasting worldviews, their lifestyles and opposite characteristics and attributes, give rise to the creation of endo- and exo-stereotypes which reinforce principles of inclusion and exclusion and regulate the pattern of straight and street interaction. Verbal transactions reflect the informants' understanding of their socio-economic environment, where economic survival rests on a profitable interaction with outsiders, and social survival rests on a cohesive interaction among themselves.

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