Join us for a Colloquium given by Alicia Wassink (University of Washington) on Friday May 16 at 3:30PM in the Greenberg Room, followed by a social.
Vowel raising in Washington English: What’s the bag deal?
This paper considers the implications for sociolinguistic theory of vowel raising before velar stops in three word classes in Washington state English. (æg) bag, (ɛg) beg, and (eyg) vague are in close proximity for speakers in a three-generation sample. First, using group-level data, we ask whether by-generational differences point to a type of progression through vowel space. The patterns are investigated in terms of three theoretical types of merger. In “merger by approximation” (Labov, 1994:321) one affected vowel, e.g., (æg) gradually approaches another, e.g. (ɛg), or, both move to a spectral “middle ground”. In “merger by transfer,” affected vowels shift to a new phonemic class, word-by-word, without leaving behind intermediate forms. In “merger by expansion,” the ranges of the affected vowels are enlarged, the resulting distribution equivalent to the union of the two ranges. Group-level patterns rule out at least one of the options, allowing us to consider the mechanism of this change. Second, using individual data within generations, we ask whether speakers vary in the type of pattern they show. Can speakers in the same community appear to participate in the change in different ways (e.g., some by approximation, others by transfer, etc.?). If so, is this a problem for characterizing the change?
To test the theories of merger, we use acoustic data reflecting the locations of stable point vowels paired with vowels involved in the change, as well as data for the changing vowels relative to each other. Speakers were partitioned into groups depending on their generation and patterns of raising. Measures included F1, F2, and duration at three temporal locations, allowing modeling of vowel trajectory. However, comparisons primarily utilize an overlap metric (Wassink 2006) that allows detection of differences between the volumes of vowel ellipsoids, providing an objective heuristic for approximation of vowel distributions. We find evidence supporting the conclusion that (eyg)-class forms are reanalyzed in a process of merger by transfer, while the phonological story for (æg) is much more complex. Here, we will see that the data force us to consider the import of vowel trajectory information for the maintenance of phonetic distinction.
Labov, W. (1994). Principles of linguistic change: Internal factors (Blackwell, Oxford).
Wassink, A. B., (2006) “A geometric representation of spectral and temporal vowel features: Quantification of vowel overlap in three varieties,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 119(4), pp 2334-2350