The Social Distribution of a Regional Change: /æg, ɛg, eg/ in Washington State
Riebold, John Matthew
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Recent studies at the University of Washington as part of the Pacific Northwest English (PNWE) Study have found that Washingtonians are raising /æ, ɛ/ before /g/ (e.g. "bag", "beg"), known as 'pre-velar raising' (Wassink, 2014, 2015b; Wassink, Squizzero, Schirra, & Conn, 2009), and lowering /e/ before /g/ (e.g. "vague") (Freeman, 2014b; Riebold, 2014a). However, there is much still to be understood about the social and geographical distribution of these changes. This dissertation is a sociophonetic study of the character and spread of this change in the speech of 71 Washingtonians from five ethnic groups known to have a long history in the state: African Americans, Caucasians, Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, and the Yakama Nation. First, the overall vowel space of Northwest English is situated in the landscape of US dialects, and the ethnicities are compared in order to investigate cross-ethnic differences. Following this, results from the pre-velar analysis are presented in which traditional vowel plots (F1 x F2) are used to locate each ethnicity's front vowels, while three-dimensional overlap (F1 x F2 x duration) (VOIS3D; Wassink, 2006) is used to assess the extent of raising and the contribution of duration in maintaining or erasing contrast. SS-ANOVA (Gu, 2002) plots are used to model vowel trajectories as curves connecting onset, midpoint, and offset, which allows for a more realistic picture of vowel trajectory (Wassink & Koops, 2013). Finally, inferential statistics are used to test the influence of gender, ethnicity, generation, and social network on pre-velar raising. Results from the vowel space analysis show that, in general, Northwest English speakers have a vowel space fairly similar to that of other dialect regions in the West. Northwesterners don't show evidence of front vowel lowering, associated with the Californian/Canadian Vowel Shift, and show /u, o/ (GOOSE, GOAT) fronting comparable to that of Californian speakers, but still not quite as advanced. In comparison to non-western dialects of American English, the Northwest's most distinguishing features are generally higher low vowels, /u/-fronting (GOOSE), and strong /ʊ/-fronting (FOOT). The results of the pre-velar analysis show that all groups are participating in the changes. All speakers raise /æg, ɛg/ (BAG, BEG) and lower /eg/ (VAGUE), and although vowel plots show some small gender and cross-ethnic differences, these are not statistically significant. Although vowel and SS-ANOVA plots suggest a merger of /ɛg, eg/ (BEG, VAGUE), with /æg/ (BAG) stabilizing between /æ, ɛ/ (TRAP, DRESS), duration appears to be holding the two classes at least measurably different. As has been found in previous studies (Freeman, 2014b; Riebold, 2014a), the generational picture shows that middle-aged speakers raise the most. However, SS-ANOVA plots and statistical analyses suggest that younger speakers may be developing a split between the pre-velar and non-pre-velar wordclasses, leading to less overall raising, but more spectral separation between /æ, æg, ɛ, ɛg~eg, e/ (TRAP, BAG, DRESS, BEG~VAGUE, FACE). Finally, statistical analyses show that Network Strength Score has a significant effect on pre-velar raising/lowering, such that more locally-integrated speakers show more overlap. Taken together, these results suggest we may be nearing the completion of a change in progress (though there is much work still be done in order to conclusively establish this), and that at least as far as these changes are concerned, Washingtonians of various ethnicities share a common linguistic system. The results of this study contribute to the literature surrounding a nascent change in an understudied dialect area. It sheds light on the linguistic consequences of the inter-ethnic contact that has characterized much of Washington's history, and provides further evidence for the participation of non-White ethnicities in regional changes, motivating their inclusion in future studies of regional dialects.
- Linguistics