The Role of the Body in Structuring Sociophonetic Variation
Scholars of gesture and bodily hexis have long recognized the centrality of the body in speech production (Bourdieu 1984, McNeill 1992, Kendon 1997). Yet theories of variation have generally been constructed based on analyses of what can be observed in the audio channel alone (cf. Mendoza-Denton and Jannedy 2011). This paper draws on a multimodal analysis of audiovisual data to illustrate that voice quality and vowel quality are strongly constrained by body movement and facial expression.
Dyadic interactions between friends were recorded in a sound-attenuated environment staged like a living room. The acoustic analysis focuses on the incidence of creaky voice (using Kane et al.’s 2013 neural network model) and vowel quality (the lowering and retraction of the front lax vowels, in accordance with the California Vowel Shift). Computer vision techniques were applied to additionally quantify the magnitude of body movements (movement amplitude) and identify when speakers were smiling.
Results show that body movement and facial expression predict the realization of both linguistic variables. Creaky voice was more common in phrases where speakers moved less, in phrases where they were not smiling (for women), and in interactions where speakers reported feeling less comfortable. The front lax vowels were lower (more shifted) among women, and in phrases where speakers (regardless of sex) were smiling.
Speakers use their bodies in non-random ways to structure linguistic variation, so analysts can improve quantitative models of variation by attending to forms of embodied affect. Focusing on the body can also facilitate the development of more comprehensive social analyses of variation, many of which rely solely on correlations between linguistic practice and social category membership. I conclude by discussing the implications of an embodied view of variation for language change.
Angela Carpenter is Associate Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Wellesley College. Her research has focused on the phonological acquisition of both child language and adult second language, especially the acquisition of stressed syllables and function words in L1 acquisition, and factors that affect acquisition of a second language. For more information, her website is here.
Dialect change in immigrant speakers of Jamaican Creole
The process of dialect change occurs frequently in the world’s languages, as it is one of the results of population migration. Dialect change occurs when speakers of one dialect of a language emigrate to an area where another dialect of the same language is spoken. This type of migration has occurred quite notably across the English-speaking world where, for example, speakers of one version of English, such as Canadian English or Jamaican English move to Great Britain, where British English is spoken (Chambers 1992, Tagliamonte and Molfenter 2007, Wells 1973). In this particular study I am focusing on the dialectal change Jamaican Creole (JC) towards Standard American English (SAE) by Jamaicans who immigrated to the U.S. The phonological aspects of JC that differ from SAE include: 1) vowel merging, such that in JC “black” and “block” are homophones; 2) glide insertion between velar stops and a following low back vowel, such as saying [kjar] ‘kyar’ and not [kar] ‘car’; 3) h-dropping and/or hypercorrection, such as saying [an] for ‘hand’; but [hɛgz] for ‘eggs’; and 4) merging of [ie] and [eə] into [ie] so that in JC ‘beer’ and ‘bear’ are homophones. To fully acquire SAE speakers of JC have to change their phonology towards the American standard. This talk is a preliminary report on dialect change among a group of Jamaicans who have lived in the Northeast U.S. for many years. We analyze to what extent they have acquired SAE.
Roey Gafter’s main research focuses on sociolinguistic variation in Modern Hebrew, and its wider implications for sociolinguistic theory. For more information, his website is here.
Pharyngeals and beyond: phonetic differences and phonemic mergers in Hebrew
In the speech of most current Hebrew speakers, the phonemic distinction between pharyngeal and non-pharyngeal consonants has been neutralized towards a non-pharyngeal realization. Although this phonemic merger is a well-studied phenomenon, little attention has been given so far to the possibility of phonetic variation beyond a binary distinction between pharyngeal and non-pharyngeal forms. In this talk, I focus on the voiceless pharyngeal fricative [ħ], and demonstrate that the non-pharyngeal realization varies between a fricative and a trill. A phonetic analysis of data from sociolinguistic interviews conducted in two field sites in Israel reveals that the rate of trilling varies among speakers, and is sensitive to both social and linguistic factors. Speakers who do not produce pharyngeals are found to use the trill variant more frequently, but only in one of the two communities studied, in which the overall loss of the pharyngeals is considerably more advanced. I discuss the implications of these findings for understanding the mechanisms underlying the ongoing phonemic merger between pharyngeals and non-pharyngeals.
Laura Janda’s research focuses on Russian aspect and other Slavic grammatical categories, as well as the development of language pedagogy. For more information, her website is here.
What happens to a language under pressure: discriminatory language policy and language change in North Saami
North Saami, a Finno-Ugric language spoken by 20,000 people in the extreme north of Norway, Sweden and Finland, is undergoing a language change in the use of its possessive constructions. We find evidence that a number of factors converge, creating a complex situation that advantages one possessive construction over the other. Given the timing of the change, it seems likely that the replacement of NPx by ReflN was sparked in part by educational policies that removed children from their L1 environment during their school years, creating a sociolinguistic situation in which morphological complexity was disadvantaged. This study thus sheds light on what may be a concrete linguistic effect catalyzed by discriminatory policy.
(Sponsored by Slavic Studies, CLPS, and the C.V. Starr Foundation Lectureship fund through the Dean of the Faculty’s Office.)