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Interaction of social and linguistic constraints on two vowel changes in northern England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 September 2013

Bill Haddican
CUNY-Queens College
Paul Foulkes
University of York
Vincent Hughes
University of York
Hazel Richards
University of York


This paper focuses on the way that local social indexicality interacts with principles of vowel change. A combination of real and apparent time data from the northern English dialect of York indicate fronting of tense back vowels in the goat and goose lexical sets, and diphthongization of traditionally monophthongal mid-vowels in the face and goat lexical sets. The latter process of change, a northward diffusion of more prestigious southern forms, has been noted for some other northern English dialects, but has not been described acoustically in published work. We show that these two vowel changes have different social meanings in the community. As is the case in previous studies, goat and goose fronting is not strongly associated with different speaker groups in the community. Monophthongal realizations of face and goat, on the other hand, are strongly associated with the speech of the local community, especially working-class speech. The results align with predictions of Labov's (1994) principle III of vowel change in that they show that goose fronting precedes goat fronting. However, we argue that a full understanding of the trajectories of change requires attention to social indexical properties of these variants as well. In particular, the scarcity of fronted variants of monophthongal goat is explained as a consequence of local indexing of such forms.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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