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The role of African Americans in Philadelphia sound change

  • William Labov (a1)

A number of studies of African American communities show a tendency to approximate the phonological patterns of the surrounding mainstream white community. An analysis of the vowel systems of 36 African American speakers in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus compares their development over the 20th century with that of the mainstream community. For vowels involved in change in the white community, African Americans show very different patterns, often moving in opposite directions. The traditional split of short-a words into tense and lax categories is a more fine-grained measure of dialect relations. The degree of participation by African Americans is described by measures of bimodality, which are applied as well to the innovative nasal short-a system. The prototypical African American speakers show no bimodality in either measure, recombining the traditional tense and lax categories into a single short-a in lower mid, nonperipheral position. The lack of relation between the two short-a systems is related to the high degree of residential segregation, in that linguistic contact is largely diffusion among adults rather than the faithful transmission found among children.

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Renée Blake , & Cara Shousterman . (2010). Diachrony and AAE: St. Louis, hip-hop, and sound change outside of the mainstream. Journal of English Linguistics 38:230ff.

Betsy E. Evans , Rika Ito , Jamila Jones , & Dennis R. Preston (2006). How to get to be one kind of Midwesterner: Accommodation to the Northern Cities Chain Shift. In T. Murray & B. L. Simon (eds.), Language variation and change in the American Midland. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 179197.

David Graff , William Labov , & Wendell Harris . (1986). Testing listeners' reactions to phonological markers. In D. Sankoff (ed.), Diversity and diachrony. Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 4558.

William Labov . (2007). Transmission and diffusion. Language 83:344387.

William Labov , & Wendell A. Harris (1986). De facto segregation of black and white vernaculars. In D. Sankoff (ed.), Diversity and diachrony. Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 124.

William Labov , Ingrid Rosenfelder , & Josef Fruehwald . (2013). 100 years of sound change in Philadelphia: Linear incrementation, reversal and re-analysis. Language 89:3066.

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Language Variation and Change
  • ISSN: 0954-3945
  • EISSN: 1469-8021
  • URL: /core/journals/language-variation-and-change
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