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LINGUIST List 18.1847

Tue Jun 19 2007

Diss: Socioling: Heffernan: 'Phonetic Distinctiveness as a Sociolin...'

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        1.    Kevin Heffernan, Phonetic Distinctiveness as a Sociolinguistic Variable

Message 1: Phonetic Distinctiveness as a Sociolinguistic Variable
Date: 19-Jun-2007
From: Kevin Heffernan <kevin.heffernanutoronto.ca>
Subject: Phonetic Distinctiveness as a Sociolinguistic Variable

Institution: University of Toronto
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007

Author: Kevin M Heffernan

Dissertation Title: Phonetic Distinctiveness as a Sociolinguistic Variable

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
J. K. Chambers

Dissertation Abstract:

I begin with a distinction between engendered variation, that is, sex-based
phonetic-level variation that shows consistent patterns across communities,
and nongendered variation. Much of engendered variation is
anatomically-determined, but there is also an important
behaviourally-determined component. One example of behaviourally-determined
engendered variation is that women speak more clearly, as reflected in
their more-dispersed vowel space. I argue that this sex-based difference
applies to all types of phonological contrasts, not just vowels, so that
the temporal and acoustic correlates of phonological constituents produced
by women are differentiated typically more than those produced by men.
Furthermore, I demonstrate that "phonetic distinctiveness" indexes other
social categories such as social gender and social class, i.e., is a
sociolinguistic variable.

I corroborate the indexing of social categories in two major applications.
First, I compare phonetic correlates in the speech of eight male radio DJs
from a range of music genres with ratings of how macho-sounding each DJ is.
For each DJ, I examine durational differences between contextual and
inherent long and short vowels. As expected, social gender significantly
correlates with the vowel duration distinctiveness so that the more
macho-sounding DJs produce less distinct vowel length contrasts.

Second, I examine dispersion of front and back vowels in the speech of 439
speakers from the Atlas of North American English (Labov et al. 2006).
Vowel dispersion is shown to correlate with both sex and social class.

That men typically produce less distinct contrasts than women leads to
predictions about the role of sex in phonetic-level sound change.
Specifically, if the innovative form results in the loss of phonetic
distinctiveness (such as two vowels merging), then we predict that men lead
the change. An investigation of vowel mergers among the Atlas of North
American English speakers reveals that men do lead mergers, and that
speakers with a less dispersed vowel system show more instances of mergers,
regardless of sex. Thus phonetic distinctiveness as an explanation of sound
change accounts for why men lead sound changes that result in loss of
phonetic distinctiveness, while women lead sound changes that maintain
phonetic distinctiveness.

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