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LINGUIST List 20.3816

Sun Nov 08 2009

Diss: Phonetics/Socioling: Hall-Lew: 'Ethnicity and Phonetic...'

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        1.    Lauren Hall-Lew, Ethnicity and Phonetic Variation in a San Francisco Neighborhood

Message 1: Ethnicity and Phonetic Variation in a San Francisco Neighborhood
Date: 06-Nov-2009
From: Lauren Hall-Lew <lauren.hall-lewphon.ox.ac.uk>
Subject: Ethnicity and Phonetic Variation in a San Francisco Neighborhood
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Institution: Stanford University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Lauren Hall-Lew

Dissertation Title: Ethnicity and Phonetic Variation in a San Francisco Neighborhood

Dissertation URL: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~engf0129/research.html

Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics

Dissertation Director:
Penelope Eckert
John R. Rickford

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation presents a sociophonetic analysis of a majority Asian
American community in San Francisco, California, addressing ongoing
discussions about ethnicity, phonetic variation, and regional sound change.
Overall, Asian Americans (AAs) are not distinct from European Americans
(EAs) with respect to changes in apparent time. In some cases, the
correlation with speaker age is even more robust within the AA speaker
sample than within the EA sample. I argue that this pattern is particularly
likely given the social history of San Francisco and the history of the
particular community.

The community of study is the Sunset District, a large residential
neighborhood in western San Francisco. The area has undergone a relatively
rapid demographic shift since the 1970s. Today its population is
approximately 52% AA and 48% EA. Generational differences among
neighborhood residents are prominent, in terms of how residents
characterize and relate to their community. These changing prestige values
map onto the emergence of competing linguistic markets. The phonetic
analysis draws on these ethnographic insights in an effort to explore the
social meaning of particular variants and the motivations behind
participation in local sound change.

The variables analyzed are two well-known features of sound change in U.S.
English: the merger of the low back vowel classes, as in LOT and THOUGHT,
and the fronting of the nuclei of the mid- and high back vowels, as in

Like other Western regions, the results show that speakers are moving
towards low back merger in apparent time, with more merger among younger
speakers, overall. However, specific to San Francisco is that some speakers
do still maintain the distinction, regardless of age. While ethnicity is
not an independent predictor, AAs show change in apparent time towards low
back merger, while the correlation among EAs is not significant.
Furthermore, while sex class does not predict vocalic variation, women
exhibit significant change in apparent time, while the correlation among
men is not significant. Other trend correlations among speaker subsets
suggest that some speakers may be orienting towards a broader and newer
regional pattern of merger, while others are oriented toward an older
linguistic market where the low back distinction has particular local value.

The analysis of back vowel fronting shows that Sunset residents are moving
toward more fronted productions for both vowel classes, with significant
correlations between fronting measures and speaker age across the speaker
sample. The pattern for the GOAT vowel is similar to low back merger: while
ethnic variation does not predict vocalic variation, AAs show change in
apparent time towards GOAT-fronting, while the correlation among EAs is not
significant. In contrast, the fronting of the GOOSE vowel does not appear
to vary according to speaker ethnicity or within ethnic subsamples.
Instead, while speaker sex class does not predict variation in GOOSE, in
the environment following an anterior coronal, women evidence change in
apparent time towards more fronted variants, while the correlation among
men is not significant.

The sociolinguistics literature contains relatively little work on phonetic
variation in the English of Asian Americans, and there is an increasing
interest in research exploring the complex interactions between ethnic and
regional identities. This dissertation speaks to these gaps, and further
argues that Asian American ethnicities are integral to San Franciscan
identities and ideologies of place.

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