Tag: Dialectology

Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria

One thing that’s always bothered me is the lack of language documentation in rural Canada. Studies of Canadian English represent urban areas. And look, I get it: rural Canadians are spread out thinly across the true north strong and free. Most people live in the urban centers and documenting Canada’s rural dialects would be kind of a big deal. But that means that any  claims on “BC English” are about speakers in noVancouver and even though the population of the city is really diverse, linguistics studies there typically aren’t.

Google says it takes about 18 hours to drive from Vancouver to Fort Nelson.

Even if these studies were more diverse, we’d be no closer to understanding how people in, like, Fort Nelson speak.

And the thing about that that bothers me is that something like 20% of the population in Canada lives rurally. We don’t know what they sound like or what they’re saying to each other.

All of that’s a rant for another time, but you might understand how excited I was when I can across  Rebecca Roeder, Sky Onosson, and Alexandra D’Arcy’s paper  (2018) “Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria” which looks at the way some British Columbians who are not Vancouverites talk. While Victoria isn’t exactly rural, it is definitely not Vancouver and sometimes that’s enough.

The Study

The purpose of this study was to try to describe the English in Victoria, BC, something this intrepid trio of scholars has been working on for a long time. They used certain linguistic features to conduct a study of language change over time. The participants were 14-98 years old and from diverse backgrounds. 

Speaking of backgrounds, can anyone guess where the first Final Destination was filmed?

Victoria (slash “hi mom!”)

Victoria is sort of a mini Victorian-era England. It’s on what we call The Island, a short ferry ride or flight from Vancouver.  It’s an isolated city of around 370,000 people. It was a Hudson’s Bay trading post in 1843 and became a city in 1862. It became the capital of the province in 1971. Private school teachers were imported from England right up to WWII setting the bar for the prestige dialect. And just picture this, I said it was on an island, right? Ya, well it didn’t get regular ferry service to the mainland until 1960. Even though there are now people who commute regularly to the mainland, I have met people who have never been off the island. And I didn’t know this, but the particularly British-y area of Victoria is referred to as the “tweed curtain.” It’s a small, wealthy community with a marina and tea shops (RIP The Blethering Place, tea shop of yore). One would think this modern history of isolation would have some effect on the dialect, no? Well yes, apparently there’s some kind of accent there though its features vary and the population that exhibits them is an aging minority.

Methods

The inquisitive trio used the Synchronic Corpus of Victoria English (SCVE), part of the Victoria English Archive which is comprised of 162  interviews with primarily British-descended Victorians. The speakers range from 1st to 6th generation Victorian (14-98 years old). Some were even related.

For anyone still guessing, maybe “Garrick’s Head” rings a bell

 The Sounds

The Sounds Wait what?

Victoria English 

The Canadian Shift

Ok so, the vowels in lit, #blessed, and sass (vowels kit, dress, and trap if you’re new to LinguaBishesare produced at the same height in the mouth for many English dialects. “Height” refers to where your tongue is when you make a sound. In the Canadian Shift, the vowels in kit, dress, and trap started to lower sometime before 1950. This resulted in a really noticable change among baby boomers. The shift slowed down for Torontonians, but if you’re a Canadian woman under 40, then you might be as much as a generation ahead in the shift than guys you know. The Shift is more recent in Victoria, perhaps because of its relative isolation. Even though it started later, the youth speak really similarly to other Canadians, which means there was a whole lotta change in a little bit of time. Also because of this late start, older Victorians have higher vowels than their peers across the country.

Raising of ban and bag

Y’all have probably heard, in Canada, we say bag [bg] not bag [bæg](same with dragon, wagon, and rag). Also, young Canadians in BC and the prairies do the same thing with ban. (See LinguaBishes Vowel Chart) In Victoria, ban and bag are at the same place regardless of age or gender. This shows that it’s probably a solid Victorian feature that’s at least eighty-five years old.

Back-Vowel Fronting

A back-vowel is a vowel that you make with in the back of your mouth. Like in “Karen, that’s some hot goss.” Fronting means making the sounds more towards the front of your mouth. It is very common in British Columbia. Back-vowel fronting is a systemic process in Victoria. Your goats, your boots, and your foots seem to be pronounced slightly more in the front of the mouth by women. 
Yod Yod is the insertion of a y sound before a vowel. Tune is a great example. Yodders (many speakers of British dialects) pronounce the word like tyune or even chyune. In American English, yod is disappearing and in Canada, it is disappearing slower because it is considered prestigious. Contrary to previous research, this study found yod to be a stable feature in Victoria, but because it is appearing mainly in the word too, it could be another example of back-vowel fronting.
When did the airport ever look like this?

Results

Our three linguists took their results and compared them to the Phonetics of Canadian English thing (PCE) compiled by Boberg (2008). They examined these features across “apparent time” which basically just means they took the age of the speaker into consideration. Their results were pretty close to Boberg’s PCE, but they found trap to be higher and lot-thought-palm higher and backer like Californian English.

OK, so… ?

After world War II, the English school teachers stopped arriving in Victoria and regular ferry service started. Victoria opened up and experienced a quick population growth. This made is a ripe ground for dialect leveling or “phonological simplification.” This could have been when back-vowel fronting and the vowel shift happened.

And…? 

So Victorians, especially young Victorians, mostly speak the same as the majority of western Canadians. Basically anyone under the age of 80 speaks a variety that has leveled out to include the Canadian shift and back-vowel fronting. 

BUT the whole aforementioned yod situation shows that Victoria English is holding onto its history. That and the ban/bag raising are hold-outs that were probably unchanged throughout the 20th century. Whereas the low-back merger could have started in Canadian English around 150 years before it got to Victoria. If that’s true, then Canadian English isn’t a single entity that progressed westward during expansion, but a multi-sourced group of dialects. To me, it says we need more surveys of the varieties of BC English from other areas around the province that aren’t Vancouver.

fin

This article is great for phonetics and acoustical analysis bishes, dialect bishes, Canadian bishes, and of course, Final Destination bishes.


Roeder, R., Onosson, S., & D’Arcy, A. (2018). Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria. Journal of English Linguistics,46(2), 87-112. doi:10.1177/0075424217753987

Roeder, Rebecca & Onosson, Sky & D’Arcy, Alexandra. (2015). Simultaneous innovation and conservation: Unpacking Victoria’s vowels.

Boberg, C. (2008). Standard Canadian English. Standards of English,159-178. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139023832.009
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Maybe it’s a grime [t]ing: TH-stopping among urban British youth

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how identity is something that we perform. I was introduced to this idea through my exploration of the Iggy Azalea’s persona and performance for my first Linguabishes post (here). It was my first glimpse at the tricky area of identity research. Not dissimilar from code-switching, your identity performance at work is probably super different from the one you perform to your bishes. Identity can change from context to context and it depends on your audience.

Identity is complex and luckily it evolves. Imagine if you were currently performing your identity from age 15.

In Rob Drummond’s recent paper, “Maybe it’s a grime [t]ing: TH-stopping among urban British youth” he cites Bucholtz & Hall’s (2010:19–25) five principles of identity. The gist of which is that identities are not fully-formed, they’re not explicitly conceived, and they’re dynamic.

Adolescence is a time of emerging identities. One way teens attempt to craft their identities is by emulating their role models. Maybe you were Spice Girls fan in 1997 and tried out your first British accent, or an emo Avril Lavigne fan in 2002 and decided to go out and get a bunch of eyeliner. These would both be conscious attempts to appear to be in the same group or have a similar identity as your role models, but remember identity performance isn’t always a conscious choice.

When Drummond was working on the UrBEn-ID (Urban British English and Identity) Project in Manchester (the one in the UK, ok bishes?), he noticed something interesting about 4 students who liked a specific kind of music: they performed TH-stopping some of the time.

TH-stopping is pronouncing a voiceless th as a t, like ‘thing’ as ‘ting’. While less uncommon than  its voiced sister, DH-stopping, (pronouncing ‘them’ as ‘dem’), it occurs in many English varieties including West Indian Englishes and Creoles, Jamaican Creole, British Creole, Irish English, and Liverpudlian. It is also associated with AAE, so in it can be found in Hip-Hop and Grime.

Have you heard of Grime? It’s a type of music born out of early 2000’s East London. Think Fix up, Look Sharp. Grime, like Hip-Hop is rooted in urban black culture, but blooming out of East London, it is also cross-racial using a multiethnolect, an ethnically neutral dialect, called Multicultural London English (MLE). More on that (in search of a Multicultural Urban British English (MUBE)).

A lot of previous work has looked at the language-ethnicity link. Does language reflect ethnicity? Or is it a social performance of ethnicity? I guess no one’s really all that sure, but in this specific case, Drummond found that ethnicity was most definitely not a factor.

While most research that looks at identities of adolescents is in mainstream schools like Eckert’s research, the adolescents in this study were four boys outside of the mainstream education system. They attended a specialized learning center that was designed for students who didn’t fit into the mainstream system for a variety of reasons. The study took place over 2 years and had 25 participants, but TH-stopping was in such limited use that only these 4 boys stood out. To find out why they were TH-stopping they look at a whole bunch of different variables including sex, ethnicity, speech context, musical tastes, age, and a bunch more. Which variable stood out may surprise you…

While context was a significant factor (meaning that in a mock job interview TH-stopping didn’t occur), the biggest variable turned out to be music, but not reported taste in music. Specifically, it was whether the subject was observed to be rapping in class. For the 3 out of the 4 boys, rapping is almost a feature of speech since they regularly slip in and out of it during conversation.

The 4 boys used TH-stopping in conversations where they were trying to show ingroup status with the street, urban, tough culture embodied by Grime. One example is a conversation they had about a mutual acquaintance who was about to get out of jail. They were each trying to show that this person was a friend of theirs. They each in turn referred to him as a tief (for ‘thief’). Another example is of a different boy who in the context of discussing his favorite Grime artist does not TH-stop and then self-corrects in order to use it.

Drummond concludes that among the subjects in this study TH-stopping is not a marker of ethnicity, but a part identity performance. It is a “linguistic resource” that helps align them with a general sense of tough or street culture embodied by grime.

 

 

And just to be clear, it’s not like listening to this type of music has caused their dialects to change. It’s that in order to show that they live in the Grime world, they occasionally stop a TH and perform in-groupedness. This is the major take-away. That and the fact that ethnicity as a concept is not a meaningful mechanism for grouping people.

This should be taken into account in future studies that attempt to link identity and language.

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Drummond, Rob. “Maybe Its a Grime [t]Ing: Th-Stopping among Urban British Youth.” Language in Society, vol. 47, no. 02, 2018, pp. 171–196., doi:10.1017/s0047404517000999.

Eckert, Penelope. “Linguistic Variation as Social Practice: The Linguistic Construction of Identity in Belten High (Review).” Language, vol. 77, no. 3, 2001, pp. 575–577., doi:10.1353/lan.2001.0193

 

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‘First things first, Im the realest’: Linguistic appropriation, white privilege, and the hip-hop persona of Iggy Azalea

Although Iggy Azalea’s infamous demise makes her a dated reference for cultural appropriation,  Maeve Eberhardt and Kara Freeman’s thorough linguistic analysis in this paper is incredibly relevant in 2018. Just because Azalea went away certainly doesn’t mean ignorance and privilege did. Considering the number of white artists currently successfully monetizing hip-hop and black culture, I thought it was a good time to look at performance, persona, and linguistic blackface.

Eberhardt and Freeman provide a description of the state of white artists in hip-hop. They point out that since hip-hop’s popularity is global, white people now comprise the majority of listeners. However, their participation in the industry (and consequent success) has led to a lot of distrust from the hip-hop community. There have been many white rappers who have successfully avoided minstrelsy and mimicry by staying true to their own language backgrounds. These are artists who do not try to prove their validity as members of the hip-hop community.

Eberhardt and Freeman point out, for example, that the Beastie Boys had a specific high pitch and tonal quality that marked their whiteness and Eminem frequently refers to being white and only uses the linguistic features he grew up with. In short, while these artists may use normal code-switching, they never completely cross over into linguistic varieties from groups they don’t belong to.

Many white users of African American English (AAE) perform isolated linguistic forms, but ignore AAE’s grammatical rules. It’s Eberhardt and Freeman’s opinion that at best, an I be like here or a saucin’ there, when not commodified, isn’t a big deal, but at worst, it supports the racist status quo in the United States and is no different from the original blackface minstrels who perpetuated negative black stereotypes.

Remember Vanilla Ice? He created a fake “ghetto” background in order to endear himself to the hip-hop community. That was crossing and so was Azalea’s stage persona. Being not only white, but also Australian, she tried to flash her blaccent like a VIP member card. Ultimately though, it was rejected.

Azalea seems to be vying more for approval from the hip-hop community than most.

Freeman and Eberhardt’s study looked at Azalea’s entire discography of five albums from 2011-2014. The lyrics of all 48 songs were compared to her language use in five radio interviews.

They found a number of linguistic features in Azalea’s raps that show a near-native proficiency in AAE. She uses more forms than out-group speakers typically are able to gain from popular media alone. This sets her apart from other white artists who use AAE features. Meghan Trainor or Miley Cyrus, for example, dot their performances with just a few isolated features, but don’t use full native-like sentences. To Eberhardt and Freeman Azalea seems to be vying more for approval from the hip-hop community than most.

Phonologically, the features in Azalea’s music are consistent with southern US rap like her mentor, T.I. She performs morphosyntactic features like the habitual be (“My chat room be popping”), which white performers rarely use successfully, like a native speaker. On top of that, she not only uses current popular slang, but also more permanent non-regional lexical items like finna, grown, and thick to name a few.

One striking feature of Azalea’s performances is her copular absence, also an AAE feature. Compared to four other artists (3 black and 1 white) her copular absence is the second highest. The lowest is Eminem, despite growing up in the US with exposure to AAE. Azalea, who lived in Australia until she was 16 years old and only had mediated access to AAE in her childhood, uses copular absence at a comparable rate to the black rappers analyzed.

Figure 1 – Comparison of copula absence among five artists’ lyrics

 

In interviews, however, she has no copula absence. While it is not uncommon for rappers to code-switch between their musical performances and their radio interviews, Azalea goes further completely crossing from being a native speaker of AAE in music and a native speaker of Australian English in interviews.

Figure 2 – Comparison of copula absence among five artists’ interview speech

 

Beyond her blaccent, the content of her lyrics promotes many stereotypes including hyper-sexuality. When black women declare their bodies attractive, it subverts societal beauty standards. When Azalea, as the accepted archetype of beauty does this, she does not subvert standards, but supports them. In one interview she declares “everybody loves a pretty white girl” in admission of the fact that her appearance was not an obstacle to her success in hop-hop. Oh ya, she also has a lyric about being a slave master. Statements like this show that she is completely unaware of the importance of race in the US.

The linguistic analysis done by Freeman and Eberhardt revealed that Azalea’s mimicry of AAE exceeded that of black rappers. She overshot her attempt to appear authentic and completely missed the point. Using a fake accent to rap about tired stereotypes instead of her own personal experiences was inauthentic and ultimately led to her demise.

My major takeaway is that Iggy Azalea’s “overzealousness” as Eberhardt and Freeman put it, made her stand out from a crowd of artists who appropriate in smaller units. It’s easy to recognize when someone takes black cultural wholesale, but this paper is a good reminder to watch out for those who may be slipping just under the radar. To be sure, there are white girls appropriating black culture all around us.

This article is great for phonology bishes, dialectology bishes, and sociolinguistics bishes


 

Eberhardt, M., & Freeman, K. (2015). ‘First things first, Im the realest’: Linguistic appropriation, white privilege, and the hip-hop persona of Iggy Azalea. Journal of Sociolinguistics,19(3), 303-327. doi:10.1111/josl.12128

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