Committee Chair: Gregory R. Guy
Committee Members: John V. Singler, Lisa Davidson, Adamantios Gafos, Gerry Docherty
How do speakers who move to a new dialect region acquire features of the new dialect? Social factors surely affect this process; for example, the degree to which a speaker wishes to align with the new community will modulate how features associated with that community are acquired. However, linguistic factors - the form of phonological representations, their malleability, and the processes that manipulate them to yield surface forms - must also constrain the types of variation and change available to the individual speaker. This dissertation sets out the predictions made by generative phonology and usage-based phonology regarding how such change should occur, and uses second dialect acquisition data to test these predictions.
The study draws its data from sociolinguistic interviews with mobile adults who acquired their native dialect of English in Canada and later moved to the New York City region. It focuses on the linguistic and social factors affecting acquisition of two phonological variables which differ across these two regions: the cot/caught distinction and height of (aw) in Canadian Raising environments. A sociophonetic analysis of these variables was undertaken to determine whether each speaker has acquired New York-like realizations of these vowels, and whether this acquisition seemed to be occurring on a lexically gradual basis. The relationship between these features across speakers was also examined.
Several findings emerge from this study. Most of the speakers in the sample have acquired a cot/caught distinction after years spent in the New York region, but maintain a raised (aw) nucleus, especially in salient lexical items such as "about"; however, both features show evidence of phonetically and lexically gradual shift as predicted by usage- based theory. A positive correlation was found between degree of cot/caught distinction and degree of Canadian Raising: those speakers with the greatest distance between cot and caught words are also those who exhibit the most raised (aw) diphthongs. I argue that these findings support a model in which phonological representations are both phonetically rich and linked to social labels, and propose the addition of a new parameter to the model which accounts for the correlation between the two features.