Sociolinguistics Lunch: Jennifer Nycz (Georgetown University)

OCT 25, 2019 | 2:00 PM TO 4:00 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




October 25, 2019: 2:00 PM-4:00 PM




Jennifer Nycz (Georgetown University) presents:

                                              Dialects on the Move:
                      What Second Dialect Acquisition Can Reveal About
                    People, Vowel Systems, and Change Over the Lifespan

You don't need linguistics training to observe that people sometimes change their accent after moving to a new region, adjusting their speech to become more similar to that of the ambient dialect. But for understanding the details of how and why such changes happen - which sounds shift and which stay put, what linguistic factors favor or disfavor change, and the social motivations underlying these patterns - the linguist's diverse theoretical and methodological toolkit is a valuable resource. In this talk I will argue that studies of accent change due to mobility (a.k.a "second dialect acquisition") can also speak to key questions in sociophonetics and contribute to phonological debates. I'll also discuss some of the methodological issues that arise in the study of accent change over the lifespan, and ways to address them.

To illustrate these points, I will present findings from an analysis of the speech of Toronto, Ontario natives who moved to New York City as adults and have been living there for at least five years. I'll focus on two aspects of their vowel systems - status of the COT/CAUGHT distinction, and realization of vowels implicated in the Canadian Shift - and paint a (somewhat paradoxical) picture of phonetically and lexically gradient dialect change occurring against a backdrop of structural stability. Finally, I'll discuss what these findings suggest regarding the coherence of vowel systems in the face of changing input, and sketch some avenues for future research.