Seattle to Spokane: mapping perceptions of English in Washington state
Department of Linguistics
University of Washington
Friday, January 7, 2011
Mary Gates Hall, Room 241
The Sociolinguistic description of English as it is spoken in Washington (WA) state has received very little attention. Recently, the Atlas of North American English (Labov, Ash, Boberg 2006) has suggested that there is too much variation in English in WA state for a pattern to emerge. Wassink, Squizzero, Schirra and Conn (2009), however, report finding consistent patterns of front vowel raising in Seattle, providing detailed evidence that sociolinguistic patterning of English does exist in WA state. The purpose of the study reported here was to ascertain what perceptions long-time residents of WA state have of the English spoken in the state through a perceptual account of variation in the English of WA state. This paper reports the results from 232 WA residents who were asked to draw on a map of WA state (Preston and Howe 1987) to indicate places where they think people’s English sounds different and give a label for that variety. In an effort to take advantage of new tools available to cultural geographers, respondents’ hand-drawn maps were analyzed and compared using ArcGIS 9.0. Geographic Information System software. This software allows for the respondent maps to be quantitatively aggregated. Some residents (n=15) did report that they perceive no difference among speakers in WA (e.g. “people born and raised in Washington do not have accents”), suggesting a homogenous dialect area. The resulting composite maps show, however, that the majority do perceive differences among speakers in WA. Rural and urban differences were among the most salient perceptions. Urban areas were labeled as “fast”, “slang” while rural areas were labeled as “hick”/ “country”. This perceptual account of variation in the English of WA state, in conjunction with detailed acoustic analyses such as that of Wassink et al. (2009) will contribute to our understanding of the cultural and dialect variation in this under-studied state.
Labov, W., Ash, S. and Boberg, C. 2006. The Atlas of North American English : phonetics, phonology, and sound change. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Preston, D. R. and Howe, G. 1987. Computerized studies of mental dialect maps. In K. Denning, S. Inkelas, F.C. McNair-Knox, and J. Rickford (Eds.) Variation in Language: NWAV-XV at Stanford (pp.361-78). Stanford CA: Stanford University Department of Linguistics.
Wassink, A., Squizzero, R., Schirra, R. and Conn, J. 2009. Effects of Gender and Style on Fronting and Raising of /æ/, /e:/ and /ɛ/ before /g/ in Seattle English. Presentation at New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference, Ottawa, Canada.
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