Seth Weiss

Topics: American English, English phonology, Rhotic and non-rhotic accents Pages: 5 (1008 words) Published: May 20, 2013
Seth Weiss

Presence or Absence of the Rhotic [r] Sound in the Speech of New Yorkers vs. Upstate New Yorkers.

Sociolinguists have drawn American Dialect Region maps for years. Distinctions between varieties of English spoken throughout the country have been marked based on the processes known as dialect leveling, contact, and isolation, in addition to the varying points of origin of those who immigrated to the USA, and their migration patterns westward. According to one such map (Labov et al. 2006), there is a rather large area called the Inland North region, which basically stretches, from the eastern edge of the Great Lakes to the western edge. There is a much smaller area on the map simply labeled: NYC. This is obviously a single region assigned to the unique and diverse linguistic qualities of those who reside in the Big Apple.

This paper will focus on the phonological differences in pronunciation by individuals from both of these previously mentioned Dialect Regions. More specifically, the different phonological pronunciations by individuals born and raised in the Upstate/Western New York portion of the Inland North region, from Labov’s American Dialect region map, and individuals hailing from the greater NYC metropolitan area will be compared and contrasted, focusing on a specific sound. This specific sound is the English /r/. According to Gerard Van Herk, rhotic is a term used to describe English dialects in which the /r/ following a vowel is pronounced. Also known as r-ful, (What is Sociolinguistics? 2012). Final consonant “r-fulness” will be examined in the speech of the research subjects.

Is there really noticeable geographical variation in relation to pronunciation? If so, do these geographical variations in pronunciation have an underlying cultural significance? Is education or some other social factor, such as the rural vs. urban landscapes associated with either region a major reason for these varying pronunciations?

It is my Hypothesis that speakers of the Inland North Region tend to pronounce the /r/ sound in English, regardless of its position in a word. Thus, I believe that the Inland North Dialect Region will prove to be rhotic. Meanwhile, many speakers of the NYC Region tend to leave it out of their pronunciations when the /r/ is in a post-vocalic position in a word. Every stereotypical depiction of New Yorkers in film and television does indeed involve such a speech habit. I expect to find this to hold true with my research. Conclusions will be drawn based on the results, in relation to cultural differences between the two regions.

Two individuals from both the NYC Dialect Region and the Inland North Dialect Region will be the subjects of the research. They are all Caucasian males in their early twenties, ranging from 21-22 years of age. All subjects are current college students. Both subjects from the Inland North Region are from Syracuse, NY. Both of the other subjects were born and raised in NYC.

In order to conduct this research I recorded each of my subjects reading a list of predetermined words containing the post-vocalic /r/, within a sentence or phrase. I simply instructed them to read each sentence or phrase as they would in a casual conversation. Each subject read the same exact sentences, in the same exact order. The various words that were read consisted of the following: hour, butter, higher, air, whatever, care, water, door, far, & hair. These words are all the last word in the sentence or phrase. I selected these words based on their possession of the final, post-vocalic, consonant sounds. Although the Standard English pronunciation differs in each word due to the adjacent vowel, it is present in every word.

Here are the sentences that were read by my subjects in the exact order that they were read(only the italicized words are being analyzed):

* There’s nothing better than fresh air.
* I’ll be there...
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