1.1 Martha´s Vineyard – where old traditions are still of value
Martha´s Vineyard is a small island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, USA. The island has a permanent population of about 6000 inhabitants. It is separated from the mainland by the Atlantic Ocean and there are no big businesses or any McDonald to be found on the island. Here, life is not as hectic as on the mainland and old traditions are still of value. The inhabitants have a way of showing their connection and dedication to their homeland, which is also a way of identifying themselves.
This term paper will be about sound changes in connection with social identity. I will examine the innovative study of language variation and change in the islands community, observed and examined by William Labov (1963). I will analyze and discuss the study made by Labov.
Labov´s study is based on the characteristic sound pattern discovered while listening to the inhabitants of Martha´s Vineyard. This sound change has a focus on the centralization of diphthongs. Centralization is the phonological change in which a vowel becomes more central than normal (Lawrence Trask 2000 : 53). Diphthong is a vowel sound which is pronounced by quickly moving from one vowel position to another (Deckert, Vickers 2011 : 33).
The sound changes made by inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard, observed by Labov were: /ay/ as in fight, right and sight and /aw/ as in loud and about.
Labov´s observations exposed that the centralized diphthongs only occurred in a particular linguistic context. Some groups used the sound change more than others. The group of fishermen was among these. Labov also observed that some inhabitants purposely did not pronounce the diphthongs differently to people from the mainland.
Having looked at different social factors, as for example, age, ethnic group and occupation it became obvious that the attitude towards the island was an essential aspect to explain this phenomenon. The decision whether or not to use the island or the mainland pronunciation depended the attitude towards Martha’s Vineyard, whether or not being positive or negative. Labov named this phenomenon “island identity” (1963).
To understand what “island identity” is it is important to define the term “identity”. What is identity and how do we identify ourselves? Can there be a connection between identity and speech? In this term paper I will attempt to answer these questions.
2.0 The study, sociolinguistic pattern and meaning
2.1 Background knowledge
Martha’s Vineyard is divided into two parts, which are the up-island and the down-island. By the time Labov made this study, the island had approximately 6000 inhabitants. The majority lived in an area of the down-island which contains of three small towns, called Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The remaining inhabitants lived in the rural up-island area with only a few villages (Labov 1972: 5).
The inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard were divided into four major ethnic groups. The main group was the descendants of old families with English origin. The second major group was descendants of Portuguese origin who migrated from the Azores and the Cap Verde Islands. The third group was descendants of remnant native Americans. The last group consists of inhabitants of various origins, who were of no relevance for this study (Labov 1972: 6). Another group became relevant for this study. This was the group of summer visitors who came in large groups in June and July. There would be around 42.000 visitors on the island every summer (Labov 1972: 6).
It could be a possibility that the summer visitors brought the sound change from the mainland to the island, which would mean that this group would have the major influence on the pronunciation of the diphthongs /ay/ and /aw/ but it becomes clear that the influence of visitors are not as obvious as it might seem, since Labov only...
Bibliography: Deckert, Sharon K.; Vickers, Caroline H. An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. 2011. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Labov, William. Sociolinguistic Patterns. 1972. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Langenscheidt. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. 2006
Meyerhoff, Miriam. Introducing Sociolinguistics. 2006. Abingdon: Routledge
Trask, Robert Lawrence. The Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. 2000. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd
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