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An acoustic sociophonetic study of three London vowels

By Miho Kamata


The thesis presents an empirical socio-phonetic investigation of the acoustics of the three short vowels in the DRESS, TRAP and STRUT lexical sets (Wells 1982) in London. The vowels have been reported by a number of phoneticians and variationists to have shifted in particular\ud directions in Received Pronunciatioin (RP) and London English during the course of the 20th century; the directions of the movements, however, seem to be rather complicated. Moreover, there have been relatively fewer instrumental studies for these vowels in London. The main\ud purpose of this research, therefore, is to provide detailed patterns of recent vowel shifts involving these three vowels in London English in relation to internal and external factors.\ud \ud Acknowledging RP and Cockney as referential accents on a multidimensional accent continuum in London, it is presumed that Londoners closer to the upper and lower ends of social continuum are distinguished as `London Upper Middle Class (UMC)' speakers and `London Working Class (WC)' speakers respectively. Social class classification is made on the basis of speakers' occupational information.\ud \ud The application of the vowel formant normalisation technique called S-procedure (Watt & Fabricius 2002) allows direct visual and statistical comparisons for multiple speakers regardless of their physical differences. Investigations are made not only by traditional descriptions of relative placements of vowels in a visual two-dimensional FI /F2 vowel space but also by a recent\ud innovative `angle and Euclidean distance calculations' procedure (Fabricius 2007) with thorough statistical analyses.\ud \ud Results show complicated but interesting correlations between the movements of these vowels and the social and phonological characteristics. One of the most interesting findings is an ongoing vowel change process called 'TRAP/STRUT rotation' (Fabricius 2006: 3,2007: 310) among (female) London UMC speakers who show a well progressed anticlockwise chain shift involving DRESS, TRAP and STRUT, whereas there is no evidence for this process among London WC speakers who show a rather moderate vowel shift involving only TRAP and DRESS. In this respect, the most innovative group is discussed to be the female young London UMC speakers, followed by the male young London UMC speakers as far as the data in the current study are concerned. The finding of a clear difference between two different accent groups in the realisations of the vowels is discussed to suggest a correlation between social class and accent variation in London, as well as to enhance the validity of occupation as a single indicator for people's social class. Observing a great number of general and minute patterns from the statistical results, the thesis attempts to provide possible explanations for the vowel changes in London, as well as extends its discussions for possible implications with regard to internal and external\ud factors.\ud \u

Publisher: School of Languages Cultures and Societies (Leeds)
Year: 2008
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