Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Globalisation versus internal development: the reverse short front vowel shift in South African English

By Alida Chevalier


The South African Chain Shift involved the raising of the short front vowels KIT, DRESS and TRAP when compared to Received Pronunciation (Lass & Wright 1986). This raising wasparticularly evident in the speech of middle class white speakers of South African English, as well as coloured speakers in the Cape. Recent scholarship has suggested that this raising is being reversed in the speech of young white South Africans. In particular, Bekker and Eley(2007) and Bekker (2009) report the lowering and retraction of TRAP. Mesthrie (2012a)reports not only the lowering and retraction of TRAP, but also the lowering of KIT and DRESS. In addition, scholars such as Mesthrie (2010) have found post-segregation deracialisation of middle class South African English. This thesis therefore investigates the extent to which the reversal of the older South African Chain Shift exists in the speech of white and black middle class South Africans from Cape Town. It furthermore explores the potential merger between TRAP~STRUT and KIT~DRESS. In so doing, 53 participants in sociolinguistic interviews are reported on. The Forced Alignment and Vowel Extraction Toolkit was utilised for formant measurement and extraction. Statistical testing via R was performed, including linear mixed-effects modelling, random forest analyses, conditional inference trees, Euclidean Distance measures, Welch's Two Sample t-tests and Pillai Scores. The analysis finds evidence of the reversal of the South African Chain Shift in the speech of participants under the age of 30. In particular, speakers aged between 18 and 25 participate the most in lowering KIT, DRESS and TRAP. Moreover, the short front vowels are retracting in the speech of younger Capetonians, indicating that within the process of vowel lowering, further innovation occurs via vowel retraction. The Reverse Vowel Shift is found to be a combination of push and pull chains: the fronting of FOOT causes the lowering of KIT, and the lowering of TRAP causes the lowering of DRESS. The retraction of TRAP furthermore causes the backing and raising of STRUT, such that an anti-clockwise rotation of the short front vowels (barring LOT) is evidenced in South African English. The Reverse Vowel Shift evident in Cape Town is similar to trends observed in California, Canada, southeast England, Ireland and Australia. This illustrates the effects of globalisation on English in South Africa, though internal motivations are also responsible

Topics: Linguistics
Publisher: Linguistics
Year: 2016
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.