Changing sounds in a changing city? A real-time study of Glaswegian /u/

Stuart-Smith, Jane and Rathcke, Tamara and Timmins, Claire (2012) Changing sounds in a changing city? A real-time study of Glaswegian /u/. In: Sociolinguistics Symposium, 2012-08-21 - 2012-08-24.

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Attempting to understand the mechanisms behind language change has been at the heart of variationist sociolinguistics since the earliest studies (Labov 1963). However there remains a tension within variationist research since the majority of empirical research on language change in progress has been on apparent-time change; real-time studies are still relatively unusual (Sankoff 2006). Recent research has demonstrated change in progress in the high back vowels in several varieties of English (e.g. Standard Southern British English, e.g. Harrington 2007; American English, Labov, Ash and Boberg 2006; New Zealand English, Maclagan et al 2009). The direction of the change seems to be fronting towards /i/ in the acoustic vowel space. In SSBE, real-time data shows that the change has been taking place over the last fifty years (Harrington 2007). The situation for Scottish English seems to be different from that of other varieties of English. Particularly in the vernacular, /u/ (a single lexical set, BOOT, corresponding to English English GOOSE and FOOT), has been reported to be fronted, and/or central in the vowel space, from auditory accounts since before the Second World War (McAllister 1938, Macaulay 1977, Johnston and Speitel 1983). Recent investigations of Scottish English in the Eastern Central Belt suggests that /u/ is fronted and lowered, and that the tongue position is as front as that of front vowels /i/ and /e/ (Scobbie 2011). The intriguing question is whether this may reflect a real-time process of fronting, i.e. whether there has also been any change in the acoustic realization of the Scottish English vowel over the past 30 years. We present the first results from a new variationist study of real-time change in Scottish English vernacular in Glasgow. The corpus for the real-time project consists of existing sociolinguistic and oral history recordings from young, middle, and old, male and female, speakers recorded over four decades, from the 1970s to the 2000s. Here we concentrate on presenting real-time data from young and middle-aged speakers recorded in the 1970s and 2000s. The recordings from 2000s were made for the Glasgow Media Project (Stuart-Smith 2006), and consist of spontaneous conversations from self-selected pairs of speakers. Those from the 1970s are from sociolinguistic interviews between fieldworker and informant (Macaulay 1977). All tokens of /u/ were extracted, including both Standard Scottish English items and those belonging to the Scots variable set OUT (e.g. SSE out, Scots oot). Instances of /i/ and /a/ were counterbalanced with /u/ for phonetic context and lexical item. Static measures of the first three formants were taken from the middle of the vowel, and normalization by taking the log of Bark-transformed measures (Harrington and Cassidy 1999) allowed comparison of speakers across time points. Our results suggest that in contrast to the rather substantial changes in the quality of the high back vowels south of the Border, in Scottish vernacular only rather slight shifts in fronting and lowering have taken place over the past 30 years. The changes are discussed with respect to segmental and prosodic context and the distinctive Scots lexicon.


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