Phonetic detail anf the study of language evaluation

Nancy Anne Niedzielski

Rice University, USA

WS133: The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions

In this presentation I show that manipulating the perceived social categories of speakers can effect listeners' perception of linguistic variants even at the lowest phonetic level. Based on a region of the United States where the Northern Cities Shift has progressed rapidly, Niedzielski 1999 provided evidence for this phenomenon. By using resynthesized tokens of phoneitic variants, it was found that listeners reported the perception of variants stereotyped to a particular region only if they thought that the speaker was from that region -- and not if they thouhght she was not -- even if the speaker used the variant in question. Furthermore, listeners did not perceive nonstandard variants of chain-shifted vowels if they thought that the speaker was from their own region, because (as language attitudes work in this region has revealed) the listeners do not recognize these nonstandard variants in their own variety.

Several additional studies using resynthesized phonetic tokens have provided further evidence for this. To illustrate, Hay, Nolan and Drager 2006 showed that the same result obtained by manipulating the perceived regional affiliation of speakers as either Australian or New Zealander. Recent work in Texas is showing that in a region where the Southern Cities Shift is retreating, manipulating the perceived age of a speaker has an effect on whether listeners perceive stereotyped Southern features in speakers' varieties.

Such work suggests that listeners take into account what they believe about speakers' varieties, and that these beliefs then affect their perceptions of the speakers' language varieties, even at the phonetic level.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 08