While the retraction of trap is found throughout the American West, it is primarily associated with California and supposed Californian values in both the popular media and the ears of Californian listeners. This study investigates the local construction of meaning for a supralocal sound change by examining perceptions of trap backing in Kansas, a locale that has also undergone front lax vowel retraction. Thirty-five college students heard matched-guise stimuli differing only by trap F2, guessed speakers’ regional origin, and rated speakers on 14 affective scales. Listeners associated trap backing with California (despite local participation in the sound shift) and general prestige. The authors suggest that this association with general prestige may help to explain the presence of this vowel shift in Kansas despite considerable ideological differences with California. They argue that these results highlight the interaction between local construction of meaning and broader national discourses for a sound change: while stereotypical associations with a sound change can spread rapidly through means like popular media, stance and identity associations are constructed at the local level.
Local Meanings for Supralocal Change: Perceptions of TRAP Backing in Kansas
DAN VILLARREAL is associate professor of linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh. His work uses computational methods to investigate language variation and social meanings. His research on the social meanings of the California Vowel Shift has recently appeared in the Journal of English Linguistics and Speech of the Western States, vol. 1, The Coastal States (PADS 101; Duke Univ. Press, 2016). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARY KOHN is an associate professor in English at Kansas State University, where she directs the Chapman Center for Rural Studies and the Kansas Speaks Project. Her work examines regional and social variation with a focus on the Great Plains region. Her monograph, The Way I Communicate Changes But How I Speak Don’t: A Longitudinal Perspective on Adolescent Language Variation and Change (PADS 99; Duke Univ. Press, 2014), examines lifespan change among African American adolescents. Email: email@example.com.
Dan Villarreal, Mary Kohn; Local Meanings for Supralocal Change: Perceptions of TRAP Backing in Kansas. American Speech 1 February 2021; 96 (1): 45–77. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8186897
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