Corpus studies of regional variation using raw language data from the internet focus predominantly on lexical variables in writing. However, online repositories such as YouTube offer the possibility of investigating regional differences using phonological variables, as well. This article demonstrates the viability of constructing a naturalistic speech corpus for sociophonetic research by analyzing hundreds of recitations of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. We first replicate a known result of phonetic research, namely, that English vowels are longer in duration before voiced obstruents than before voiceless ones. We then compare /æ/-tensing in recitations from the Inland North and New York City dialect regions. Results indicate that there are significant regional differences in the formant trajectory of the vowel, even in identical phonetic environments (e.g., before nasal codas). This calls into question the uniformity of “/æ/-tensing” as a cross-dialectal phenomenon in American English. We contend that the analysis of spoken data from social media can and should supplement traditional methods in dialectology and variationist analysis to generate new hypotheses about socially conditioned speech patterns.
The Gettysburg Corpus: Testing the Proposition That All Tense /æ/s Are Created Equal
isaac l. bleaman is assistant professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. His research uses the toolkit of variationist sociolinguistics to assess the outcomes of language maintenance, language shift, and standardization, especially in Yiddish-speaking communities. Much of his work analyzes written and spoken data from online media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
daniel duncan is lecturer in sociolinguistics at Newcastle University. His research concerns the sociolinguistics of place, particularly the effects of suburbanization and public policy on language variation and change in metropolitan areas. Recent work of his has appeared In Journal of Linguistic Geography and Language in Society. Email: email@example.com.
Isaac L. Bleaman, Daniel Duncan; The Gettysburg Corpus: Testing the Proposition That All Tense /æ/s Are Created Equal. American Speech 1 May 2021; 96 (2): 161–191. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8620511
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