Over the last 50 years, a great deal of sociolinguistic research has focused on phonetic/phonological variables in African American Language (AAL), with postvocalic r-lessness often treated as one of the canonical features of AAL. Using data from the Corpus of Regional African American Language (CORAAL), Support Vector Machines (SVMs) were used to assess how vowel-like or/r/-like postvocalic/r/tokens are in CORAAL. The decision value, an output from the SVM, is used to examine postvocalic/r/-lessness in terms of social class and gender. Findings indicate that this r-lessness shows no statistically significant differences for gender in CORAAL but does pattern significantly differently across social class groups. This methodology gives continuous values for a feature that scholars know is gradient, giving researchers a tool to approach postvocalic r-lessness in a more time efficient and replicable manner, while also providing insight into the distribution of a classic sociolinguistic feature in Washington, D.C., AAL.
Corpus-Based Sociophonetic Approaches to Postvocalic R-Lessness in African American Language
JASON MCLARTY is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon; much of his work focuses on prosodic production and perception differences between African American Language and European American English varieties. He has helped design and implement the website, Online Resources for African American Language (ORAAL), which houses the Corpus of Regional African American Language (CORAAL). ORAAL is a publicly oriented interface designed to appeal to public users (such as K–12 students, families, and other nonlinguists), with supporting contextual and educational information about AAL. In addition to work on African American Language, he has examined language variation and change in Oregonian English. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAYLOR JONES is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Much of his research is on topics in African American Language, camouflage constructions, and cross-dialect comprehension. His dissertation research is on regional variation in the vowel system of AAL. He also works on Mandarin, Farsi, and Zulu. Email: email@example.com.
CHRISTOPHER HALL is a linguist and a consultant with CulturePoint. Originally trained at the University of Rochester, focusing on Romance languages, he now has a primary research focus on sociophonetics, morphosyntax, and identity construction in African American Language. N-word use in AAL, identity construction and stance through AAL accent, and perceptions of AAL as prestige variant in minority communities in Harlem and the Bronx are among his recent research projects. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason McLarty, Taylor Jones, Christopher Hall; Corpus-Based Sociophonetic Approaches to Postvocalic R-Lessness in African American Language. American Speech 1 February 2019; 94 (1): 91–109. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-7362239
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