Contemporary Canadian English, at least Middle class, urban varieties, are both homogeneous and relatively standard (Chambers 2010); however, rural areas are diverse (e.g., Tagliamonte & Jankowski 2019). The founding populations in the mid to late 1800’s came from Britain and Europe resulting in innumerable peripheral settlements with diverse ancestral mixtures, built up around rich farming lands, mineral deposits or dense forests. One such community is Marmora and Lake, Ontario (pop. 4,074), a place with predominately British founders and a mixed farming/mining economy up until the late 20th century. In May 2019 we collected 39 sociolinguistic interviews from local families with deep ancestral roots in the area. These materials are rich in well-known dialect features, including preterit ‘come’, zero relative pronouns and others; however, among the most striking features is the use of zero articles (cf. de Swart & Zwarts 2009). Praat analyses confirm that these zero articles are not simply due to phonetic reduction and analysis of the zero variants exposes several trends. Among the oldest members of the population, the incidence of zero articles is relatively frequent, especially among men, a typical pattern for dialect obsolescence. In addition to phonetic conditioning, consistent with definite article reduction at earlier times (Nykiel 2015), the data also show a strong effect of information status, consistent with patterns for the zero definite article in York, England (Rupp and Tagliamonte 2019). Older individuals use zero articles across more contexts compared to younger ones, suggesting systemic adjustments in an evolving grammatical system. We argue that the use of the zero articles in Marmora reflects an earlier stage in the history of both the definite and indefinite article in English. We also consider cultural changes and psychological impacts from personal commentaries to highlight the importance of considering social context of the speech community in the study of obsolescing dialect features. This research demonstrates that rural Ontario offers key insight into the earlier stages and current state of development of dialects of North America.
Where have all the articles gone? The use of zero articles in Marmora and Lake, Ontario
Lauren Bigelow is a PhD student in the Linguistics Department at the University of Toronto. Her research focusses on the intersection of language and identity amongst rural oriented individuals in Northern Ontario, Canada.
Sali A. Tagliamonte is Canada Research Chair in Language Variation and Change and a Full Professor and Chair of the Linguistics Department at the University of Toronto. She is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America. Her research focusses on morph-syntactic and discourse-pragmatic features using cross-community comparisons and apparent time to explore linguistic change. She has authored six books and is the editor of the monograph series, Studies in Language Variation and Change, published by Cambridge University Press.
Lauren Bigelow, Sali A. Tagliamonte; Where have all the articles gone? The use of zero articles in Marmora and Lake, Ontario. American Speech 2022; doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-9940676
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