Han Hu, Tuesday 9 June, 16.00-17.00h

The Sociophonetics of New Dialect Formation

Rhoticity Patterns in Beijing Mandarin

Britain (1997) and Britain & Trudgill (2005) demonstrated that due to social and geographical changes (in the English Fens area, in the East of England), phonetic and other features of contact dialects in previously unpassable areas (in the case of the Fens; drained marshland) can be refunctionalised through contact-induced reallocation. This may lead to the formation of a new dialect with a combination of features that distinguish it from both or all of its donor dialects. In Beijing, something similar is taking place, but in a more urban setting. Due to large–scale migration, various incoming dialects come into contact with each other in city neighborhoods and work places. Speakers not from this city adopt features of the Beijing dialect and come into contact with other non-native speakers of this city’s dialect. In addition, they come into contact with native speakers of Beijing Mandarin. Beijing rhoticity in particular is a characteristic feature of Beijing Mandarin, and the newcomers often adopt this salient articulatory feature.

It is widely believed that social changes, like urbanization, have an impact on language variation and change (Meyerhoff 2011, Xu 2006). Nowadays, Beijing witnesses radical and profound social changes in the process of urbanization. The Chinese sociolinguist, Daming Xu, proposed theories on Linguistic Urbanization and Speech Community in an urban setting (Xu 2004, 2006). His suggestion is that new speech communities and new dialects are formed in the process of urbanization, and that urban language surveys should be conducted to lay bare newly formed speech communities. The current research on the adoption (or not) of Beijing rhoticity in an urban setting can be viewed in the light of Xu’s theories.

Rhoticity has always intrigued linguists, due to its diversity in articulation, effect on the previous vowel, salience in perception, and its sensitivity to various types of prestige. In Beijing Mandarin, rhotic vowels are extensively applied to many nouns and some verb/adjectives (Lin, 2006). However, there is evidence that Beijing Mandarin is no longer what it used to be, due to the inflow of immigration and expansion of city size (Peng, 2006).

The present study is a sociophonetic investigation into the rhotic variation in Beijing Mandarin. It tries to map out the degree and nature of adoption of Beijing rhoticity amongst non-native speakers. The phonetic features of Beijing rhoticity as well as its possible variants will be described. The resultant variants will be mapped sociolinguistically by correlating them with an array of features, for instance ambition and native dialect.

Sun Lei, Tuesday 17 March, 16.00-17.00h

Post-focus in Shanghai Chinese

It is well-known that effective speech communication does not only depend on what the speaker is saying, but also the way how he is saying. Take (1) & (2) for example. In (1), the speaker wants to emphasize the fruit Mary bought is an apple not an orange, “apple” would be produced with more prominence. In (2), if the speaker needs to testify that Mary did not steal an apple, but she bought one, the speaker would produce the verb “bought” with more prominence while “apple” in this case would be produced with less prominent as given information. The way how the speaker packages information differently is called information structure. Focus is one of information structure notions. In the examples, to correct wrong information, the speaker produces focused words with high prominence and the same words with less prominence at the post-focus position and such a way is commonly recognized as prosodic encoding of information structure notions.

(1)   Mary bought an orange in the supermarket.

Mary bought an APPLE in the supermarket.

(2)   Mary stole an apple in the supermarket.

Mary BOUGHT an apple in the supermarket.

Much work has been done on how information structure notions are prosodically encoded in languages (Baumann, Grice & Steindamm, 2006; Ishihara & Fe!ry, 2006; Xu, 1997; Chen, 2010). In Chinese languages, pitch range manipulation has been long considered an important strategy of realizing focus: focus expands the pitch range of focused constituents and suppresses the pitch range of post-focused constituents while keeping that of pre-focus words largely intact (Xu, 1999). However, in recent years, a few studies have shown that pitch range compression is not a reliable cue for tonal realization in the post-focus condition as pitch range expansion is also found in some cases. Therefore, an alternative view holds that both post-focus compression and expansion belong to the multifaceted realizations of the weak implementation of post-focus tonal targets, which results from their non-prominent position in prosodic structure (Chen, 2010). To test this hypothesis, an experiment was done to investigate how prosodic realizations of post-focus constituents are constrained by prosodic structure in Shanghai Chinese, a tonal language which is not intelligible with Standard Chinese. We have found that in this language post-focus f0 realizations were absent at the level of Prosodic Word and at the higher level of Phonological Phase pitch range was expanded in some cases and only pitch register lowering was consistently found. We tentatively concluded that pitch register lowering is a phrasal marker in Shanghai Chinese and post-focus realization is constrained by prosodic structure.

Yifei Bi, Tuesday 14 October, 4.00-5 pm

The interaction between word and sentence prosody: a case study of Dalian Mandarin

Dalian, a seaside city locates at the northeast of China, is only 938km away from the capital, Beijing. Dalian Mandarin belongs to Jiao-liao dialect, which is reported has an interesting but unclear tonal near-merged phenomenon in the literature. Take the ambiguous lexical prosody and the undeveloped natural-spoken sentential prosody in this dialect into consideration; studies aim to have a clear idea of the two levels of prosody, also investigate the interaction between them. I am now focusing on the part of lexical level prosody; especially pay attention to the merged or near-merged tonal phenomenon from various aspects, such as generations, word frequency and so on as first step.

Kate Bellamy, Tuesday 30 September, 4.00-5 pm

The lexicon of metallurgy: A means for investigating the linguistic past of Purépecha

Purépecha, spoken by around 110,000 people in Michoacán, West Mexico, has long been considered a language isolate. Of the unsuccessful attempts to find its linguistic relatives, Swadesh’s proposal linking Purépecha to Quechua is perhaps the most suggestive since it lends support to the pre-Columbian relations between cultures of West Mexico and South America found in the archaeological record. The most convincing of these connections is metallurgy, a technology that was transferred from the Pacific coast of South America (Ecuador) to West Mexico from 600AD onwards. Through a comparative study of the lexical domain of metallurgy, its materials, processes and tools, I am testing the hypothesis that there was contact, possibly even leading to genetic (linguistic) relatedness, between the peoples and languages of these two regions, with a focus on Purépecha.

Morana Lukac, Tuesday 28 January, 4.00-5 pm

Linguistic attitudes in the media

In the absence of an English Academy in the UK, a linguistic complaint tradition arose which has served an important function in preserving the standard language ideology. My research, which is embedded in the Bridging the Unbridgeable project on prescriptivism in the English language, deals with linguistic complaints made by language pedants who regularly try to label certain usage features as ‘bad’ or ‘incorrect’, such as double negation, the split infinitive, dangling participles, etc. The argumentation strategies and the diachronic changes in the complaint tradition are identified in a specialized corpus of letters to the editor. In this presentation I describe the process of data collection and annotation, the results I obtained so far and the challenges I encountered in dealing with large-scale corpora.

Amanda Post da Silveira, Thursday 05 December, 4.00-5 pm

Maltese speakers of English – bilingualism or L2? An eye-tracking experiment testing the allophonic /t/ – /Ө/ representation of “th” in Maltese English

This study was done in collaboration with Prof. Holger Mitterer (Malta University) as result of my training in eye-tracking techniques applied to the investigation of (second) language acquisition and processing. English is one of the official languages in Malta for about 150 years and the natives from the island are understood to be Maltese-English bilinguals. However, some orthographic and phonological processes in Maltese English distinguish it from standard British English. Our main question is: is British English an L2 or a dialect for Maltese speakers? In order to start a range of investigations on this matter, we selected a clear grapheme-to-phoneme transfer in Maltese English: the realization of orthographic “th”, which seems to be allophonic between /t/ and / Ө/. Based on evidence from our eye-tracking – visual world paradigm – experiment and a production experiment, we observed that most Maltese English speakers (Maltese-English bilinguals) do not produce or perceive the distinction /t/ and /Ө/, independently of their English proficiency. These results add evidence to characterize the English variety spoken in Malta as a distinct English dialect.