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.