2 2 2-9 2016

Has Barack Obama Changed his Language in Later Life? A Case Study of -ing/-in Variation and the MOUTH Vowel

Xinyun Lei, Siqi Liu

Abstract


This paper aims to explore whether individual speakers can change their language at the phonological level across their lifespan, especially after the critical period, by conducting a longitudinal study on U.S. President Barack Obama at three time points in his middle years: 1995 (age 34), 2008 (age 47), and 2014 (age 53). The two phonological variants -ing/-in  and the /aw/ vowel were investigated. Our data were collected from three formal TV interviews with Barack Obama, available on YouTube. We transcribed the first 14– 17 minutes of each interview as our research samples. A quantitative analysis was conducted on word-final -ing/-in  and the F1 and F2 of /aw/ by employing Multivariate Analysis and a Fisher’s Exact Test.  As Obama identifies with being an African American, he is expected to use the alveolar variant at a higher rate than the velar nasal. However, according to our results for -ing/-in , Obama shows almost no change in our data. This could be accounted for by his occupations, including that of lecturer and president, requiring the use of the standard language as well as by the stability of the variables -ing/-in  themselves. However, in contrast to previous findings that -ing  tends to be favoured in nouns, while -in  is preferred in verbs (Wagner 2012b), our research showed no such preference, possibly because of the relatively formal speech style. As for Obama’s  /aw/ vowel, the data reveal a dramatic change in both lowering and fronting from age 34 to 47, while no difference is found between the ages of 47 and 53. Geographical relocation and social mobility could account for this linguistic change. To conclude, these patterns indicate the possibilities of individuals changing their language across their lifespan; and several motivating factors, such as geographical and social class mobility, style of speech, and accommodation, tend to affect the courses of the change.


Keywords


lifespan change; intraspeaker variation; sociolinguistics, US English

Full Text:

PDF

References


Anshen, Frank S. 1969. Speech variation among negroes in a small southern community. Doctoral dissertation, New York University.

Bailey, Guy, Tom Wikle, Jan Tillery, and Lori Sand. 1991. The apparent time construct. Language Variation and Change 3(3): 241–64.

Baranowski, Maciej. 2008. The fronting of the back upgliding vowels in Charleston, South Carolina. Language Variation and Change 20(3):527–551.

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Luc Boltanski. 1975. Le fétichisme de la langue. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 1(4):2–32.

Chambers, Jack K. 2003. Sociolinguistic Theory. London: Blackwell.

Cofer, Thomas. 1972. Linguistic Variability in a Philadelphia Speech Community. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Eckert, Penelope. 1997. Age as a sociolinguistic variable. In The Handbook of Sociolinguistics, ed. F. Coulmas, 151–167. Oxford: Blackwell.

ELAN. n.d. [Computer program]. Accessed 15 February 2016, URL http://tla.mpi.nl/tools/tla-tools/elan/

FAVE. n.d. Forced Alignment & Vowel Extraction (FAVE) [Computer program]. Accessed 15 February 2016, URL http://fave.ling.upenn.edu/

Fischer, John L. 1958. Social influence on the choice of a linguistic variant. Word 14:47–56.

Fruehwald, Josef. 2011. HandCoder Praat script [Computer program]. Accessed 15 February 2016, URL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/JoFrhwld/FAAV/master/praat/handCoder.praat

Houston, Ann. 1985. Continuity and change in English morphology: The variable (ING). Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Johnson, Daniel E. 2015. Rbrul [Computer program]. Accessed 15 February 2016, URL http://www.danielezrajohnson.com/rbrul.html

Kohn, Mary E. 2014. Stable systems and lifetime change: A comparison across linguistic subsystems. American Speech 89:123–143.

Labov, William. 1963. The social motivation of a sound change. Word 19:273–309.

Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Labov, William. 1978. On the use of the present to explain the past. In Readings in Historical Phonology, ed. P. Baldi and R. Werth, 275–312. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change: Internal Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.

Labov, William. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.

Labov, William. 2006[1996]. The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Labov, William. 2011. Principles of Linguistic Change: Cognitive and Cultural Factors. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Labov, William. 2012. Dialect Diversity in America: The Politics of Language Change. London: University of Virginia Press.

Labov, William. 2014. The role of African Americans in Philadelphia sound change. Language Variation and Change 26:1–19.

Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg. 2005. The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Lenneberg, Eric H., Noam Chomsky, and Otto Marx. 1967. Biological Foundations of Language. New York: Wiley.

Nevalainen, Terttu. 1998. Social mobility and the decline of multiple negation in Early Modern English. In Advances in English Historical Linguistics, ed. J. Fisiak and M. Krygier, 263–91. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Payne, Arvilla. 1976. The acquisition of the phonological system of a second dialect. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Sankoff, Gillian. 2004. Adolescents, young adults and the critical period: Two case studies from ‘Seven Up’. In Sociolinguistic Variation: Critical reflections, ed. C. Fought, 121–39. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sankoff, Gillian. 2005. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics. In Sociolinguistics: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, ed. P. Trudgill, 1003–1013. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Schleef, Erik, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Lynn Clark. 2011. Teenagers’ acquisition of variation: A comparison of locally-born and migrant teens’ realisation of English (ing) in Edinburgh and London. English World-Wide 32(2):206–236.

Trudgill, Peter. 1972. Sex, covert prestige and linguistic change in the urban British English context. Language in Society 1(2):179–95.

Trudgill, Peter. 1974. The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wagner, Susan E. 2012a. Age grading in sociolinguistic theory. Language and Linguistics Compass, 6(6):371–382.

Wagner, Susan E. 2012b. Real-time evidence for age grad(ing) in late adolescence. Language Variation and Change, 24(2):179–202.

Wells, J. C. 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woods, Howard. 1978. A socio-dialectal survey of the English spoken in Ottawa: A study of sociolinguistic and stylistic variation. Doctoral dissertation, University of Ottawa.




DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/ls.v2i2.2016.1608

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


ISSN 2057-1720 (Online)