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Public PhD Dissertation Defense: Jaime Benheim - High school choice and the social meanings of sound change in Chicago

When: Thursday, May 25, 2023
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM CT

Where: Cresap Laboratory, 101, 2021 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Talant Abdykairov  

Group: Linguistics Department

Category: Academic


As sound changes unfold across geographical space, their progress is unevenly distributed across local communities within that region, who may be more or less advanced in the change. For features undergoing sound change, a speaker’s use of more or less conservative productions can signal their orientation towards or away from the social meanings associated with those features. This talk examines how the associations that speakers make between phonetic variables and social meanings contribute to ongoing linguistic change, as well as how macro-level (region-wide) sound change relates to micro-level (within-community) social concerns. In Study 1, I discuss the results of a matched guise task aimed at eliciting Chicago-area adolescents’ social evaluations of features undergoing sound change among white Chicagoans (the Northern Cities Vowel Shift), finding that more conservative variants are associated with lower perceived socioeconomic status. In Study 2, I consider how these same features are recruited by white adolescents in production. Despite social evaluations linking these features with low SES, the type of high school a speaker attends is a better predictor of production of these vowels than socioeconomic background. Taken together, I argue that, at the micro level, high school choice socializes adolescents into understandings of their own positionalities within the broader social and linguistic landscape, and that macro-level sound change over time involves adapting existing feature-meaning links to meet new social circumstances.

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