Variation in /u/ fronting in the American Midwest


Previous research has suggested that a greater degree of social indexing of gender, race, and regional background is produced in linguistic contexts that promote phonetic reduction. The goal of the current study was to explore this hypothesis through an examination of the realization of an ongoing sound change in the American Midwest—/u/ fronting—as a function of four linguistic factors that contribute to phonetic reduction: lexical frequency, phonological neighborhood density, discourse mention, and speaking style. The results revealed minimal effects of the linguistic factors on the degree of /u/ fronting among talkers with greater overall advancement in the /u/ fronting change-in-progress, suggesting that the process of /u/ fronting is nearing completion among some American Midwesterners. However, the results also revealed more /u/ fronting in plain laboratory speech than in clear laboratory speech and in low-frequency, low-density words than in low-frequency, high-density words among talkers with lower overall advancement in the /u/ fronting change-in-progress. The directions of these effects are consistent with the hypothesis that social indexing is greater in reduction-promoting contexts. Further, the relative sizes of these effects suggest that speaking style contributes more to variability in social indexing than lexical properties, such as frequency and neighborhood density.



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The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America



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