PhD Alumni

Ingrid Rosenfelder Freiburg

Sociophonetic variation in educated Jamaican English
An analysis of the spoken component of ICE-Jamaica

ErstbetreuerProf. Dr. Dr. h. c. Christian Mair
ZweitbetreuerProf. Dr. Bernd Kortmann

As one of the largest and most influential speech communities of the region, Jamaica has been the focus of more linguistic research than most other Caribbean speech communities. However, most of this research has traditionally been devoted to the study of Jamaican Creole, a variety that is maximally distinct from standard metropolitan varieties of English and thus of considerable interest for linguistic research. Acrolectal Jamaican English, on the other hand, for a long time was assumed to be identical or near-identical with British English, which has constituted the historical linguistic norm for Jamaica due to the island's past as a former British colony. Thus, although differences to British English were often acknowledged in descriptions of acrolectal Jamaican English, they were typically only mentioned in passing and were never elaborated or investigated in further detail.

Recent studies of the acrolectal end of the Jamaican creole continuum, most notably Shields (1989) and Mair (2002a), have argued that following Jamaica's political independence from Britain in 1962, a change in language attitudes has taken place, which has lead to greater public acceptance of local forms of (Jamaican Creole) speech and to a concomitant change in notions of "correctness" or "standardness", i.e. changing norms for what is considered to be educated Jamaican English. The emergent local standard of English in Jamaica has been shown to differ from standard metropolitan varieties of English both on the lexical and morphosyntactic, as well as on the phonetic and phonological level (Shields 1989, Sand 1999, Mair 2002a; Irvine 2004; Deuber 2009; Jantos 2010a, 2010b). Besides influence from Jamaican Creole, other factors mentioned in these studies as influential in the shaping of the emergent Jamaican standard are American English, which has been repeatedly described as increasingly influential in the region, as well as independent developments (Mair 2002a).

The present dissertation aims to contribute to this emerging body of research by investigating in further detail the phonetics and phonology of the Jamaican acrolect.
Using as a data base the Jamaican component of the International Corpus of English (ICE), the dissertation examines sociophonetic variation in educated (acrolectal) Jamaican English across speakers from different stylistic text categories and age groups with respect to three selected variables: rhoticity and "linking /r/", both of which are highly variable in Jamaican English, as well as the phonetic realization and phonological patterning of the low and mid vowels. The aim of the study is to investigate whether there is evidence for an emerging local standard, to provide a more detailed description of the phonetic and phonological properties of this standard, and to assess the relative influence of competing factors conditioning phonetic and phonological variation.

The results show that both rhoticity and "linking /r/" exhibit a high degree of variability in educated Jamaican English, contradicting traditional characterizations of this variety as predominantly rhotic. Although rhoticity is primarily influenced by phonetic and phonological factors, it is also subject to stylistic variation in the form of text categories, which are assumed to roughly correlate with the level of formality of the speech situation. In the domain of the vowels, Jamaican Creole and British English clearly constitute the two dominant influences. Vowels in educated Jamaican English will be shown to vary in their phonetic realization along a continuum between these two varieties, depending on the degree of formality of the speech situation. An exception to these findings is the phonetic realization of the STRUT vowel, which does not exhibit stylistic variation and can thus be considered to constitute a stable feature of the emergent local Jamaican standard. In the light of these findings, American influence on the phonetics and phonology of the emergent Jamaican standard seems highly improbable, especially in the domain of the vowel system, although it cannot be completely dismissed with regard to rhoticity. By contrast, evidence for an emerging, distinctly local standard can be found in the fact that educated Jamaican English differs vastly from other varieties of English with regard to both rhoticity and linking /r/, as well as in the phonetic realization of the vowels investigated.


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