Portland Dialect Study: The Story of /æ/ in Portland

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Conn, Jeffrey C.
Portland State University Library
English language -- Variation -- Oregon -- Portland; English language -- Oregon -- Portland -- Dialectology; Sociolinguistics -- Oregon -- Portland; Linguistic change; Applied Linguistics; First and Second Language Acquisition; Morphology
report description
This study reports on the hypothesized raising of the low, front vowel /æ/, which is characteristic of a regional dialect vowel shift found in cities of the Midwest and Eastern North of the United States. The raising of this vowel is the primary change in a series of vowel shifts that have traditionally been attributed to this region of the U.S. The purpose of this study is to document the production of this vowel by residents of Portland, Oregon, in order to see what light it can shed on dialect research of the Pacific Northwest, especially across age groups to see if it can be implicated in language change.Data were collected by interviewing a convenience sample of twenty-four Portland speakers. Twelve females and twelve males from three different age groupings were interviewed. The interviews were tape recorded and portions of the tapes were analyzed. There was a two-part analysis of the data: 1) Formant measurements (in Hz) were measured with PCQuirer speech analysis software, 2) These measurements were plotted on a graph with Plotnik graphing software.The study found that /æ/ produced by Portland speakers is not following Labov's theory of language change and is therefore not raising. However, some initial speculations of the lowering and fronting of this vowel can be made by the data. The study found that the working class subjects produced a more fronted vowel, and that the younger subjects produced a more fronted and lowered variant of the vowel when compared to the other subjects. The study concludes that the patterns found do not clearly support Labov's paradigm of language change and are therefore only initial speculations.