Place Identity

One of my current research projects can be summed up by something I tweeted this morning:

A sociophonetician is the kind of linguist who cares about BOTH kinds of place identity.

I’ve been invited to speak in a couple months from now at the OSU Department of Linguistics’ Spring Symposium, “Locating Language: A Symposium on the Linguistics of Place.” Their description makes it immediately clear that by place they mean a social and geographical meaning of place:

A speaker’s hometown, birthplace, neighborhood, region, or country may be key, if not primary, factors in their self-identity…

The project that I plan to present at OSU builds on a talk I gave at least year’s Sociolinguistics Symposium, “Narratives of social change as predictors of sound change.” In brief, I show how a statistical model of back vowel pronunciation can be improved by adding a new quantitative variable that represents the way people think about their neighborhood (a neighborhood that’s undergone tremendous social change, allowing for a number of very different but equally valid ways people might think about it). Although this new variable it related to how old a person is and what ethnicity a person is, it’s not an exact fit, and so it accounts for variation in the data even above and beyond those other social factors.

But as I write up this research, I’m struck (as I think a lot of sociophoneticians are) about the messiness of using the word place in a paper like this, because it’s other meaning in linguistics: place of articulation. I’m writing  about back vowels — vowels that are typically pronounced in the back of the mouth. And one of the most important factors to put in a statistical model like this is where in the mouth the consonants are pronounced that appear on either side of the vowel being studying. If they’re also produced in the back of the mouth, then the vowel next to it is more likely going to also be pronounced further in the back of the mouth than the same vowel when it appears next to consonants with a place of articulation that’s further front (compare the words “tote” and “coal”).

For fun, click on this image for a link to a video of my articulators, changing place:

an fMRI image of Lauren's articulators in resting position

an fMRI image of Lauren’s articulators in resting position

(Image and video courtesy of Queen Margaret University’s CASL Research Centre & Ultrax)

Anyway, the point being that both of these uses of place might also be called place identity. It just depends on if you’re talking about the identity of the phoneme or the identity of the person.

About vocalised

http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~lhlew/index.html
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One Response to Place Identity

  1. vocalised says:

    P.S. After some thought, I’ve actually decided to speak on something totally different at OSU, so stay tuned for more details on that.🙂 And, for two videos that are both a million times cooler than the one I posted above, check out the LanguageLog’s recent coverage: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4464

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