Cross-generational change in /l/ in Chicano English
The acoustic study of consonants has lagged considerably behind that of vowels. While a robust literature exists about vowel shifting, vowel quality, and the sociolinguistic significance of vowels, comparable literature is lacking for the acoustic quality of liquids. This study seeks to supplement the acoustic studies of vowels by analyzing characteristics of the liquid /l/ in its word-initial context. Traditionally, phonologists have subdivided /l/ into two allophones: dark and light, although current analysis has characterized these distinctions as gradient, not discrete. Word-initial /l/ is thought to be the canonically lightest variant of the phoneme, but cross-dialectal research has shown great acoustic variance in its phonetic realization. This case study aims to trace the phoneme through three generations of Chicano English speakers from South Texas, and to draw conclusions about how its variation among speakers and generations can shed light on other sociolinguistic phenomena, such as the persistence of substrate features from Spanish (with its characteristically light /l/s) or assimilation into mainstream American English dialects (with their characteristically dark /l/s). The study shows that there is indeed significant shift in the lightness of /l/ — independent of phonetic context — across the generations of speakers under examination. This result supports other studies that show notable assimilation with Anglo English varieties in earlier generations, but robust use of ethnically-marked phonological features among recent generations.
Published online: 25 September 2009
Cited by 24 other publications
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