Date of Award

8-2001

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Speech and Hearing Science

Major Professor

Dr. Lori A. Swanson

Committee Members

Dr. Mary L. Erickson, Dr. Peter Flipsen, Jr., Dr. Stephen Handel, Dr. Pearl A. Payne

Abstract

Appalachian English (AppE) is a relic dialect, until recently considered to be resistant to change due to the relative isolation of its speakers. AppE may have become an “endangered dialect,” much in the same manner as other insular dialects such as those spoken on Ocracoke Island, Smith Island, and the Sea Islands (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 1995; Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 1998). The purpose of this investigation was to answer two research questions: (1) Are there significant cross-generational differences in the production of eight selected vowels during conversational speech, and (2) Are there significant cross-generational differences in the degree to which speakers style shift as the speech task becomes progressively more formal?

Ten families of three generations (G1, G2, and G3) of native adult speakers of AppE living in a remote community of upper East Tennessee participated in the study: G1 (between the ages of 70 to 90), G2 (between the ages of 44 to 55), and G3 (between the ages of 22 to 32). Each individual engaged in two types of conversation: a “breathless narrative” and monitored conversation, to determine the amount of AppE present by generation. Each participant also performed three constructed tasks: (1) reading task; (2) sentence-completion task; and (3) minimal pairs word task, to determine the degree to which style shifting occurs toward Southern American English (SAE), after Labov (1981).

For Research Question One, a significant two-way interaction was found between generation and vowel (p < .05). Significant differences were found between G1 and G2 for five of the vowels, and between G1 and G3 for three of the vowels, but no differences were found between G2 and G3. For Research Question Two, a significant three-way interaction was found between generation, condition, and vowel (p < .05). Pairwise comparisons between tasks showed the following: (1) for G1, significant differences in the direction of SAE for 11 pairs of tasks among four vowels; (2) for G2, significant differences in the direction of SAE for four pairs of tasks among three vowels; and (3) for G3, significant differences in the direction of SAE for 11 pairs of tasks among three vowels. The style-shifting differences in the direction of SAE were statistically significant (p < .05) for G1, but not for G2 and G3.

These findings indicate that change in the relic dialect of AppE across three generations in this community was detectable, suggesting that a shift toward the “American Standard” of English may be in progress. The quantity and direction of the changes in AppE indicate a need for continued investigation as the decline in AppE dialect is expected to progress (Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 1995), and perhaps accelerate. The benefits of such research serve not only the people who are speakers of AppE dialect, but also the educators who teach them, the speech-language professionals who diagnose and treat their speech and language disorders, and the linguistic scholars who seek to validate the legacy of Appalachian English through its oral history, regional literature, and other educational issues of relevance.

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