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Variation and Change in Hawaii Creole Vowels

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Item Summary

Title: Variation and Change in Hawaii Creole Vowels
Authors: Grama, James
Keywords: Hawaiʻi Creole
Issue Date: May 2015
Publisher: [Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2015]
Abstract: This dissertation presents an acoustic phonetic examination of the vowel systems of 32 Hawaiʻi Creole speakers with special attention paid to how these vowel realizations have changed across time, gender, phonological context, and the number of Hawaiʻi Creole morpho-syntactic features exhibited by speakers. This research was motivated by an interest in two questions in creole and variationist linguistics: how does Hawaiʻi Creole differ from its main lexifier language, English; and how has the language changed over time?
To address these questions, vowel data was taken from existing sociolinguistic interviews archived in Kaipuleohone at the University of Hawaiʻi. The analyzed speakers come from two corpora conducted at different points in time: one conducted in the 1970s, and one conducted in the 2000s; 16 speakers from each corpus were analyzed, and these speakers were evenly distributed across age and gender. The first two formants and the duration of 11,191 vowels in fourteen vowel classes were analyzed from spontaneous speech produced during these interviews.
Analysis revealed that the vowel spaces of speakers recorded in the 1970s vary significantly with respect to the vowel spaces of speakers recorded in the 2000s. 1970s speakers show substantial spectral overlap between high front vowels /i/ and /ɪ/, and overlap between the high back vowels /u/ and /ʊ/. 1970s speakers are also more likely to realize low vowels /a/ and /ʌ/ as spectrally overlapped and distinct from /ɔ/, which is realized as higher and backer in the vowel space. While each of these vowel classes exhibits significant spectral overlap, each is differentiated by vowel length for all age groups, suggesting that Hawaiʻi Creole (at least for speakers sampled in the 1970s) exhibits contrastive vowel length. By contrast, 2000s speakers realize /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ as distinct in spectral space from /i/ and /u/, respectively, and the low back vowels /a/ and /ʌ/ are less overlapping in spectral space for the youngest age group. 2000s speakers also realize /ɔ/ as fronter in comparison to older speakers. 2000s speakers also exhibit a number of other differences with respect to 1970s speakers, including lower and backer realizations of /æ/, fronter realizations of /e/ and /i/, fronter realizations of the high back vowels /u/ and /ʊ/, and higher realizations of the nucleus of /ai/.
Despite the number of changes that manifest between 1970s speakers and 2000s speakers, few differences in vowel realizations arise across gender. Over time, only /a/ and the nucleus of /au/ raise for females but not males. Females also exhibit slightly lower variants of /ɪ/ and more similar realizations of /a/ and /ɔ/ than males. That relatively few differences arise across gender in Hawaiʻi Creole is noteworthy, especially since English (the main lexifier language for Hawaiʻi Creole and a language with which Hawaiʻi Creole is in heavy contact) exhibits many differences across gender in terms of vowel realizations.
Many phonological effects were also identified, including, for example, that Hawaiʻi Creole speakers exhibit a complete merger of /ɛ/ on /æ/ before /l/. Hawaiʻi Creole speakers also exhibit fronter realizations of /u/ following coronal consonants, and a resistance to the fronting of /ɔ/ before /l/. Speakers also show slight differences in /æ/ before nasals, but do not show the same degree of difference as is evident in some English varieties (e.g., California or New York; see, e.g., Eckert 2008 and Labov et al. 2006). Hawaiʻi Creole speakers also show evidence of a split between long and short /a/ (reminiscent of the TRAP-BATH split; see Wells 1982), suggesting that this split existed in the English spoken during Hawaiʻi Creole’s formation.
Variation in vowel formant frequencies for speakers recorded in the 2000s was also conditioned by whether that speaker exhibited a higher number of Pidgin morpho-syntactic markers. Speakers who used more Pidgin morpho-syntax in their interviews exhibited more conservative vowel realizations than speakers who exhibited fewer Pidgin morpho-syntactic features. For example, speakers who exhibited high rates of Pidgin morpho-syntax were more likely to exhibit more overlapping realizations of /ɪ, i/, /ʊ, u/, and /ʌ, a/, and less overlapping realizations of /a/ and /ɔ/.
Taken together, these findings provide evidence that the vowel space of Hawaiʻi Creole speakers has changed substantially over time; many of these changes have caused Hawaiʻi Creole vowel spaces to approximate English vowel spaces. However, younger speakers of Hawaiʻi Creole who exhibit higher rates of Hawaiʻi Creole morpho-syntactic markers are more resistant to these changes. Together, findings from this study help characterize and describe the vowel system of Hawaiʻi Creole and how it has changed over time, as well as contributing to an understanding of how creoles interact at a structural level with their main lexifier language over time.
Description: Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections:Ph.D. - Linguistics

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