Ethnolectal and community change ov(er) time: Word-final (er) in Australian English

James Grama, Catherine Travis, Simon Gonzalez Ochoa

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Increased global migration to international urban centres has motivated a growing interest in ethnolects and the role migrant communities play in language variation and change. Here, we consider ethnolectal variation in real and apparent time, by examining the realization of word-final (er) (e.g. teacher, remember) in Australian English. We capitalize on sociolinguistic interview data collected by Barbara Horvath in Sydney in the 1970s as a benchmark against which to compare newly collected recordings with Sydneysiders in the 2010s. Approximately 15,000 tokens of word-final (er) were extracted from the speech of nearly 200 people, including Anglo-Australians, and second-generation migrants of Italian, Greek and Chinese background. Acoustic analyses of vowel duration and position in the vowel space reveal incremental lengthening with concomitant lowering and backing over time for (er), though only in prosodically final position. This change was led by Greek and Italian teenagers in the 1970s, then taken up by working class women, and today, has been adopted across the community. Tracking this change in real and apparent time provides evidence that ethnolectal features may be adopted by the wider community, with ethnic minorities playing a leading role in language change.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)346-368
    JournalAustralian Journal of Linguistics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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