Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Linguistics

First Advisor

William Labov

Abstract

This dissertation examines the interaction between a social variable, higher education, and the linguistic variables which constitute local dialects. It draws on literature in both sociolinguistics and the sociology of education to propose a reformulation of the education variable which recognizes the ways in which the social meaning of education has changed over time. Two case studies are presented which examine the effect this new education variable has in ongoing local sound changes. The first uses data from the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus to study the extent to which Philadelphians with differing educational backgrounds have maintained local dialect features over the past century, while the second uses the Raleigh Corpus to study education's role in the reversal of the Southern Vowel Shift.

The results of these two studies are explained with reference to the social salience of the features which show stratification according to education. I argue that data from previous sociolinguistic perception studies as well as new data regarding attitudes towards the local dialects show that speakers with elite educational backgrounds are avoiding only the most stereotypical and negatively-evaluated local features, while participating fully in the rest of the local system. This result has significant implications for future work, as it shows that social evaluation does not simply arise in response to linguistic innovation, but may also act in turn as a driving force behind linguistic change.

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