University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


The current study examined whether religious affiliation in Utah County, Utah affected the production of several vowel mergers typical of the area (i.e., fell-fail, pool-pole-pull,card-cord). To do so, we asked self-identified members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and self-identified non-Mormons to produce these vowel contrasts. Next, three naïve raters trained in phonetics but unfamiliar with how English is spoken in Utah were asked to judge which of the two vowels in a vowel pair contrast was produced by the speakers. Findings demonstrated clear evidence of differences based on self-described religious affiliation for several of the vowel mergers (hot-caught, pin-pen, bag-beg, fail-fell, and pool-pull-pole), in that those who self-described as Mormons who actively participate in religious activities exhibited significantly different linguistic behavior from those who self-described as non-Mormons. Most interestingly, though, we found that even when both groups merged two vowels in a vowel pair (hot-caught) they did so in ways slightly different from each other. From all this, we conclude that religions that require a high time commitment of their members facilitate the development of social networks based on religious affiliation, leading to linguistic differences between adherents and non-adherents. Therefore, we urge sociolinguists to investigate religious affiliation as a possible social factor in their studies of communities, particularly when a religion in the community requires a large involvement of time on the part of its members.