University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


The present paper examines the role of children in the propagation of chain shifts. Males and females in three age groups, children (6-11), teens (13-15), and parents, are compared to determine which age and sex group is the most advanced in an ongoing chain shift in standard Canadian English: the Canadian Shift (CS) (Clarke, Elms and Youssef 1995, Labov, Ash and Boberg 2006). The CS minimally consists of the successive lowering and/or backing of the front lax vowels /æ/ and /e/. It will be seen that children, in particular girls, appear to demonstrate vowels significantly lower than teens and parents, indicating that the principles of chain shifting are active from a young age. Teens’ vowel means are backer but not significantly different from parents'. Sex differences apparent in the group of children indicate that the social factors proposed to be instrumental in chain shift advancement among teens and adults are equally relevant to children. However, a secondary examination of the Canadian Raising diphthongs reveals children fail to lead ongoing changes on the F2 dimension. This suggests that children’s vowels may be subject to a type of formant-specific age-grading, possibly as a result of differing vocal tract dimensions (Lee, Potamianos and Narayanan 1999). As a result of these maturational factors, it is suggested that children’s highly shifted vowels are not in their final positions, making their lead a temporary one. Instead, teens are probably more accurate indicators of CS pace and trajectory.