University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


Across the continent, many Native American and Canadian First Nations people are linguistically constructing a shared ethnic identity through English dialect features. Although many tribes and regions have their own localized English features (e.g., Leap 1993, Bowie et al. 2013, Dannenberg and Wolfram 1998, Coggshall 2008), we suggest that certain features may be shared across much wider distances, particularly prosodic features. Our study is based on cultural insiders’ research, analysis, and interpretation of data recorded in Native communities on Standing Rock Reservation, Northwest Territories, Canada, and among the Native community at Dartmouth (Hanover, New Hampshire). By investigating speakers from diverse tribes and regions, we find evidence that Native identity is indexed to English prosodic features: contour pitch accent (L*+H), high-rising, mid, or high-falling terminals, lengthened utterance-final syllables, and syllable timing. In this way, modern Native Americans are using English, a foreign language, to construct a shared ethnic identity across vast distances.