Modeling phonological variation in multidialectal Italy

Christopher Cieri, University of Pennsylvania


Although there exists an acknowledged Standard Italian, both taught in the educational system and used as a medium of instruction, dialects remain in vigorous use in Italy; many Italians can claim at least passive knowledge of one or more. Regional Italian, the variety spoken natively by most Italians, actively takes Standard Italian as its model but varies from place to place where the lexicon and phonology of both local and regional dialects have an impact. One observes variation in the speech of individuals that has been labeled: performance error or free variation, attributed to dialect mixing or creolization and acknowledged as an inherent property of language. This study evaluates the generality of the approach that acknowledges inherent variation by applying it to a situation characterized by long standing dialect contact, the Regional Italian of Central Italy, in particular of the city of L'Aquila. L'Aquila sits near a dialect boundary and acts as a local center of attraction. To understand the interaction of dialect and Standard, we sketch the linguistic history of Italy and current structure of Italian and local dialects. We also describe the speech community in detail. Our analysis of Regional Italian is based upon sociolinguistic interviews of 35 Aquilani, selected from a total of 75. The interviews were completely transcribed, time aligned and sampled by computer to ensure that tokens of stressed vowels were balanced across linguistic and social environments. The tokens selected were analyzed acoustically to measure the first three formants at a position in the vowel that captured its central tendency. First formant measurements were then analyzed statistically to identify different groupings of observations and correlate them with linguistic and extralinguistic factors. We find that /e/ and /o/ Height are stable sociolinguistic markers where residents of the city center and members of higher socioeconomic classes use higher variants and that /ϵ/ and /(open o)/ Lowering are changes in progress, lead by young women, that have the effect of increasing the distance in phonological space between the open and closed mid vowels.

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Recommended Citation

Cieri, Christopher, "Modeling phonological variation in multidialectal Italy" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3165657.