The effect of geographic mobility on the retention of a local dialect

David Franklin Bowie, University of Pennsylvania


Several studies have demonstrated that there is a “critical period” for language acquisition ending at some point approaching puberty, beyond which language acquisition can occur only imperfectly. Other studies, primarily focusing on adolescents, have also found that this concept applies to second dialect acquisition in situations of dialect contact. Even so, little is known about the mechanisms underlying the linguistic changes that can occur in dialect contact situations. This is an important question particularly because it is such a common situation—adults are, for example, faced with constant exposure to a second dialect if they move away from where they acquired their native dialect. This study investigates this issue by comparing the linguistic perception and production of two groups of individuals, one made up of individuals who have lived in the same town their entire lives and the other made up of individuals who grew up in that town but moved away as adults. The results of sociolinguistic interviews and commutation tests are used to determine the extent to which the adult emigrants from the community gained or lost features of their native dialect, or accommodated to their new dialect. The investigation finds that adult migrants do make changes in their linguistic production and perception upon constant exposure to a second dialect, though not all features prove susceptible to change. The changes the individuals make involve both accommodations to the new dialects they are surrounded by as well as changes that do not involve such accommodation. The major generalization drawn from the data is that the linguistic features that are most susceptible to change in dialect contact situations are those features that are undergoing change in the individuals' native dialect. This result has direct applications in the field of dialectology and the speech recognition industry, as both of these fields can benefit from a deeper knowledge of the sorts of “hybridized” dialect systems than can result from dialect contact.

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Recommended Citation

Bowie, David Franklin, "The effect of geographic mobility on the retention of a local dialect" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9965448.