Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

William Labov


This dissertation investigates the pathways and causes of the development of glide

deletion in Seoul Korean. Seoul provides fertile ground for studies of linguistic

innovation in an urban setting since it has seen rapid historical, social and demographic

changes in the twentieth century. The phenomenon under investigation is the variable

deletion of the labiovelar glide /w/ found to be on the rise in Seoul Korean (Silva, 1991;

Kang, 1997). I present two studies addressing variation and change at two different

levels: a corpus study tracking the development of /w/-deletion at the phonological

level and an articulatory study examining the phonetic aspect of this change. The corpus

data are drawn from the sociolinguistic interviews with 48 native Seoul Koreans

between 2015 and 2017. A trend comparison with the data from an earlier study of /w/-

deletion (Kang, 1997) reveals that /w/-deletion in postconsonantal position has begun

to retreat, while non-postconsonantal /w/-deletion has been rising vigorously. More

importantly, the effect of preceding segment that used to be the strongest constraint on

/w/-deletion has weakened over time. I conclude that /w/-deletion in Seoul Korean is

being reanalyzed with the structural details being diluted over time. I analyze this

weakening of the original pattern as the result of linguistic diffusion induced by a great

influx of migrants into Seoul after the Korean War (1950-1953). In an articulatory study,

ultrasound data of tongue movements and video data of lip rounding for the production

of /w/ for three native Seoul Koreans in their 20s, 30s and 50s were analyzed using

Optical Flow Analysis. I find that /w/ in Seoul Korean is subject to both gradient

reduction and categorical deletion and that younger speakers exhibit a significantly

larger articulatory gestures for /w/ after a bilabial than older generation, which is

consistent with the pattern of phonological change found in the corpus study. This

dissertation demonstrates the importance of using both corpus and articulatory data in

the investigation of a change, finding the coexistence of gradient and categorical effects

in segmental deletion processes. Finally, it advances our understanding of the outcome

of migration-induced dialect contact in contemporary urban settings.

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