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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

This paper investigates fine-grained differences among those who go on for post-secondary education in Philadelphia. Our subjects are eight South Philadelphians whose backgrounds are similar but who differ in their pursuit of post-secondary education. We distinguish not only between high school and college education, but also between community colleges, regionally-oriented universities, and nationally-oriented universities. We examine four vowel features characterized by different degrees of social evaluation. We show that only the socially-salient vowel features, tense /aeh/ and tense /oh/, are subject to correction, while changes in progress below the level of social awareness (checked /ey/-raising and /uw/-fronting) are not. We argue that dialect accommodation is mediated by social factors, rather than the inevitable outcome of mechanistic processes. Speakers who are motivated by the promise of upward mobility and exposed to a variety of non-local accents modulate their speech away from Philadelphia features that are socially salient, but not from features below the level of consciousness.

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