University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This paper examines the production of the thought and lot vowel classes by New Yorkers of Chinese heritage. Sixteen New York-born Chinese American males between the ages of 11 and 61 were sampled. About 600 thought and lot tokens were instrumentally measured and normalized for statistical analyses and plotting. A linear regression analysis and a correlation test find evidence of the reversal of thought-raising. The height (normalized F1) of thought lowers as speaker’s year of birth increases. In other words, older Chinese New Yorkers are more likely to produce thought-raising than the younger ones. The finding corroborates Becker’s (2010) results from European New Yorkers.

To determine how the lowering of thought may have affected the low back distinction in New York City English, this study utilized the Pillai-Bartlette trace and the Euclidean distance between lot and thought as measurements of the magnitude of the low back distinction, along with visual examination of individual vowel plots. Despite the lowering of thought across apparent-time, most, if not all, speakers continue to maintain the low back distinction. However, the lot and thought classes for a few younger speakers are very close in the vowel space with some overlapping tokens. Their low back vowels configuration resembles the patterns exhibited by the “transitional speakers” in the Midland area in Labov et al. (2006), whose thought and lot classes are neither completely merged nor completely distinct. These results call for further work on the low back vowels of speakers of other social and ethnic groups in order to investigate the future trajectory of the thought vowel vis-à-vis the robustness of the low back distinction in the English of New York City.



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