University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This paper presents a phonetic analysis of variation and change in the production of voiceless aspirated stops in Diné bizaad, or Navajo, a Southern Dené language spoken in the American Southwest. Diné aspirated stops are typologically famous for having exceptionally long release periods (Cho and Ladefoged 1999), and earlier studies report that the variable aspiration carries social meaning (Reichard 1945). This study revisits phonetic measures of aspiration given increasing levels of English bilingualism in the Diné speech community. Voice onset time (VOT) and spectral center of gravity (CoG) were measured in tokens of aspirated velar and alveolar stops, elicited during interviews with 51 bilingual Diné bizaad-English speakers of different ages, genders, regions, and linguistic backgrounds. Results indicate that the releases of aspirated /kh/ have shortened when compared with earlier studies, while releases of aspirated /th/ have not, likely due to the salience of their affrication rendering them perceptibly distinct from English /t/. Mixed-effects linear regression models show that region, age, and gender are significant predictors of variation and that there are ongoing changes led by women, a frequent pattern in sociolinguistics, but notable here due to its relevance in an indigenous minority language community, a rare site for variationist sociolinguistic research. Overall these findings suggest that despite encroaching language shift, Diné bizaad is not simply converging with English, and results underscore the importance of perceptual awareness in analyses of subphonemic linguistic change.