University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


Sometimes, an external or catastrophic event causes a very sudden change in a speech community, often resulting in the loss traditional linguistic features and the spread of innovative speech patterns. This paper shows that changes in the timber industry in the late 1970s in Cowlitz County, Washington triggered the sudden loss of pre-velar raising, an innovative feature elsewhere in Washington State. Data was collected primarily through reading tasks with 42 natives of Cowlitz County, and by comparing a large set of piecewise regression models, it was found that those born after 1973 were much less likely to have the raised variant. In addition to a clear a shift around this time in census data, the older generation was generally nostalgic and had strong, positive feelings towards the area while the opposite was true of the younger cohort. These patterns, together with an examination of those who were exceptional within their generations, suggest that the raised variant is a marker of identity, signaling positive feelings towards Cowlitz County and the Pacific Northwest. This paper shows that the speech of Cowlitz County is more like that of Oregon than rest of Washington and that catastrophic events may in fact trigger the loss of an innovative feature when strong local identity is associated with the traditional variant.