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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

Regional features associated with New York City English have been argued to be a component of the Jewish American ethnolinguistic repertoire (Benor 2011), even for Jewish speakers who live elsewhere in the country (Knack 1991, Sacknovitz 2007). In Chicago, meta-linguistic commentary from Jewish Chicagoans suggests that they associate New York regional features with Jewish speakers, and Chicago features with Irish Catholic Chicagoans. In a socially-primed phoneme categorization task, however, Jewish Chicagoans’ categorizations along TRAP-LOT and LOT-THOUGHT continua were not influenced by the top-down social information they were presented about the speaker’s regional (New York v. Chicago) or ethnoreligious (Jewish v. Catholic) background. Rather, categorization along the TRAP-LOT continuum was significantly predicted by listener background: specifically, Orthodox Jewish listeners expected a more Chicago-like phonemic boundary for these vowel classes, relative to non-Orthodox Jewish listeners. This suggests that the relationships between Jewish speakers and New York City English that are discussed in meta-linguistic commentary did not influence lower-level perception in this task, and that the relationship between New York City English and Jewish speakers may in fact be complicated by social factors beyond straightforward ethnoreligious identity.

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