University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


The raising of the nucleus of /aɪ/ before voiceless consonants, as in write but not ride, has been observed in many North American English varieties (Davis et al. 2019, Fruehwald 2016, Joos 1942, Strelluf 2018). Its emergence appears to be phonetically motivated in some cases rather than the result of diffusion between communities (Chambers 1989, Thomas & Moreton 2008). Recent evidence from geographically diverse communities within the U.S. suggests that /aɪ/ raising is a new supra-regional sound change (Davis, et al. 2019; Strelluf 2018; Davis & Berkson 2019). The widespread and recent emergence of /aɪ/ raising offers the opportunity to study the social network characteristics of early adopters. This analysis compares the social distributions of /aɪ/ raising in two different social settings. The first is Raleigh, North Carolina, an urban setting in the Southeast, and the second is small-town Kansas as represented by suburban communities and rural agricultural communities located in the Great Plains region of the US. Both communities show evidence of this sound change, with a female lead. In Raleigh, network position is correlated with the loss of salient Southern vocalic features including /aɪ/ monophthongization, but /aɪ/ raising does not follow the same pattern. While network brokers or those with many weak ties are often assumed to lead sound changes, individual-level evidence from both Kansas and Raleigh is mixed with regard to whether network characteristics are correlated with /aɪ/ raising. These findings indicate that we still do not know the network factors facilitating the adoption and spread of supra-regional linguistic innovations.



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