Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Osama Omari's PhD Defense

Osama will defend his dissertation, titled "Grammatical Subjects of Jordanian Arabic: Syntactic Discourse and Functions" on Friday, September 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm in IIC 2014. The examination is open to the public. Break a leg, Osama!

Ahmad Assiri's PhD Defense

Ahmad will defend his dissertation, titled "Arabic Adjectival Phrases: An Agree-Based Approach" on Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm in IIC 2014. The examination is open to the public. We wish him the best of luck!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Visiting Graduate Student

Welcome to Matthias Hoffman, a German PhD student currently working at MUSL. Matthias is in St. John's collecting data for his dissertation on "Contemporary Urban St. John's English". If you are interested in participating in his project or know someone who is, please contact him via his project website.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fall 2011 Seminar Series

We'll kick off the new semester with a double-header on September 9, 4pm in SN 3060, featuring the doctoral research projects of our own Jennifer Thorburn and visiting student, Matthias Hoffman.

Matthias Hofmann
PhD Candidate, Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany
Title: "Mainland Canadian English Phonology in Newfoundland: Linguistic Change reflecting Economic Change?"


Recent discovery of offshore oil has fundamentally changed the province of Newfoundland, Canada, from a poor cousin of the Canadian mainland to that of a ‘have’ province in terms of economy and education among others (Clarke 2010a: 132). As a consequence, the creation of new jobs and the need for developing Newfoundland’s infrastructure are accompanied by a dramatic change of the linguistic system. Investigating and contributing to knowledge of rapid linguistic changes as they occur is rare and hence important to analyze in the sociolinguistic tradition. This paper presents an investigation of a linguistic variable that has been identified as relevant to change in a North American context (particularly Canadian Shift) and for being innovative in Newfoundland English: the vowel in the DRESS lexical set.

Audio recordings from earlier research constitute the pilot study data, stratified by age, gender, and religion. The data set consists of 4 informants interviewed in Pouch Cove, NL, by members of the community. Pouch Cove has been a traditional outport community, which is currently changing towards a bedroom community of St. John’s, similarly to Petty Harbour (Van Herk, Childs & Thorburn, 2007).

As for the variable investigated, /ɛ/ is raised in areas settled by conservative speakers of southeast Irish origin such as St. John’s (Clarke 2010b). The NL instantiation of the Canadian Shift (Boberg, 2010, Clarke et al. 1995, Labov, Ash & Boberg 2006), on the other hand, results in a change in vowel quality in the opposite direction.

Results from the current study suggest a tendency for especially younger females to use a low mid /ɛ/ in the DRESS lexical set most frequently in careful speech.


Boberg, Charles (2010). The English language in Canada : status, history, and comparative analysis. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bucholtz, M., Bermuda, N., Fung, V., Edwards, L. & Vargas, R. (2007). "Hella Nor Cal or Totally So Cal?: The Preceptual Dialectology of California. Journal of English Linguistics 35(3): 325-352.

Clarke, Sandra (2010a). Newfoundland and Labrador English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Clarke, Sandra (2010b). Newfoundland and Labrador English. In Schreier, D. (Ed.), The Lesser-Known Varieties of English: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press. 72-91.

Clarke, Sandra, Elms, Ford & Youssef, Amani (1995). The third dialect of English: Some Canadian evidence. Language Variation and Change 7(2): 209-228.

Labov, William, Ash, Sharon & Boberg, Charles (2006). The atlas of North American English : phonetics, phonology, and sound change : a multimedia reference tool. Berlin ; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Preston, Dennis Richard & Long, Daniel (1999). Handbook of perceptual dialectology. Amsterdam ; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

Van Herk, Gerard, Childs, Becky & Thorburn, Jennifer (2007). Identity Marking and Affiliation in an Urbanizing Newfoundland Community. In Cichocki, W. (Ed.), 31st Annual Meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association/31e Colloque annuel de l'Association de linguistique des provinces atlantiques. Fredericton NB, Canada. 85-94.

Jennifer Thorburn
PhD Candidate, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Testing speaker consistency across sociolinguistic variables


Although sociolinguists often examine multiple variables in a particular community, correlations between variables are not often examined statistically. Following Guy's (2009) work on stable co-variables in Brazilian Portuguese and Tagliamonte and Waters' (2010) analysis of changes in progress in Toronto English, this paper investigates the notion of saliency and co-variability, to determine if salient covariables correlate with one another and/or show negative correlations with their nonsalient counterparts. To do so, I examine four sociolinguistic variables in data from Nain, an Inuit community in Labrador: verbal -s (I loves it), interdental stopping in voiced (them pronounced as dem) and voiceless (thing as ting) contexts, and adjectival intensification (right, very, really, so, etc.). The nonstandard variants of verbal -s and interdental stopping are often employed in identity work in Newfoundland (Van Herk et al. 2007, 2008) and are considered enregistered features of the dialect (Clarke and Hiscock 2009); adjectival intensification, in contrast, has received less attention in these discussions, though Clarke (2010) notes that the variant right is one of the trademark intensifiers of Newfoundland and Labrador English. (The other intensifier associated with the province, some, appears only twice in the Nain data and is consequently excluded from this study.)

Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated for an age- and sex-stratified sample of 25 residents for all pairs of variables, based on each speaker’s factor weight for the variants most associated with the regional dialect. While there are no significant correlations for the community as a whole, the data suggest that some salient variables correlate, at least for certain speaker groups.

Friday, August 19, 2011

From dialect feature to local identity marker: Converging patterns of verbal –s in two Newfoundland communities

Date: Wednesday August 24, 2011
Time: 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Location: FM-2006 (sociolinguistics lab)

Feel free to bring your lunch or snacks to share!

A Brown Bag Talk


Susanne Wagner, Chemnitz University of Technology

Gerard Van Herk, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Recent research in Pouch Cove (Wagner) and Petty Harbour (Van Herk et al.) has revealed unexpected linguistic behaviours that challenge standard sociolinguistic wisdom. In Pouch Cove, middle-aged speakers have the highest rates of use of non-standard forms, and in Petty Harbour, young speakers are reversing the linguistic constraints on choice of verb form. In both cases, these findings go against 40 years of results from communities worldwide, and in both cases, the findings have been challenged when presented at scholarly meetings.

In this paper, we reconfigure the data from both studies to permit parallel analyses. These analyses support and reinforce the earlier findings, but they also help to explain them. The two communities, thanks to their distinct social, geographic, and economic profiles, are at different points along a change continuum between traditional Newfoundland speech and an urbanized, performative variety.

(709) 864-8343

Friday, August 12, 2011

Curling, ghosts, and Newfoundland: constraints on null subjects

DATE : Monday August 15, 2011
TIME : 12:00-1:00 p.m.
LOCATION : FM-2006 (sociolinguistics lab)

Chemnitz University of Technology

It is a well-known fact that English allows the omission of pronominal subjects in speech,
resulting in utterances such as Ø Told you so or Ø Looks like rain. While different from pro-drop
in pro-drop languages such as Russian or Italian, studies have shown that the mechanisms
governing the “deletion” of these pronouns are very similar to the processes involved in pro-
drop (see e.g. Harvie 1998, Haegeman 1990). However, not all instances of non-overt subject
pronouns can be considered typical. Consider e.g.

A: Did you ever work in (place name)?
B: Ø Never worked in (place name).
Ø Ø Not really into scary movies, just comedy movies mostly.
Ø Had a bad stomach, she used to rub my stomach.

In this talk, I will focus on null first person subjects. The processes and peculiarities
involved in recovering over 300 “deleted” instances of I and we in relation to over 8,000 overt
pronouns will be discussed. Statistical regression analyses show that factors influencing
presence/absence of pronouns do not only include those previously discussed in literature on
pro-drop languages, but also features such as VP length which are known to have an impact on
subject realisation in first language acquisition. Moreover, the data show possible persistence
effects to be at work, with one null subject favouring another in the next subject slot.

Overall, the analyses suggest that factors from a number of disciplines,
including morphosyntax, discourse theory and sociolinguistics, as well as various theoretical
frameworks (formal and functional schools) and stages of acquisition/competence (first,
second, adult language) should be considered when discussing null subjects in English.

Feel free to bring your lunch!
(709) 864-8343