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.
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