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| Martha Vineyard Essay

Martha Vineyard is an island situated not far from New England. The place is a great tourist attraction, but visitors are perceived with antipathy by many locals. They use their distinctive pronunciation to show that they are a separate social group. The most tightly-knit community of the island is fishermen, whose activities are concentrated around Chilmark. In his study, Labov analysed the distributions of the diphthongs [ay] and [aw] in Martha’s Vineyard among the people of different age groups. He learned that there is a strong connection between a language, social life, and speakers’ attitudes which gave a foundation for such science as Sociolinguistics. Labov’s work serves as a basis for Pope’s research, where she and her colleagues restudy Martha’s Vineyard and define how appropriate apparent-time research is.

One of the ways of studying linguistic change is apparent time study, which is “based on the analysis of the distribution of linguistic variables across different age groups”. There appear to be some difficulties in the methodology, particularly, with the selection of people who can provide scientists with qualitative examples of spontaneous speech. These problems stem from the fact that the representatives of young groups often lack stable language, while older people might have such physiological problems as loss of teeth or poor memory. These factors have to be taken into consideration, for these are young people who undergo the most considerable language change. Therefore, “the setting up of age groups cannot be done according to biological – chronological age, but rather has to be based on the external social factors in question” .

The next question would be if the results obtained during apparent time study would, in reality, signify a linguistic change of the community under observation, or if it would simply show an age grading pattern typical of each next generation. Thus, one possible way of solving this problem would be to observe the community in real time, which includes observation in two different time points. The methodological problems could be overcome in different ways including use of the data obtained in previous studies or performing so-called sampling studies.

In her work, Pope also discusses the study of the [ay] variable conducted by Blake and Josey. Their paper presents a thorough acoustic research: the phonological aspect and the speaker’s normalization of the speech. Pope mentions that her research differs from that of Blake and Josey in a way that it tries to accurately reproduce the survey of Labov. Thus, she could use real-time evidence to examine the hypotheses about language change which were constructed during apparent-time studies. Pope’s findings “appear to support Labov’s original conclusions about the validity of using speaker age as a synchronic measure of the on-going change”. Josey argues that due to the changes in society, the inhabitants of MV do not use centralized diphthongs to mark their identification with the community. However, Pope suggests that Labov’s idea of “social motivation” is still true.

Therefore, to ensure that the research is similar to that of Labov, the scientist used the same methodology and data collection. Their sample is also close to Labob’s one. MV was visited twice, for it had to be taken into consideration that in summer, the island was crowded with tourists, while in winter, the contacts with the locals were much easier. The analysis of tokens was made on the basis of Labov’s for-grade scale: “0 being maximally low onset and 3 being a raised and centralized schwa-like onset”. Blake and Josey also employed the scale, although, their study was different.

To ensure the validity of the research, the impressionistic coding was checked by two other authors. Firstly, they performed a spectrographic analysis of vowels. Secondly, they did impressionistic coding of the diphthongs [ay] and [aw]. As the result of their survey, Pope and her colleagues found out that the two major aspects of Labov’s work, which have the biggest impact on the development of sociolinguistics, were “the distribution of centralized variants as a function of speakers’ attitudes toward life on MV and as a function of speaker’s age” (Pope, 2007, p. 619). It is also worth mentioning that they do not consider Blake and Josey’s Canadian raising while agreeing that the degree of centralization largely depends on the phonological context.

According to Labov, the variables [ay] and [aw] were not greatly influenced by the conditions of the interview. The data collected in 2002 demonstrates the same tendency. However, unlike Labov, Pope did not find it true that the degree of centralization depends on the word stress. While conducting his research in 1962, Labov noticed that in some words there was greater centralization than in the others, although, they all had the same phonetic structure. It could happen due to the fact that the pronunciation of the word was influenced by its lexical meaning. Nevertheless, the research of 2002 shows no such evidence. The only example of such phenomenon was the pronunciation of the word “like.” Still, the researchers have no clear explanation as to why this happened.

The centralization was the most obvious among fishermen. Obviously, this could be caused by people’s occupation. Due to the economic situation, people were trying to attract more tourists, but they also wanted to demonstrate their belonging to MV with the help of centralized onsets. As to the correlation between the ethnicity and centralization, it was hard to analyse it due to the lack of samples. The researchers can only suppose why Wampanoag speakers use centralization more than others. One of the reasons could be the decrease in their population which makes them protect their heritage and language more.

Labov made an assumption that the centralization on MV was caused by the increasing number of tourists. It stems from the fact that:

“the doctrine of first effective settlement limits the influence of new groups entering an established community, in asserting that the original group determines the cultural patterns for those to follow, even if these newcomers are many times the number of the original settlers”.

His research showed that the centralization of [ay] was more distinctive in the speech of the Chlimark, and such pronunciation helped to mark their background. Also, there was centralization of the diphthong [aw], but it did not spread throughout all the community of the island, and Labov put forward his suggestions about why this occurred.

Another reason for centralization was “the strong association between attitudes toward life on MV and the speaker’s use of centralization…It was shown to be particularly true for Vineyarders with strong positive feelings about the island.”. Interestingly, this was still true in 2002. Thus, if the speaker is positive about his or her background, he or she tries to demonstrate it in the speech, and if not, the rate of the speech markers will be considerably lower. Once again, Pope mentions the research of Blake and Josey whose findings suggest that nowadays, Vineyarders “no longer have such a vested interest in distinguishing themselves from the summer people, and that as a consequence, centralization has lost its former iconic status on the island and is therefore in retreat”. As it happened before, Pope’s findings correspond to those of Labov and not of Blake and Josey. Therefore, currently, there centralization of [ay] and [aw] still exists. Moreover, the Vineyarders still have the feeling of aversion towards tourists, so the centralization has not lost its symbolism.

Labov and Pope both considered the phenomenon of age grading. Labov spoke of the apparent-time construct which meant that the extent to which the speaker of different age groups used centralization in their speech was generalized to illustrate the change in progress. Having conducted a number of researches and compared them to the previous data, Labov made a conclusion that the centralization was stronger among the younger speakers, while older people and the youngest speakers showed no such results. Therefore, the aspect of age cannot be ignored while studying the phenomenon and different rates of centralization among different age groups means age grading, not change in progress. Some of the later researches also support this point of view. Pope suggest that their real time study can possibly clarify whether the apparent-time studies show age grading or real change in progress. Therefore, they made a diagram to compare the results of their research with that of Labov. It could be seen from the diagram that all the age groups were quite similar in their change.

Generally, all the results of other real-time studies show that the variables without a distinctive social index show a considerable change in progress. On the other hand, however, the apparent-time study does not necessarily mean change in progress, because it may “pick up momentum once started.”. Thus, Pope also considered each of the diphthongs separately. While the centralization of both of them was quite equal in Labov’s study, Pope suggests that in 2002, this phenomenon was more typical of [aw] than of [ay].

Further, Pope states that their findings support Labov’s idea of apparent-time studies being used as an evidence of real time change. Also, she mentions that the results of their research contradict with the findings of Blake and Josey and she suggests two possible reasons of the discrepancy. First, there are differences in the way the social data was interpreted. Considering household income of the Vineyarders, Josey stated that they were all middle class. Pope, on the other hand, argues that on its own, household income is not a good indicator of social status. One should also consider such factors as the cost of living and the cost of housing. Since MV is a tourist attraction, housing is very expensive there. While Josey thinks that since tourists are a source of income for the locals and that is why they no longer feel antipathy to them, Pope believes that tourism made the cost of living really high, so the locals face many financial problems. Attitudes toward tourists differed from quite positive to absolutely negative. According to Pope, the increase of income caused by rich tourists does not necessarily mean that the locals would identify with their community less. This position explains why Pope’s findings about social attitudes affecting linguistic markers are similar to those of Labov.

Pope finds it particularly interesting why their results are so different from the results obtained by Josey. One possible reason for that could be that it is unlikely that the same study can be conducted twice, for there would always be some differences. Pope (2007) names four basic aspects that could influence on the data: “the range of speaking styles, the geographical and social coverage of the island, the perceived social identity of the fieldworkers, and, as already mentioned, the fact that Josey studied only [ay] and not [aw]”.

Apart from being caused by different methodological aspect, the discrepancies in the surveys may be due to the fact that Jose studied only Chilmark, while Pope considered the entire island. Moreover, the people, Josey communicated with, were mostly well-off, while Pope’s interviewees were from different backgrounds. Finally, Blake and Josey’s concentration on [ay], while Pope also included [ay], might have played a major role in the study. Still, Pope emphasises that Blake and Josey’s conclusion is more generalized and there is no evidence that centralization is no longer an identity marker.

To sum up, Pope and her colleagues tried to make their research similar to that of Labov. Much attention is dedicated to the study of Blake and Josey, but, unlike them, Pope concluded that the [ay] and [aw] variations still bear their social meaning. Next, the apparent-time method is appropriate for studying change in progress. Finally, phonetic variations reflect social position and the speaker’s attitudes, and can be studied systematically.

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