Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: November 2020

4 - Vowel Variation across Time and Space


The analysis of vowel spaces for a subset of speakers in the Frank Porter Graham (FPG) study indicates that children and adolescents do not modify vowel pronunciations across the lifespan in the way that they alter morphosyntactic structures. Pockets of change (e.g., the price vowel), however, suggest that vowel variants potentially involved in community-wide change are more likely to be modified by children and adolescents, suggesting that children and adolescents do play a critical role in sound change. The analysis further reveals that the vowel patterns correlate strongly with school racial demographics, once again illustrating the formative role schools play in child and adolescent language. When considering lifespan change, different institutions impact the social experience of each age group. For example, the intensification of segregation that children experience within the school system differs from adults in the workforce. Within the United States, workplaces are more diverse and less segregated than school systems, suggesting that the combined forces of exposure with changing social identities lead to changing linguistic behavior. It appears, however, that such changes do not impact vowels in the same way they do morphosyntactic variables analyzed with the Dialect Density Measure (DDM).

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Anderson, Bridget. 2002. Dialect leveling and /ai/ monophthongization among African American Detroiters. Journal of Sociolinguistics 6(1): 8698.
Assmann, Peter, Barreda, Santiago, and Nearey, Terrance. 2013. Perception of speaker age in children’s voices. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics 19(1): 060059.
Benjamin, Karen. 2012. Suburbanizing Jim Crow: The impact of school policy on residential segregation in Raleigh. Journal of Urban History 38(2): 225246.
Bigham, Douglas S. 2010. Mechanisms of accommodation among emerging adults in a university setting. Journal of English Linguistics. 38(3): 193210.
Bigham, Douglas S. 2012. Emerging adulthood in sociolinguistics. Language and Linguistics Compass 6(8): 533544.
Bifulco, Robert, Ladd, Helen F., and Ross, Stephen L.. 2009. Public school choice and integration evidence from Durham, North Carolina. Social Science Research 38(1): 7185.
Bowie, David. 2000. The Effect of Geographic Mobility on the Retention of a Local Dialect. Ph.D. Dissertation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
Britt, Erica and Weldon, Tracey. 2015. African American English in the middle class. In Lanehart, Sonja L. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of African American Language, 800816. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Brook, Marisa, Jankowski, Bridget L., Konnelly, Lex, and Tagliamonte, Sali A.. 2018. “I don’t come off as timid anymore”: Real-time change in early adulthood against the backdrop of the community. Journal of Sociolinguistics 22(4): 351374.
Cartei, Valentina, Cowles, Wind, Banerjee, Robin, and Reby, David. 2014. Control of voice gender in pre-pubertal children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 32(1): 100106.
Carter, Phillip. 2007. Phonetic variation and speaker agency: Mexicana identity in a North Carolina middle school. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 13(2): 114.
Clotfelter, Charles T., Ladd, Helen F., and Vigdor, Jacob L.. 2003. Segregation and resegregation in North Carolina’s public school classrooms. North Carolina Law Review 81(4): 14631512.
Conn, Jeff and Horesh, Uri. 2002. Assessing the acquisition of dialect variables by migrant adults in Philadelphia: A case study. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 8(2): 4757.
De Decker, Paul. 2006. A real-time investigation of social and phonetic changes in post-adolescence. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 12(2): 6576.
Deser, Toni. 1990. Dialect Transmission and Variation: An Acoustic Analysis of Vowels in Six Urban Detroit Families. Ph.D. dissertation. Boston, MA: Boston University.
Dodsworth, Robin and Benton, Richard. 2017. Social network cohesion and the retreat from Southern vowels in Raleigh. Language in Society 46(3): 371405.
Dodsworth, Robin and Kohn, Mary. 2012. Urban rejection of the vernacular: The SVS undone. Language Variation and Change 24(2): 221245.
Eckert, Penelope. 1996. Vowels and nail polish: The emergence of linguistic style in the preadolescent heterosexual marketplace. In Warner, Natasha (ed.), Gender and Belief Systems: Proceedings of the Fourth Berkeley Women and Language Conference, 183190. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Women and Language Group.
Evans, Bronwen and Iverson, Paul. 2007. Plasticity in vowel perception and production: A study of accent change in young adults. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 121(6): 38143826.
Farrington, Charlie. 2012. The social distribution of devoicing in urban southern African American English. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 41. Bloomington, IN, October.
Farrington, Charlie. 2019. Language Variation and the Great Migration: Regionality and African American Language. Ph.D. Dissertation. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon.
Farrington, Charlie, Kendall, Tyler, and Fridland, Valerie. 2018. Vowel dynamics in the Southern Vowel Shift. American Speech 93(2): 186222.
Fiel, Jeremy E. 2013. Decomposing school resegregation: Social closure, racial imbalance, and racial isolation. American Sociological Review 78(5): 828848.
Fitch, W. Tecumseh and Giedd, Jay. 1999. Morphology and development of the human vocal tract: A study using magnetic resonance imaging. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 106(3 Pt 1): 15111522.
Fought, Carmen. 2003. Chicano English in Context. New York, NY: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Fox, Robert Allen and Jacewicz, Ewa. 2009. Cross-dialectal variation in formant dynamics of American English vowels. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 126(5): 26032618.
Fridland, Valerie. 2003. “Tie, tied and tight”: The expansion of /ai/ monophthongization in African-American and European-American speech in Memphis, Tennessee. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7(3): 279298.
Fridland, Valerie, Kendall, Tyler, Evans, Betsy, and Wassink, Alicia Beckford (eds.). 2016. Speech in the Western States, Volume 1: The Coastal States. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Fridland, Valerie, Kendall, Tyler, Evans, Betsy, and Wassink, Alicia Beckford (eds.), 2017. Speech in the Western States, Volume 2: The Mountain West. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Girard, Frédérique, Floccia, Caroline, and Goslin, Jeremy. 2008. Perception and awareness of accents in young children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 26(3): 409433.
Gregersen, Frans, Maegaard, Marie, and Pharao, Nicolai. 2009. The long and short of (æ)-variation in Danish - A panel study of short (æ)-variants in Danish in real time. Acta Linguistica Hafniensia: International Journal of Linguistics Publica 41: 6482.
Habib, Rania. 2011. Meaningful variation and bidirectional change in rural child and adolescent Speech. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 17(2): 8190.
Habib, Rania. 2014. Vowel variation and reverse acquisition in rural Syrian child and adolescent language. Language Variation and Change 26(1): 4575.
Harrington, Johnathan, Palethorpe, Sallyanne, and Watson, Catherine I.. 2000. Does the Queen speak the Queen’s English?. Nature, 408(6815): 927928.
Hodge, Megan. 2013. Development of the vowel space in children: Anatomical and acoustic aspects. In Ball, Martin and Gibbon, Fiona (eds.), Handbook of Vowels and Vowel Disorders, 125. New York; London: Psychology Press.
Holmes-Elliott, Sophie. 2018. Do birds of a feather flock together? Real time incrementation and type of sound change. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 47. New York: New York University.
Jones, Zack, Yan, Qingyang, Wagner, Laura, and Clopper, Cynthia G.. 2017. The development of dialect classification across the lifespan. Journal of Phonetics 60: 2037.
Jacewicz, Ewa, Fox, Robert Allen and Salmons, Joseph. 2011. Regional dialect variation in the vowel systems of typically developing children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 54(2): 448470.
Jones, Jamila and Preston, Dennis R.. 2011. AAE and identity: Constructing and deploying linguistic resources. In Dwyer, David (ed.), The Joy of Language: Proceedings of a Symposium Honoring the Colleagues of David Dwyer on the Occasion of his Retirement, 6587. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.
Kerswill, Paul. 1996. Children, adolescents, and language change: The state of the art. Language Variation and Change 8(2): 177202.
Kerswill, Paul and Williams, Ann. 2000. Creating a new town koine: Children and language change in Milton Keynes. Language in Society 29(1): 65115.
Kerswill, Paul and Williams, Ann. 2005. New towns and koineisation: Linguistic and social correlates. Linguistics 43(5): 10231048.
Khattab, Ghada. 2007. Variation in vowel production by English-Arabic bilinguals. Laboratory Phonology 9: 383410.
Khattab, Ghada. 2013. Phonetic convergence and divergence strategies in English-Arabic bilingual children. Linguistics 51(2): 439472.
Khattab, Ghada and Roberts, Julie. 2011. Working with children. In Paolo, Marianna Di and Yaeger-Dror, Malcah (eds.), Sociophonetics: A Student’s Guide, 163177. London: Routledge.
Kohn, Mary Elizabeth. 2014. “The Way I Communicate Changes but How I Speak Don’t”: A Longitudinal Perspective on Adolescent Language Variation and Change. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Kohn, Mary Elizabeth. 2018. (De)Segregation: The impact of de-facto and de-jure segregation on African American English in the New South. In Reaser, Jeffery, Wilbanks, Eric, Wojcik, Karissa, and Wolfram, Walt (eds.), Language Variety in the New South: Contemporary Perspectives on Change and Variation, 223240. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press.
Kohn, Mary Elizabeth and Farrington, Charlie. 2012. Evaluating acoustic speaker normalization algorithms: Evidence from longitudinal child data. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 131(3): 22372248.
Kohn, Mary Elizabeth and Farrington, Charlie. 2017. Longitudinal sociophonetic analysis: What to expect when working with child and adolescent data. In Wagner, Suzanne Evans and Buchstaller, Isabelle (eds.), Using Panel Data in the Sociolinguistic Study of Variation and Change, 122152. New York/London: Routledge.
Koops, Christian. 2010. /u/-Fronting is not monolithic: Two types of fronted /u/ in Houston Anglos. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 16(2): Article 14.
Kurath, Hans and McDavid, Raven I.. 1961. The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Labov, William. 1991. The three dialects of English. In Eckert, Penelope (ed.), New Ways of Analyzing Sound Change, 144. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Labov, William. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol.2, Social Factors. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Labov, William, Ash, Sharon, and Boberg, Charles. 2006. The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change: A Multimedia Reference Tool. Berlin, Germany: Mouton/ de Gruyter.
Lee, Sungbok, Potamianos, Alexandros, and Narayanan, Shrikanth S.. 1999. Acoustics of children’s speech: developmental changes of temporal and spectral parameters. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 105(3): 14551468.
Lobanov, Boris M. 1971. Classification of Russian vowels spoken by different speakers. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 49(2B): 606.
Local, John. 1983. How many vowels in a vowel? Journal of Child Language 10(2): 449453.
Mackenzie, Laurel and Sankoff, Gillian. 2010. A quantitative analysis of diphthongization in Montreal French. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 15(2): 92100.
Markova, Diana, Richer, Louis, Pangelinan, Melissa, Schwartz, Deborah, Leonard, Gabriel, Perron, Michel, Pike, Bruce, et al. 2016. Age- and sex-related variations in vocal-tract morphology and voice acoustics during adolescence. Hormones and Behavior 81: 8496.
McGowen, Rebecca, McGowen, Richard, Denny, Margaret, and Nittrouer, Susan. 2014. A longitudinal study of very young children’s vowel production. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 57(1): 115.
Milroy, James and Milroy, Lesley. 1985. Linguistic change, social network and speaker innovation. Journal of Linguistics 21(2): 339384.
Milroy, Lesley. 1980. Language and Social Networks. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.
Milroy, Lesley and Milroy, James. 1992. Social network and social class: Toward an integrated sociolinguistic model. Language in Society 21(1): 126.
Munro, Murray J, Derwing, Tracey M, and Flege, James E. 1999. Canadians in Alabama: A perceptual study of dialect acquisition in adults. Journal of Phonetics 27(4): 385403.
Nguyen, Jennifer. 2006. The Changing Social and Linguistic Orientation of the African American Middle Class. Ph.D. dissertation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
Nycz, Jennifer. 2011. Second Dialect Acquisition: Implications for Theories in Dialect Representation. Ph.D. dissertation. New York: New York University.
Pederson, Lee, McDaniel, Susan Leas, Bailey, Guy, Bassett, Marvin, Adams, Carol, Liao, Caisheng, and Montgomery, Michael. 1981. The Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Pettinato, Michele, Toumainen, Outi, Granlund, Sonia and Hazan, Valerie. 2016. Vowel space area in later childhood and adolescence: Effects of age, sex, and ease of communication. Journal of Phonetics 54: 114.
Plichta, Bartłmiej and Preston, Dennis R. 2005. The /ay/s have it: Perception of /ay/ as a North-South stereotype in United States English. Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 37(1): 107130.
Prince, Ellen. 1987. Sarah Gorby, Yiddish Folksinger: A case study of dialect shift. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 67: 83116.
Purnell, Thomas, Idsardi, William and Baugh, John. 1999. Perceptual and phonetic experiments on American English dialect identification. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18(1): 1030.
Rahman, M. Shahidur and Shimamura, Tetsuya. 2005. Formant frequency estimation of high-pitched speech by homomorphic prediction. Acoustical Science and Technology 26(6): 502510.
Reardon, Sean and Yun, John. 2003. Integrating Neighborhoods, Segregating Schools: The Retreat from School Desegregation in the South, 1990–2000. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Reed, Paul E. 2016. Sounding Appalachian: / ai / Monophthongization, Rising Pitch Accents, and Rootedness. Ph.D. dissertation. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina.
Rickford, John R. and King, Sharese. 2016. Language and linguistics on trial: Hearing Rachel Jeantel (and other vernacular speakers) in the courtroom and beyond. Language 92(4): 948988.
Rickford, John R. and Price, Mackenzie. 2013. Girlz II women: Age-grading, language change, and stylistic variation. Journal of Sociolinguistics 17(2): 143179.
Risdal, Megan L. and Kohn, Mary Elizabeth. 2014. Ethnolectal and generational differences in vowel trajectories: Evidence from African American English and the Southern Vowel System. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 20(2): Article 16.
Roberts, Julie. 1997. Hitting a moving target: Acquisition of sound change in progress by Philadelphia children. Language Variation and Change 9(2): 249266.
Roberts, Julie. 2002. Child language variation. In Chambers, J.K., Trudgill, Peter, and Schilling-Estes, Natalie (eds.), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 333348. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Roberts, Julie and Labov, William. 1995. Learning to talk Philadelphian: Acquisition of short a by preschool children. Language Variation and Change 7(1): 101112.
Rodríguez, William R. and Lleida, Eduardo. 2009. Formant estimation in children’s speech and its application for a Spanish speech therapy tool. In Proceedings of the 2009 Workshop on Speech and Language Technologies in Education (SLaTE), 8184. Wroxall Abbey Estates, United Kingtom.
Sankoff, Gillian. 2004. Adolescents, young adults and the critical period: Two case studies from “Seven up.” In Fought, Carmen (ed.), Sociolinguistic Variation: Critical Reflections, 121139. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schilling, Natalie and Jamsu, Jermay 2010. Real-time Data and Communal Change in Washington, D.C., African American Vernacular English. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation 39, San Antonio, TX, November.
Singer, Judith and Willett, John. 2003. Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis: Modeling Change and Event Occurrence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, Jennifer, Durham, Mercedes, and Richards, Hazel. 2013. The social and linguistic in the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation. Linguistics 51(2): 258324.
Spears, Arthur K. 2015. African American Standard English. In Lanehart, Sonja L. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of African American Language, 786799. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stanford, James N. 2008. Child dialect acquisition New perspectives on parent peer influence. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12(5): 567596.
Story, Brad H. and Bunton, Kate. 2016. Formant measurements in children’s speech based on spectral filtering. Speech Communication 76: 93111.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2012. Variationist Sociolinguistics: Change, Observation, Interpretation. Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Tatman, Rachael. 2016. “I’m a spawts guay”: Comparing the use of sociophonetic variables in speech and Twitter. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 22(2): Article 18.
Thomas, Erik R. 1996. A comparison of variation patterns of variables among sixth-graders in an Ohio community. In Schneider, Edgar W. (ed.), Focus on the U.S.A., 149–68. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Thomas, Erik R. 2001. An Acoustic Analysis of Vowel Variation in New World English. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Thomas, Erik R. 2007. Phonological and phonetic characteristics of African American Vernacular English. Language and Linguistics Compass 1(5): 450475.
Thomas, Reuben J. 2019. Sources of friendship and structurally induced homophily across the life course. Sociological Perspectives 62(6): 822843.
Vorperian, Houri K, and Kent, Ray D.. 2007. Vowel acoustic space development in children: a synthesis of acoustic and anatomic data. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 50(6): 15101545.
Vorperian, Houri K., Wang, Shubing, Schimek, E. Michael, Durtschi, Reid, Kent, Ray D., Gentry, Lindell R., and Chung, Moo K.. 2011. Developmental sexual dimorphism of the oral and pharyngeal portions of the vocal tract: An imaging study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 54(4): 9951010.
Wolfram, Walter A. 1969. A Sociolinguistic Description of Detroit Negro Speech. Urban Language Series. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Wolfram, Walt and Thomas, Erik R.. 2002. The Development of African American English. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Yaeger-Dror, Malcah and Thomas, Erik R. (eds.), 2010. African American English Speakers and their Participation in Local Sound Changes: A Comparative Study. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.