Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 June 2013
The article tests the generalisation of the curvilinear hypothesis and the tendency of females to lead linguistic change in vocalic mergers on the basis of two mergers currently in progress in Charleston, South Carolina: the low-back merger and the pin–pen merger. It is based on sociolinguistic interviews with 100 informants, aged 8–90, covering the socioeconomic spectrum of the city. The speech of 90 of the informants is analysed acoustically; it is supplemented with minimal-pair tests and word list reading. F1/F2 measurements and minimal-pair test results are subjected to a series of multiple linear regression analyses, with social class, gender, age and style as independent variables. While the low-back merger is a change from below showing a female lead and a curvilinear effect of social class, the pin–pen merger shows a decreasing monotonic relationship with social class and no female advantage. The difference is argued to be due to the two mergers being at different levels of social awareness.
Support from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (Research Leave Grant AH/G006873/1) is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks to Bill Labov, Sherry Ash, Charles Boberg, Lynn Clark, Matt Gordon, Greg Guy, Gillian Sankoff, Erik Thomas, Peter Trudgill and Dominic Watt for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. I am also grateful to three anonymous reviewers for insightful comments and suggestions.