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Seminar: Variation and change in Hawai'i creole vowels: Applying variationist methods to a creole, James Grama, 18 May

Australian National University, Evolution

Date: 19 February 2018

Seminar: Variation and change in Hawai'i creole vowels: Applying variationist methods to a creole

Speaker: James Grama

Venue: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU

When: 18 May 2018, 3.30pm-5.00pm


Principled phonetic analysis of phonological categories is a hallmark of sociolinguistic research (e.g., Labov et al. 2006) and a crucial part of the identification and classification of sociolects. However, the focus of this research has traditionally been on single variables (e.g., (ING), (dh) stopping) or clusters of tightly interrelated variables (e.g., vowels in chain shifts) within those sociolects. Comparatively less focus has been placed on simultaneously assessing how multiple sociolinguistic variables interact systematically (see Guy 2013), especially across different levels of linguistic representation. With this in mind, I discuss the case of Hawaiʻi Creole—an English-lexified creole spoken in Hawaiʻi. This language offers a unique opportunity for the application of variationist methods to a creole variety (see also work by Sabino 1996, 2012; Veatch 1991; Wassink 1999, 2001, 2006), as it is relatively well-documented (cf. Bickerton & Odo 1976), and contact has persisted with English from its genesis to the present. In this talk, I discuss how investigating the patterning of multiple morphosyntactic variables within Hawaiʻi Creole captures inter-dependent variation in the vowel system as it has changed over time. While many of these changes are explainable via the sustained contact Hawaiʻi Creole has experienced with English (see Kirtley et al. 2016), I argue that contact with English insufficiently captures many of the more nuanced changes in the vowel system, as younger speakers who are more basilectal (i.e., speak a variety that patterns less like English) are more resistant to these changes. Findings discussed paint a picture of variation, whereby the phonological and morphosyntactic systems of Hawaiʻi Creole speakers are linked to a nontrivial extent in production, highlighting the importance of situating variation in one linguistic variable in the larger context of the linguistic system.


Bickerton, Derek, and Carol Odo. 1976. Change and Variation in Hawaiian English I: General phonology and Pidgin syntax. Final report on NSF No. GS-39748.

Kirtley, M. Joelle, Grama, James, Drager, Katie, & Simpson, Sean. (2016). An acoustic analysis of the vowels of Hawaiʻi English. Journal of the International Phonetic Association46(1): 79–97.

Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg. 2006. The Atlas of North American English. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Sabino, Robin. 2012. Language contact in the Danish West Indies: Giving Jack his Jacket. Brill Publishers.

Sabino, Robin. 1996. A peak at death: Assessing continuity and change in an underdocumented language. Language, Variation and Change 8(1): 41–61.

Veatch, Thomas C. 1991. English vowels: Their surface phonology and phonetic implementation in vernacular dialects. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Wassink, Alicia Beckford. 2006. A geometric representation of spectral and temporal vowel features: Quantification of vowel overlap in three linguistic varieties. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 119(4): 2334–2350.

Wassink, Alicia Beckford. 2001. Theme and variation in Jamaican vowels. Language Variation and Change, 13: 135–159.

Wassink, Alicia Beckford. 1999. A sociophonetic analysis of Jamaican vowels. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Michigan.

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