University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > French Linguistics Research Seminars > Phonological Variation, Perceptual Salience and Identity: The Regional French of Béarn

Phonological Variation, Perceptual Salience and Identity: The Regional French of Béarn

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This research considers the interface of ‘perceptual salience’ frameworks and phonological variation in the Regional French of Béarn, focusing primarily on the application of Kerswill and Williams’(2002) model of long-­‐term dialect leveling and Hollmann and Siewierska’s (2006) model of the distributional shifting of salient phonological variation between speech styles of varying formality. These Anglo-­‐Saxon models define broadly ‘perceptual salience’ as a characteristic of a given linguistic feature that makes it in some way cognitively and perceptually prominent to the speaker (Kerswill and Williams, 2002: 81). The central research question is whether perceptual salience can be a good predictor of the loss or retention of phonological variants in Regional French by speakers of a structurally related substrate dialect, Béarnais. Views are divided regarding the extent to which salience is conditioned by language internal (structural-­‐phonological) or extra-­‐linguistic (sociolinguistic, socio-­‐demographic and social psychological) factors. In comparing these standpoints, there follows a critique of the ‘past’ models of salience. The testable criteria provided are applied to data from a study of short-­‐term language change in the Regional French of Béarn, south-­‐western France. The data from this study show that the distributional shifting of regional phonological variation towards the standard variety behaves very differently in France. Not only do structural-­‐phonological factors seem to play a role in the patterning of variation but the complex linguistic and sociolinguistic situation in Béarn highlights the need for the integration of social psychological in-­‐group/out-­‐group theories. Firstly, it is suggested that there are social psychological correlations between the identityof the bilingual Français-­‐Béarnais speakers and the variety of Regional French that they are speaking. The idea of Regional French phonology being indexical of the regional heritage language, Béarnais, is introduced, illustrating the cognitive reality of phonological variation. Secondly, it is hypothesised that the directionality of the perceptual salience model is linear (in contrast to Kerswill and Williams’ bi-­‐ directionality proposition) and that there is no regressive causation between extra-­‐linguistic and structural phonological factors. Finally, an adapted uni-­‐directional three-­‐component model of perceptual salience is proposed for Regional French which aims to avoid circularity criticism by positing the existence of two separate types of salience. Future research, problematic questions and possible methodologies, such as the integration of acoustic phonetics, will also be discussed.

This talk is part of the French Linguistics Research Seminars series.

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