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English dialects: geographical perceptions, language regard and listener reactions

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This paper will focus on non-linguists’ regard (Preston 2010) of English dialects. It will start with a discussion of the perceptual dialectology of the country, and briefly cover the main factors governing the perception of dialect areas amongst non-linguists (e.g. proximity, cultural prominence, and the impact of borders (Montgomery 2012)). The remainder of the paper will examine salience and real-time reactions to speech amongst non-linguists, with a focus on samples from the South West of England. Using a new tool for capturing, visualising, and querying listeners’ real-time reactions to voice samples, we will explore the relationship between actual language production and how language forms are perceived. I will show that different language features function to mark different kinds of social meanings and that some language features carry more weight when it comes to identifying a locale. In particular, the paper will demonstrate that the same linguistic features are perceived differently dependent upon the wider ‘guise’ in which they appear. This complex way in which topic, regard, and feature recognition interact supports Clopper and Pisoni’s (2004:44) assertion that “the process of speech perception involves not only the segmentation of the speech signal into meaningful linguistic units (e.g., words, sentences) and the recovery of the structure of the sound patterns, but also the processing and encoding of indexical information about the talker.” These results are, of course, entirely in line with the findings of Campbell-Kibler (2009), Pharao et al. (2014), and Podesva et al. (2015), although note that these studies focus on one linguistic feature, whereas this study shows how a number of linguistic features can work synergistically in this perceptual process. References Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2009. The nature of sociolinguistic perception. Language Variation and Change 21(01). 135–156. doi:10.1017/S0954394509000052. Clopper, Cynthia G. & David B. Pisoni. 2004. Some new experiments on perceptual categorization of dialect variation in American English: Acoustic analysis and linguistic experience. Research on Spoken Language Processing 26. 29–46. Montgomery, Chris. 2012. The effect of proximity in perceptual dialectology. Journal of Sociolinguistics 16(5). 638–668. doi:10.1111/josl.12003. Pharao, Nicolai, Marie Maegaard, Janus Spindler Møller & Tore Kristiansen. 2014. Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts. Language in Society 43(01). 1–31. doi:10.1017/S0047404513000857. Podesva, Robert J, Jermay Jamsu & Patrick Callier. 2015. Constraints on the social meaning of released /t/: A production and perception study of US politicians. Language Variation and Change 27(1). 59–87. Preston, Dennis R. 2010. Variation in Language Regard. In Peter Gilles, Evelyn Ziegler & Joachim Scharloth (eds.), Variatio delectat: Empirische Evidenzen und theoretische Passungen sprachlicher Variation (für Klaus J. Mattheier zum 65. Geburtstag), 7–27. Frankfut am Main: Peter Lang.

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