Thank You, Sociophonetics
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It’s a complex, crazy world, and rarely more so than in the topsy turvy, rough and tumble, zig-a-zig-ah multiverse of regional and social variation in accent. If you’ve been going through your linguistics career believing in such improbable abstractions as “the phoneme”, these guys’ll soon put you right with fieldwork studies that show that “underlying phoneme /α/” surfaces as pretty much everything and anything but [α] in real-world speech.
And it’s not just our familiar friends such as age, sex, nose-shape and socio-economic status that can influence when /t/ is realised as [kx]; at a recent conference on the fourth floor of the Hotel Labov in Martha’s Vineyard, toothpaste preference and personal hygiene were both implicated for the first time in the release phase of [k] in post-vocalic, pre-morpheme boundary position for speech uttered after breakfast and under pressure in Quechua.
So don’t forget to say a thank-you prayer for Sociophonetics, which carves a shining pathway for us through the jungle of accent with the tools of glottalisation, lexeme-final /t/ deletion and epenthetic [r]. Whether you’re an American trying to understand a character played by Ray Winstone or a Brit enjoying a Matthew McConaughey film, Sociophonetics is “hear” (!) for you. No need to worry about Texan monophthongisation anymore—you’ll be drawing diagrams of vowel quadrilaterals sooner than the you can say [ɔːɹaːt, ɔːɹaːt, ɔːɹaːt].
Travelling across the English-speaking world will no longer be a trial or tribulation, but a joy and celebration. If you’re popping into Yorkshire from California, [ðəz noː weː jəl ɛvə bɪ pʊzld biːjaʊʔ wɒʔs sɛd tə ðɪ]. And if you’re a Canadian monkeying around in New Zealand, and just want to get “out and about on the south side of town”, your sociophonetics training will get you through the inevitable breakdown in communication.
So, the next time you find yourself thinking about Sociophonetics (and I don’t mean whether you can spell it or whether it should have a hyphen or not), just remember that without it, no British schoolchild with a GCSE grade C in Iberian Spanish would stand a chance of understanding the latest Shakira song.
Thank You, Sociophonetics.