Toward a Unified Theory of Chain Shifting (Aaron Dinkin, 2011)

Here is a link to a third paper from the “New Perspectives on Vowel Shifting” panel at NWAV 40. This time, it is a paper by Aaron Dinkin of Swathmore entitled “Toward a Unified Theory of Chain Shifting.” This link provides a .pdf of Dinkin’s slide show.

The abstract for the paper is presented below:

The ontological status of the chain shift as a linguistic phenomenon has been a subject of
some dispute. Is “chain shift” merely a label assigned in retrospect to a collection of
sound changes that happen to have co-occurred in a superficially structured seeming way,
as argued by Stockwell & Minkova (1988)? Or is the chain a unitary process which
simultaneously causes the movements of several phonemes, as argued by Lass (1988)?
This paper explores the ontological status and evolution of chain shifting, focusing on
data from the Northern Cities Shift (NCS) in the transitional region of eastern New York
State.

In the Hudson Valley, raising of /æ/, the triggering feature of the NCS, is absent, while
other NCS features are present, suggesting that the structural relationship does not hold.
At the same time, in “fringe” communities to which the NCS has apparently diffused, the
NCS takes on a more systematic-seeming triangular shape in the vowel space. These
findings corroborate the theories of Labov (2007) and Preston (2008) on the phonological
consequences of diffusion of the NCS, which had not previously been observed in a
single data set.

These results suggest an overall model for the life cycle of chain shifts, unifying
Stockwell & Minkova’s and Lass’s perspectives: In the community where a chain shift
originates, it is a unitary phenomenon in which phonemes move in response to each other.
As it spreads to new communities, the uniformity is broken down and the individual
shifts no longer bear the same structural relationship to each other. If the result of the
shift becomes mainstream in a broad area beyond its originating community, it takes on
the phonetically symmetric and simplified form that is the result of diffusion. A similar
analysis can be applied to the Great Vowel Shift, as well as the NCS.

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About daviddurian
I am a sociolinguist with a Ph D in Linguistics from The Ohio State University. Currently, I work as the Lecturer at Rice University, where I teach undergraduate courses in both sociolinguistics and general linguistics. I also work on research projects investing language variation and change in US English a variety of cities. Specifically, at the moment, this includes Houston, Chicago, and Columbus, OH.

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