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Not quite the same: The social stratification and phonetic conditioning of the FOOT- STRUT vowels in Manchester

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

E-pub ahead of print
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>24/04/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Linguistics
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date24/04/20
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The foot–strut vowel split, which has its origins in 17th century English, is notable for its absence from the speech of Northerners in England, where stood–stud remain homophones – both are pronounced with the same vowel /ʊ/. The present study analyses the speech of 122 speakers from Manchester in the North West of England. Although the vast majority of speakers exhibit no distinction between the foot and strut lexical sets in minimal-pair production and judgement tests, vowel height is correlated with socio-economic status: the higher the social class, the lower the strut vowel. Surprisingly, statistical models indicate that vowel class is a significant predictor of foot–strut in Manchester. This means that, for a speech community without the split, there remains an effect in the expected direction: strut vowels are lower than foot vowels in the vowel space. We suggest that co-articulatory effects of surrounding consonants explain this instrumental difference, as they have significant lowering/heightening effects on the acoustics but are not fully captured by our statistical model. We argue that the perplexing nature of the historical split can be partially accounted for in this data, as the frequency of co-occurring phonetic environments is notably different in foot than in strut, resulting in cumulative effects of co-articulation. We also present evidence of age grading which suggests that middle class speakers may develop a phonetic distinction as they age.