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  • 2019AldertonPhD

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Salience and social meaning in speech production and perception

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2020
Number of pages239
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Research has shown that phonetic features can index social meaning, yet less is known about whether this phenomenon occurs in the same way in speech production and speech perception. In particular, one of the factors that most seems to affect variables’ capacity for social meaning-making is the notion of salience. This thesis addresses the question of how phonetic variation points to social meaning in speech production and perception and what role salience plays in influencing this process. I investigate these issues using a sociophonetic study of two phonetic variables currently undergoing change in the South of England – /t/-glottalling and GOOSE-fronting – as produced and perceived by adolescents at a state school and a private school in Hampshire, UK. While the former is reported to be highly salient with strong socio-indexical relations, the latter is said not to be very salient and to lack associations with speakers’ social characteristics.

The production results show that /t/-glottalling displays macro-sociological variation in the community, while GOOSE-fronting varies between peer groups within the private school. Both features can be used to index stances in interaction, but this effect is much stronger for /t/-glottalling. In perception, listeners were easily able to notice glottal /t/ in auditory stimuli and consistently associated it with a set of related social meanings, yet this was not the case for fronted GOOSE. The findings have implications for our understanding of how the social meanings of phonetic variables are produced and perceived by the same individuals, especially in the contexts of adolescent peer groups at school and social stratification between different types of school. I argue that researchers employing the construct of salience in sociolinguistics should acknowledge the limitations and different dimensions of the concept and operationalise these in their study design.