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The social stratification of tongue shape for postvocalic /r/ in Scottish English1

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The sociolinguistic modelling of phonological variation and change is almost exclusively based on auditory and acoustic analyses of speech. One phenomenon which has proved elusive when considered in these ways is the variation in postvocalic /r/ in Scottish English. This study therefore shifts to speech production: we present a socioarticulatory study of variation of postvocalic /r/ in CVr (e.g. car) words, using a socially-stratified ultrasound tongue imaging corpus of speech collected in eastern central Scotland in 2008. Our results show social stratification of /r/ at the articulatory level, with middle-class speakers using bunched articulations, while working-class speakers use greater proportions of tongue-tip and tongue-front raised variants. Unlike articulatory variation of /r/ in American English, the articulatory variants in our Scottish English corpus are both auditorily distinct from one another, and correlate with strong and weak ends of an auditory rhotic continuum, which also shows clear social stratification.

Keywords: Scottish English; Sociophonetics; articulatory variation; postvocalic /r/; ultrasound

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Queen Margaret University Edinburgh 2: University of Glasgow

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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