Tracking Sociophonetic Variation in one Individual over the Lifespan
Panel studies have revealed two distinct patterns of change across the lifespan: some individuals follow along with community-wide trends (life-span change), whereas others move away from the community (retrograde change), (Buchstaller et al. 2017). But while research on the basis of large-scale samples provides insights into the complex interaction between intra-speaker malleability and larger community-wide trends, panel data has not yet sufficiently explored “the relationship between variation in the individual and the group” (Meyerhoff and Klaere 2017: 32).
Sociolinguistic theorising assumes that this panel sample covers linguistic consequential life-stages, including the transition into emerging and full adulthood (Arnett 2000), and increasingly acute linguistic marketplace pressures, especially for speakers in linguistically-sensitive occupations.
The present study examines the linguistic choices of one individual, Charlotte, as she moves from being a student at university to being a Ph.D. student and finally a university lecturer (3 time points: ages 20, 24, and 29 years). I discuss the results of an acoustic analysis of 474 tokens of FACE and 566 tokens of GOAT, measuring F1 and F2 at 20 – 80 percent and combine it with the results of auditory coding.
Results show that both vowels are changing in Charlotte’s speech as she ages. However, contra previous reports that FACE and GOAT behave in lockstep, results from auditory coding reveal that at all three time points the majority of FACE tokens are realised as monophthongs, but that the closing variant is decreasing over time while the ingliding variant is increasing, suggesting a slight shift towards localized variants.
Linear mixed effect models reveal a significant lowering over time in the monophthongal FACE from 2014 to 2019. Significant raising of monophthongal GOAT is also evident from 2010 to 2014 and reversing itself from 2014 to 2019. A change in F2 is identified only in the monophthongal GOAT variant, which slightly moves to the back from 2010 to 2014. The combination of auditory coding and acoustic analysis thus shows a change over time which may be motivated through external factors such as the linguistic marketplace pressures or peer pressure at university.
In 2019 the shift in vowel types of the FACE vowel seems to reverse itself,? which might be due to dialect awareness as Charlotte has now taken up a teachingposition at a Northern University.
The finding that intra-speaker malleability, while embedded into the community grammar, harbours complex and revealing patterns fully support voices calling for a more differentiated account of the variation that characterises linguistic choices within the individual (see Meyerhoff and Klaere 2017), especially across our life histories. Small, ethnographically rich, linguistically detailed panel studies serve to broaden our understanding of the relationship between the individual and the community, especially during community-wide change in progress.