A Sociophonetic Ethnography of Selwyn Girls' High
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis reports on findings from a year-long sociolinguistic ethnography at an all girls’ high school in New Zealand which is referred to as Selwyn Girls’ High (SGH). The study combines the qualitative methods of ethnography with the quantitative methods of acoustic phonetic analysis and experimental design. At the school, there were a number of different groups (e.g. The PCs, The Pasifika Group, The BBs), each forming a community of practice where the different members actively constructed their unique social personae within the context of the group. There was a dichotomy between the groups based on whether they ate lunch in the common room (CR) or not (NCR) and this division reflected the individual speakers’ stance on whether they viewed themselves as “normal” or different from other girls at the school.
In-depth acoustic analysis was conducted on tokens of the word like from the girls’ speech. This is a word with a number of different pragmatic functions, such as quotative like (I was LIKE “yeah okay”), discourse particle like (It was LIKE so boring), and lexical verb like (I LIKE your socks). The results provide evidence of acoustically gradient variation in the girls’ realisations of the word like that is both grammatically and socially conditioned. For example, quotative like was more likely to have a shorter /l/ to vowel duration ratio and be less diphthongal than either discourse particle like or grammatical like and there was a significant difference in /k/ realisation depending on a combination of the token’s pragmatic function and whether the speaker ate lunch in the CR or not.
Additionally, three speech perception experiments were conducted in order to examine the girls’ sensitivity to the relationship between phonetic variants, lemma-based information, and social factors. The results indicate that perceivers were able to distinguish between auditory tokens of the different functions of like in a manner that was consistent with trends observed in production. Perceivers were also able to extract social information about the speaker depending on phonetic cues in the stimuli.
Taken together, the results provide evidence that lemmas with a shared wordform can have different phonetic realisations, that individuals can manipulate these realisations in the construction of their social personae, and that individuals can use lemma-based phonetic trends from production to identify a word. These results have implications for how phonetic, lemma, and social information are stored in the mind and, together, they are used to inform a unified model of speech production, perception and identity construction.