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Linguistic correlates of Irish-American and Italian-American ethnicity in high school and beyond / [article]Suzanne Evans Wagner

By: Evans Wagner, Suzanne.
Material type: materialTypeLabelArticleSubject(s): Sociolinguistics | Ethnic -- American In: Language and communication : an interdisciplinary journal Volume 35, March 2014, p.75-87Abstract: Young Irish-American and Italian-American women from South Philadelphia were recorded in their senior year of high school and then in their freshman year of college. Despite the relative longevity and increasing cultural integration of the lrish and Italian communities in South Philadelphia, some linguistic differences obtain in the Philadelphia English of women from these two groups. In the 1970s (Labov, 2001), the only lrish or Italian ethnic effect on Philadelphia vowels was found in Italians' relatively retracted BOW/BOAT and BOO/BOOT. This was supported in the present study for BOAT, for which ltalian-Americans are less fronted than Irish-Americans. Yet other ethnolinguistic differences were unexpectedly also found in the speech of these young women. For instance, Irish-American women and 'tough' Italian-American women exhibited more retracted BITE-nuclei than their peers. Ethnicity also conditions the alternation between alveolar and velar variants of suffixal (ing), with Irish-Americans more likely than Italian-Americans to use the non-standard alveolar variant. However, the strength of this effect on (ing) attenuates after high school. when ethnicity becomes a less salient component of the speakers' self-presentation. The article discusses the importance of bringing ethnographic observations to the study of within-White ethnicity, and emphasizes the dynamic nature of 'ethnicity' as it is constructed and re-constructed across the individual lifespan.
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Young Irish-American and Italian-American women from South Philadelphia were recorded in their senior year of high school and then in their freshman year of college. Despite the relative longevity and increasing cultural integration of the lrish and Italian communities in South Philadelphia, some linguistic differences obtain in the Philadelphia English of women from these two groups. In the 1970s (Labov, 2001), the only lrish or Italian ethnic effect on Philadelphia vowels was found in Italians' relatively retracted BOW/BOAT and BOO/BOOT. This was supported in the present study for BOAT, for which ltalian-Americans are less fronted than Irish-Americans. Yet other ethnolinguistic differences were unexpectedly also found in the speech of these young women. For instance, Irish-American women and 'tough' Italian-American women exhibited more retracted BITE-nuclei than their peers. Ethnicity also conditions the alternation between alveolar and velar variants of suffixal (ing), with Irish-Americans more likely than Italian-Americans to use the non-standard alveolar variant. However, the strength of this effect on (ing) attenuates after high school. when ethnicity becomes a less salient component of the speakers' self-presentation. The article discusses the importance of bringing ethnographic observations to the study of within-White ethnicity, and emphasizes the dynamic nature of 'ethnicity' as it is constructed and re-constructed across the individual lifespan.

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