The long-term goal of the proposed research is to challenge the view that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a distinct monolitic socio-ethnic variety of American English spoken exclusively by African Americans in the United States. Rather, based on experimental evidence, it can be viewed as consisting of a series of regional dialects which share the same features with dialects spoken in these regions by white European descendants. Consistent with the trends found in the speech of Americans from different regions of the United States, African Americans appear to be developing dialectal differences in their pronunciation as well, contradicting the common assumption about homogeneity in distinctness of AAVE.
The specific aim of this project is to examine the pronunciation and perception of vowels in AAVE to determine the presence or absence of Southern Vowel Shift, a phonological process affecting vowel system of Southern American English. Vowels shifts span generations. If the vowel system of African Americans living in the south is affected by Southern Vowel Shift, the specific cross-generational changes to vowel pronunciation will be considered as evidence against distinctness of AAVE. However, if AAVE vowels are resistant to changes occurring in southern American speech, AAVE should indeed be regarded as a distinct language spoken by African Americans regardless of their regional origin. To address this specific aim, the current dissertation project will consist of two separate studies. The production study will examine acoustic characteristics of selected vowels across three generations of speakers of AAVE living in Statesville, NC. The perception study will involve listeners from the same speech community and will determine whether younger African Americans perceive vowels produced by older generations in the same way as the vowels produced by their peers (and vice versa). These two sets of data will indicate the extent to which vowels of AAVE change across generations in accord with the direction of Southern Vowel Shift. The type of variation observed in vowel shifts has an impact on the disciplines of speech-language pathology and audiology, especially in terms of standardized speech-language tests (and related """"""""norms""""""""). We are still lacking a basic understanding of how African Americans perceive the sounds of their own variety of English as opposed to the phonetic forms that are assumed to represent the """"""""standard"""""""" in testing American English speakers. This knowledge will help to design improved diagnostic tools and speech therapy treatments in the presence of a speech-language-hearing disorder.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-HOP-T (29))
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Cyr, Janet
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Ohio State University
Other Health Professions
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Holt, Yolanda Feimster; Jacewicz, Ewa; Fox, Robert Allen (2015) Variation in Vowel Duration Among Southern African American English Speakers. Am J Speech Lang Pathol 24:460-9