Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

David Rood

Second Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Third Advisor

Esther Brown

Fourth Advisor

William Raymond

Fifth Advisor

Kevin Cohen

Abstract

This work presents the first large-scale empirical analysis of vowel variation in the three dialects (Northern, Central, Southern) of the spoken Iranian Taleshi. The vowel system of this minority language is under-documented. My data provide unique and important insight, therefore, into this contracting language variety. Acoustic analyses are conducted on 6252 realizations of the Taleshi central vowels /ə/ and /ɨ/ in the spontaneous and controlled speech of 142 men and women living in Iran, in order to explore the impact centuries of contact with Farsi and other languages has had (and continues to have) on Taleshi. Fine-grained analyses in the F2 vowel formant reveal subtle permutations of the Taleshi sound system suggestive of convergence with neighboring languages (Farsi, Turkish). Specifically, this work identifies convergence between schwa /ə/ (a vowel in Taleshi) and /o/ (a vowel in Farsi) as well as the convergence between /ɨ/ (a vowel also in Taleshi) and /u/ (again in Taleshi and Farsi) in the three dialects of Taleshi. The impact of language contact is evident in significant F2 differences between speakers of the Central dialect, who have geographically less contact with other languages (Farsi, Turkish, etc.) vs. those speaking the Northern and the Southern dialects who have more contact with other languages. Statistical analyses controlling for internal factors (the target words’ phonetic environment) and external factors (speaker age, education, settlement, and gender) known to contribute to formant variation, identify factors driving variation. Furthermore, the influence of language contact becomes evidenced in enhanced phonological convergence (F2 differences) in words that overlap phonologically, orthographically, and semantically (cognates and loanwords) with Farsi compared to words that do not share such interlingual similarity. Lastly, the degree of language activation in different speech settings would also support a contact explanation, in that convergence is most apparent in the speech reflecting increased activation of the contact language (as measured by percentage of language use in different speech settings during data collection). These comparisons demonstrate the role that convergence plays in the sound variations that are already inherent in Taleshi and contribute new data to the field of language contact. The paper argues that the sound variations in Taleshi are a consequence of both long-term language contact as well as more general social factors.

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