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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

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Pivots of the Caribbean? Low-back vowels in eastern Caribbean English

James A. Walker
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  • Department of Languages and Linguistics, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria 3086, Australia
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/ Miriam Meyerhoff
  • School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
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Published Online: 2020-01-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0037


Resolving the convergence of low-back vowels in English constitutes a pivot with repercussions for the rest of the vowel system. We consider how speakers on an eastern Caribbean island co-opt the inherent variability of vowel systems to differentiate themselves. Examining the vowels of Bequia English (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) shows the main source of variation to lie in the position and duration of four low back vowels (cloth, lot, palm, thought), which do not act as the same pivot point for realignment of the vowel space as in North American English. The crucial distinction between transmission and diffusion lies at the heart of our findings: principles of language change derived from varieties characterized by transmission may differ from principles associated with histories of diffusion central to many contact and creole varieties.

Keywords: Caribbean English; diffusion; language change; transmission; vowel


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About the article

Published Online: 2020-01-08

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2019-0037.

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