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Sociolinguistics Symposium 19: Language and the City

Sociolinguistics Symposium 19

Freie Universität Berlin | August 21-24, 2012

Programme: accepted abstracts

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Abstract ID: 622

Part of Session 100: Montreal, a francophone, anglophone and multilingual city (Other abstracts in this session)

Ethnic divergence in Montreal English

Authors: Boberg, Charles
Submitted by: Boberg, Charles (McGill University, Canada)

Ethnic diversity in North American English shows two distinct patterns of diachronic development.  Whereas the best-known ethnolect, African American English, has been stable or has even strengthened over time, ethnolects associated with European-American minority groups have generally weakened, in a process of assimilation that has created multi-ethnic but linguistically homogeneous European-origin populations.  In the English-speaking community of Montreal, Canada, however, we find a striking exception to this pattern: while Jewish Montrealers show some signs of convergence with the British-origin majority, Italian Montrealers appear to be diverging from, rather than converging with, that model.  On several measures, the speech of young Italian Montrealers is further away from Standard Canadian English than that of their parents.  This paper presents the data on which this observation is based, and considers several explanations for this surprising pattern.

The data, most recently reported in Boberg (2010), come from a sample of 93 people from the three ethnic groups -- Anglos (British-origin), Italians and Ashkenazi Jews – and a broad range of ages and social backgrounds.  They were subjected to acoustic phonetic and multivariate statistical analysis.  Though Jews have a longer history in the Montreal Anglophone community than Italians and consequently show more “native” Canadian features, in only two cases do we see the expected convergence with Anglos: with /ay/ (PRICE) and /æN/ (band, etc.).  In the fronting of GOOSE, Jews and Anglos are in lock-step, while in the centralization of GOAT, it is Anglos who apparently follow the Jewish lead.  Younger Italians not only fail to converge but actually diverge from the Anglo norm, with the Italian features in their speech getting stronger rather than weaker.  These include backer back vowels (GOOSE and GOAT), fronter /ay/ (PRICE), lower /æN/ (band) and less Canadian Raising of /awT/ (MOUTH).

It will be suggested that the unusual persistence of ethno-phonetic variation beyond the immigrant generation in Montreal reflects both the residential and social self-segregation of Montreal’s ethnic communities and the local dominance of French.  The latter factor reduces contact between non-British speakers and native Canadian English varieties, which might otherwise act as a more effective target for linguistic assimilation, as they do in other Canadian communities.


Boberg, Charles.  2010.  The English Language in Canada: Status, History and Comparative Analysis.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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