A classic: Labov’s (2006 [1966]) Department Store Survey

  • Labov studied the use of full and elided postvocalic /r/ in the Lower East Side of New York City
  • New Yorkers tend to omit /r/ in those contexts. The use of /r/ is regarded as a high-prestige feature
  • To gain more insight into the social stratification of /r/, Labov devised a clever study:
    • New York department stores were highly socially stratified in the early 1960s:
      • The upper class shopped predominantly at Saks (high-fashion; expensive)
      • The middle class did their shopping at Macy’s (‘normal’ prices and fashion)
      • The lower classes went to Klein’s (cheap prices)
    • Labov suspected that shop assistants would accomodate to their public
    • To study the use of /r/ among shop assistants, he located an item that was located on the fourth floor (note that there’s two possible contexts there) and he simply asked shop assistants where he could find the item. Labov wrote down the pronunciation and repeated the experiment with another unknowning shop assistant.
  • Data:
    • r: /r/ type
    • store: Klein’s, Macy’s, or Saks
    • emphasis: pronunciation emphasis
    • word: fourth or floor

1. Loading and exploring the data

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2. The social stratification of /r/ in New York City: Store vs /r/

  • Research question:
    • Is the use of full and elided postvocalic /r/ socially stratified?
  • Hypothesis:
    • Shop assistants at Saks will have the greatest proportion of full /r/’s, followed by Macy’s. The shop assistants at Klein’s will have the smallest proportion of full /r/’s

2.1 Frequency of /r/ by store

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2.2 Validating the assumptions of the significance test

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2.3 Significance test and effect size

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2.4 Plotting the differences between stores

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3. The phonological conditioning of /r/ in New York City: the role of emphasis

  • Research question:
    • Do New Yorkers use the full /r/ more often in careful, emphatic speech?
  • Hypothesis:
    • In emphatic speech, the full /r/ will occur more often

3.1 Frequency of /r/ by emphasis

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3.2 Validating the assumptions of the significance test

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3.3 Significance test and effect size

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3.4 Plotting the differences between emphasis conditions

  • We know now that emphasis does not play a role in the choice between full and elided postvocalic /r/ in New York City.
  • Obtaining and reporting non-significant results is as important than obtaining and reporting significant ones! So we will go ahead and continue our analysis here.
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4. The phonological conditioning of /r/ in New York City: The role of word-final vs preconsonantal position

  • The difference between fourth and floor consists in that the postvocalic /r/ in fourth is followed by a consonant, whereas the one in floor is word-final
  • Any differences between these two words may point to an effect of these two phonetic conditions
  • Research question:
    • Do New Yorkers use full and elided postvocalic /r/ at different rates in the final and preconsonantic contexts?
  • Hypothesis:
    • In word-final position, the elided variant will occur more often.

4.1 Frequency of /r/ by word

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4.2 Validating the assumptions of the significance test

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4.3 Significance test and effect size

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4.4 Plotting the differences between words

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5. Quiz

  • If you paid attention to what you were doing and you have really understood the results, answering the following questions should be easy
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References

  • Labov, W. (2006 [1966]). The social stratification of English in New York City. Second edition. Oxford: Wiley.

Acknowledgements

A warm thank you! goes out to Daniel Ezra Johnson, who generously provided the Labov data

© 2018 Jeroen Claes