Language Variation and Change

Cross-dialectal comprehension as evidence for boundary mapping: Perceptions of the speech of southeastern Ohio

Beverly Olson  Flanigan a1 and Franklin Paul  Norris a1
a1 Ohio University


Previous studies have shown that speakers have difficulty interpreting the sounds of another dialect when they are heard in isolation or reduced context, and that this difficulty is greater in areas of dialect contact where exposure to mergers or near-mergers is experienced (Labov & Ash, 1997; Labov, Karen, & Miller, 1991). A cross-dialectal comprehension test was conducted at Ohio University and three of its branch campuses. Responses were elicited to seven words digitally excerpted at three levels of reduced context from a story read by a third-generation resident of southern Ohio. Results indicated that vowel changes occurring in southern Ohio were generally interpreted by the respondents in terms of their own vowel systems, and that limited exposure to the local dialect by outsiders led to recognition only of the more salient or stereotyped sounds. Moreover, students from southern Ohio had difficulty with the same words that outsiders did, presumably reflecting semantic confusion caused by their increased exposure to other dialects. A new boundary for the South Midland dialect area is proposed on the basis of these findings.