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Riverin-Coutlée, Josiane ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9131-9217, Roy, Johanna-Pascale and Gubian, Michele (20. June 2022): Using Mahalanobis Distances to Investigate Second Dialect Acquisition: A Study on Quebec French. In: Language and Speech [PDF, 4MB]


Second dialect acquisition (SDA) can be defined as the process through which geographically mobile individuals adapt to new dialect features of their first language. Two common methodological approaches in SDA studies could lead to underestimating the phonetic changes that mobile speakers may experience: only large phonetic differences between dialects are considered, and external sources are used to infer what should have been the speakers’ original dialect. By contrast, in this study, we carry out a longitudinal analysis to empirically assess the speakers’ baseline and shift away from it with no priors as to which features should change or not. Furthermore, we focus on Quebec French, a variety with a relatively crowded vowel space. Using Mahalanobis distances, we measure how acoustic characteristics of vowels produced by 15 mobile speakers change relative to those of a control group of 8 sedentary speakers, with the mobile participants recorded right after they moved to Quebec City, then a year later. Overall, the results show a reduction of Mahalanobis distances over time, indicating convergence toward the control system. Convergence also tends to be greater in denser areas of the vowel space. These results suggest that phonetic changes during SDA could be finer than previously thought. This study calls for the use of methodological approaches that can reveal such trends, and contributes to uncovering the extent of phonetic flexibility during adulthood.

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