Angela Tramontelli PhotoAngela Tramontelli

Putting Michiganese on the Map: A Study in Perceptual Dialectology

Perceptual dialectology, the study of attitudes toward language variation, shows that people determine dialect boundaries not only by linguistic features, but also along geographic lines and according to sociocultural differences. Perceptions of places where speakers have accents and even what aesthetic qualities a given accent has are in this way a dynamic confluence of what speakers hear via variation in language use and also their internal, culturally mediated social attitudes. Speakers’ perceptions of dialects therefore correspond directly to their attitudes about groups of people who speak them. This study investigates how Michigan speakers divide the state into dialect regions, and therefore into groups of speakers, and what characteristics are assigned to a “Michigan accent.” Participants marked on a map of Michigan where they believe distinct dialect regions exist, and provided descriptions of the language and speakers in the places they indicated. We analyzed these responses using a language ideology framework to assess the strength of a correlation between attitudes toward language itself and toward its speakers, and to determine which factors, e.g. social, linguistic, or geographic, Michigan speakers use to classify their accents.

Faculty Mentor: Kathryn Remlinger, English Language and Literature

Page last modified July 16, 2012