NZILBB Seminar with Jane Stuart Smith

English Language & Linguistics, Glasgow University Laboratory of Phonetics

Through the looking glass:  Perspectives on sibilants and sound change in Glaswegian English

Friday 20 October 2017, 1.00pm - 2.00pm, Locke104a

A key issue for sociophonetic research is how to capture and characterise the relevant aspects of speech which relate to identified social constructs. Acoustic analysis has until recently been relatively ‘static’. For example, the complex dynamic patterning of acoustic vowel quality over the timecourse of a vowel’s production is typically represented from a single timepoint, or an average across a few timepoints. Recent advances in acoustic phonetics and statistical analyses now allow for both dynamic representation of the phonetic entities for sociophonetic analysis, and statistical consideration of their social correlates which account in different ways for dynamic acoustic representations (see e.g. Docherty et al 2015; Stuart-Smith et al 2015; Speech dynamics, social meaning, and phonological categories). Socially-conditioned variation in the production of /s/ is now well-established across several varieties of English (e.g. Stuart-Smith 2007; Levon and Holmes-Elliott 2014) and other languages (e.g. Pharao et al 2014). Reidy (2016) showed that dynamic acoustic analysis helps differentiate /s/ and /ʃ/ in English, and /s/ in English and Japanese (cf Stevens and Harrington 2016 for Australian English /s/). The question for this paper is: does a dynamic acoustic representation improve our understanding of how social gender relates to sound change in /s/ and /ʃ/ in spontaneous Glaswegian vernacular speech over time?
Glaswegian vernacular has long been noted to show an auditorily-retracted /s/, especially in male speakers (Macafee 1983). Stuart-Smith (2007)’s acoustic analysis of wordlist data collected in the 1990s confirmed a lower peak frequency for male speakers, but also for working-class girls, who are distinct not from working-class boys but from their middle-class counterparts. Glasgow has shown substantial changes over the twentieth century: are shifts in social gender linked to linguistic change? This paper considers the impact of shifting perspective from static to dynamic measures of the sibilants, by gender, over time. We find that the dynamic results confirm the static results but also permit additional insight into spectral shifts over the course of the fricative, which link with social gender over time, effectively providing windows onto both static and dynamic spectral dynamics together.


  • Docherty, G., Gonzalez, S., and Mitchell, N. (2015) Static vs dynamic perspectives on the realization of vowel nuclei in West Australian English. In: 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Glasgow, Glasgow, UK, 10-14 Aug 2015
  • Harrington, J. (2010). Phonetic analysis of speech corpora. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Jannedy, Stefanie & Weirich, Melanie. (2017). Spectral moments vs discrete cosine transformation coefficients: Evaluation of acoustic measures distinguishing two merging German fricatives. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 142. 395-405
  • Levon, E., & Holmes-Elliott, S. (2013). East end boys and west end girls:/s/-fronting in Southeast England. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 19, 111-120
  • Macafee, C. (1983). Glasgow. John Benjamins Publishing.
  • Pharao, N., Maegaard, M., Møller, J. S., & Kristiansen, T. (2014). Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts. Language in Society, 43, 1-31.
  • Reidy, P. F. (2016). Spectral dynamics of sibilant fricatives are contrastive and language specific. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 140 (4), 2518-2529. Speech dynamics, social meaning, and phonological categories. Satellite workshop to LabPhon15, July 13, Cornell University
  • Stevens, M. and Harrington, J. (2016) The phonetic origins of /s/-retraction: Acoustic and perceptual evidence from Australian English. Journal of Phonetics, 58, 118-134
  • Stuart-Smith, J., Lennon, R., Macdonald, R., Robertson, D., Soskuthy, M., Jose, B., and Evers, L. (2015) A Dynamic Acoustic View of Real-Time Change in Word-Final Liquids in Spontaneous Glaswegian. In: 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Glasgow, Glasgow, UK, 10-14 Aug 2015.
  • Stuart-Smith, J., Timmins, C., and Tweedie, F. (2007) 'Talkin' Jockney'?: variation and change in Glaswegian accent. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11, 221-260.
  • Stuart-Smith, J. (2007) Empirical evidence for gendered speech production: /s/ in Glaswegian. In: Cole, J. and Hualde, J.I. (eds.) Laboratory Phonology 9. Series: Phonology and phonetics. Mouton de Gruyter: New York, USA, 65-86.