Vowel production variation in college students based on social integration

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University of Alabama Libraries

Exemplar theory represents the encoding of individual experiences as a collection of episodic memories known as exemplars, which form “exemplar clouds” (Drager & Kirtley, 2016). Originally used to model phonetic classification in perception, the exemplar theory has been extended to speech production with evidence that the perception-production loop can cause shifts over time. While exemplars are considered robust and stable categories, Clopper (2014) suggested that shifts can occur when individuals move to an environment in which they are exposed to a high quantity of exemplars from different regional or social distributions. The present study investigated the following research question: Does involvement in highly structured social groups, such as Greek life, influence the variation of vowel productions in young adults? The overarching purpose of the study was to explore how immersion in new social groups leads to exemplar shifts in college students. The data from this study was collected from 30 in-state female students at The University of Alabama (15 Greek, 15 non-Greek) from a semi-structured interview, reading passages, and word list tasks. Results indicated a statistically significant difference in degree of monophthongization of /a͡ɪ/ based on Greek status. Specifically, participants in Greek organizations were significantly more diphthongal in reading passages and word list tasks, and the difference was trending towards significance for conversational tasks and all tasks combined. Thus, these results indicate that involvement in highly integrated groups such as Greek life may impact exemplar shifts in college students. Key words: sociophonetics, exemplars, production shift, social integration, monophthongization

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