Sociophonetics and class differentiation: A study of working- and middle- class English in Cape Town's coloured community

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis provides a detailed acoustic description of the phonetic variation and changes evident in the monophthongal vowel system of Coloured South African English in Cape Town. The changes are largely a result of South Africa's post-apartheid socio-educational reform. A detailed acoustic description highlights the most salient changes (compared with earlier reports of the variety), indicating the extent of the change amongst working-class and middle-class speakers. The fieldwork conducted for this study consists of sociolinguistic interviews, conducted with a total of 40 Coloured speakers (half male, half female) from both working-class and middle-class backgrounds. All speakers were young adults, born between 1983 and 1993, thus raised and schooled in a period of transition from apartheid to democracy. Each of the middle-class speakers had some experience of attending formerly exclusively White schools, giving them significant contact with White peers and teachers, while the educational careers of the working-class speakers exposed them almost solely to Coloured peers and educators. The acoustic data were processed using methods of Forced Alignment and automatic formant extraction – methods applied for the first time to any variety of South African English. The results of the analysis were found generally to support the findings of scholars who have documented this variety previously, with some notable exceptions amongst middle-class speakers. The changes are attributable to socio-educational change in the post-apartheid setting and the directionality of the changes approximate trends amongst White South African English speakers. The TRAP, GOOSE and FOOT lexical sets show most change: TRAP is lowering, while GOOSE and FOOT are fronting. Although the changes approximate the vowel quality used by White speakers, middle-class Coloured speakers use an intermediate value between White speakers and working-class Coloured speakers i.e. they have not fully adopted White norms for any of the vowel classes. Working-class speakers were found to have maintained the monophthongal vowel system traditionally used by Coloured speakers.

Includes bibliographical references.