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Implicational scales for linguistic features

Implicational scales in phonology
Mergers and speech style
Switch-over accents

An implicational scale consists of a number of features from a variety or subvariety which stand in a given relationship to each other. The implication of the label derives from the fact that if feature X is present in someone’s speech then feature Y will be as well. There may be several features involved in this kind of implicational relationship. Consider for example the occurrence of non-standard grammatical features of Irish English. These can be arranged as an implicational scale as shown below. The scale implies that if a speaker or speakers have the most vernacular feature (on the top left) then they will have the middle feature and the right-most feature, i.e. the features in the table are arranged in an ascending order of standardness in Irish English..

The implications in such as a scale are always unidirectional. For instance, in the case of Irish English you cannot conclude from the presence of the immediate perfective that a speaker will also have habitual do(es) be, but if that individual has the latter then he/she will also have the former as well.

Implicational scales in phonology

Implicational scales can be constructed for the sound level of language as well. What is significant here – in contradistinction to grammar –is that the values for features are scalar. Take R-retroflexion as an example. This is a feature of young people’s pronunciation in Dublin and now throughout the Republic of Ireland. However, the most noticeable degree of retroflexion is to be found with advanced speakers of Dublin English, young non-local females leading the way here as elsewhere. For the purposes of description one could distinguish three degrees: 1 (slight retroflexion), 2 (moderate retroflexion) and 3 (strong retroflexion). Now what is interesting is that these degrees correlate with degrees of other features such as L-velarisation or GOAT-diphthongisation or NORTH-raising or GOOSE-fronting.

Degree slight moderate strong
1) R-retroflexion 1 2 3
2) GOAT-diphthongisation 1 2 3
3) NORTH-raising 1 2 3
4) CHOICE-raising 1 2 3
5) GOOSE-fronting 1 2 3
Local features      
6) L-velarisation 1 2 3
7) T-tapping 1 2 3
8) AU-fronting 1 2 3

Speakers who show moderate GOAT-diphthongisation show moderate R-retroflexion and moderate CHOICE-raising, etc. The situation with features 6, 7, and 8 in the above table is slightly different. These are local features which are also present in non-local Dublin English. But individuals who do not speak advanced non-local Dublin English may show one or more of the features 6-8.

Short front vowel lowering and implicational scales

Because the individuals who show clear short front vowel lowering are all speakers of advanced non-local Dublin English, they invariably show a moderate if not strong for the features in the above table (corresponding to a moderate to strong degree of short front vowel lowering).

The above table posits three degrees for non-local features. If one adds the local pronunciation then one can reach a four-way distinction which can be recognised clearly in the following sound file (local pronunciation first, then three degrees of non-local pronunciations).

  Different degrees of GOAT-diphthongisation with different speakers

GOAT realisations 1 and 2

GOAT realisations 3 and 4

An implicational scale can be recognised for strictly local accents in Dublin as well. The following sound file illustrates a speaker who has no BOUGHT-raising but has R-deletion and T-glottalisation. From my experience of Dublin English I would maintain that T-glottalisation is the feature which implies the other two. There may be a linguistic reason for this: T-glottalisation is a binary feature which is either present or not. Relative rhoticity and openness of vowels are both scalar. Rhoticity is probably the least prominent of the features and so is to the right of the scale. Sociolinguistic factors are relevant here: T-glottalisation is taboo in non-vernacular Irish English whereas low or absent rhoticity is not a salient feature and has not been the object of censorious comment by non-vernacular speakers.

Implicational scale for local features of Dublin English

T-glottalisation  >  Lack of BOUGHT-raising  >  No rhoticity

  Local speaker with (i) Open BOUGHT-vowel, T-glottalisation and no rhoticity (R-deletion)

Mergers and speech style

The WHICH-WITCH merger and the MORNING-MOURNING are binary issues, either a speaker has the merger or not, that is there are no half-mergers. However, a speaker may have a merger sometimes, say in colloquial style, but not in a more formal style. For instance, most speakers of Dublin English (both local and non-local) have the MERRY - MARY merger, i.e. they do not have a vowel length distinction before /r/ in these words. However, when asked to read the words MERRY and MARY in a word list many speakers did in fact make a slight difference by lengthening the vowel in MARY somewhat. In the phrases Which girl did he marry? and He left the kids with Mary, which were embedded in the group of sentences people read out, there was no distinction for the majority of

Switch-over accents

Among non-local speakers of Dublin English there are some who did not acquire this type of accent from childhood but who came to adopt it in early youth – as part of a social reorientation, probably in adolescence. Originally speakers of local Dublin English, such individuals switch over to non-vernacular Dublin English as part of this reorientation.
   The phonetic implicational scale outlined above does not necessarily apply to these individuals as they have acquired non-vernacular Dublin English by feature adoption and this process may proceed to differing degrees and with different results depending on the individual.
   A clear instance of a switch-over accent was provided during a recording of a young female in her late teens or perhaps 20, in north Dublin in 2011. The first of the following recordings show this speaker reading out the sample sentences used for the survey. Here the speaker definitely has a non-local accent. However, she confused the word KIT for kite in one of the sentences and when asked to repeat the sentence she got a bit flustered and reverted quite naturally to original local accent which she had acquired growing up on the north side of Dublin (consult the second recording). Note that after the initial trip-up the speaker regained her poise and by the end of the sentence had switched over to her present non-local accent and pronounced the last word beer with a final /-r/ and had a slight high-rising terminal.

  Switch-over accent with non-local features (GOAT-diphthongisation, R-retroflexion, CHOICE-raising)
  Switch-over accent with hesitation (open BOUGHT vowel and final T deletion), same speaker as in previous sound file


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