Dialects in Contact: Quoted Voices and the (he)Art of Storytelling

Lay Summary 

The Dialects in Contact project investigates the sociolinguistic practices of St. John's, NL, a vibrant multi-lectal speech community. We aim to uncover patterns of linguistic variation, and change in Newfoundland. The initial phase of research looks at how residents of St. John's and migrants from rural Newfoundland communities (NL migrants) living in St. John's use dialect features when telling stories. Narratives of personal experience told between friends are examined to determine the ways speakers draw on both traditional Newfoundland dialect features and mainland Canadian features when quoting prior conversations they have had with others. The style of speech under direct observation, referred to as Quoted Speech (QS), is characterized by the retelling of someone else's words and are typically marked by verbs of quotation such as in those underlined in the examples below:

He said, "I'd like to buy a coffee."
She was like, "That's a nice hat!"
They went, "We should get out of here."

The first goal of this study is to describe the ways quoted speech departs from one's typical non-quoting speaking style. QS has been characterized as a performance (Winter 2002), usually imitative or mimetic (Buchstaller 2003), of another's speech with "non-serious actions and selective depictions" (Clarke and Gerrig 1990). Because of the performative nature of QS, this style of speech affords a great opportunity to examine variation in dialect use.

In this province, speakers have a pool of traditional Newfoundland English dialect features at their disposal but may not use them on a regular basis. Clarke (2003) proposed that as traditional Newfoundland dialects declined in use, younger Newfoundlanders would begin to use mainland Canadian forms more often, relegating the traditional dialect to restricted cases, such as with close friends or other members of one's peer group. It is therefore expected that NL migrants, having had early exposure to traditional dialect forms in their home communities, will command a more developed ability to switch between traditional Newfoundland features and standard Canadian English forms compared to life-long residents of St. John's who did not grow up using traditional forms associated with outport communities.

A second goal of this research project is to assess the social function of phonetic and dialect variation in QS. Others have shown that the use of dialect features may serve as socio-symbolic resource for marking one's identity in relation to others. Schilling-Estes (2000), for instance, argued that in her study of a conversation between an African American and a Lumbee Native American, each varied their use of r-deletion, at times, to highlight social differences while, at other times, to build solidarity. In addition to marking the speaker's relationship with the quotee, the decision to alter one's speech patterns in QS may also be seen as a rhetorical interaction strategy (Soukup 2009). The extent to which Newfoundlanders use dialect features in DRS to create cohesiveness with or distance themselves from their quotees will also be examined.

A final goal of this study is to describe the social and linguistic constraints on dialect use in QS. Working in the variationist sociolinguistic framework (Labov 1966, 1972, 2001), which seeks account for variation in language by examining the social environment in which language is used, this project will consider how the speaker's gender and place of origin influence their use of traditional Newfoundland and standard mainland Canadian dialect features. These questions will be addressed using statistical models of spoken language data obtained through peer-to-peer recorded conversations.

St. John's
Happy Valley-Goose Bay
Newfoundland and Labrador
Cultural integration
Quantitative Research
Newfoundland Studies
Industry Sectors 
Scientific Research and Development Services
Heritage Institutions