Presenter: Elizabeth L. Coggshall
Advisor(s): Erik Thomas
Author(s): Elizabeth L. Coggshall
Graduate Program: English

Title: The realization of /u/ in two Native American varieties of English

Abstract: Vowels are made on two continuous axes, low/high and front/back. This flexibility of pronunciation allows for vowels to be salient, diagnostic features of different dialects. The vowel characteristics of many dialects of English have been previously studied, but the study of varieties of American Indian English have lagged. Despite recent attention to English varieties spoken by Native Americans in the Eastern United States, they have generally been overlooked in terms of their construction of ethnolinguistic identity. In this presentation, acoustic measurements of the /u/ vowel of Lumbee English and Eastern Cherokee English are examined. Though both tribes live in North Carolina, they have vastly different histories and present social situations. Analysis of the highly variable high, back vowel /u/ in these two communities demonstrates just how different they are.

The Eastern Cherokee of Graham County show more similarity to their European American Appalachian cohorts and less change over time than do the Lumbee of Robeson County. In part, the Eastern Cherokee’s accommodation and consistency may be explained in terms of the long-term, highly local interaction between European Americans and Cherokees and the durability of the Cherokee community in this region. Though the Lumbee are regionally connected to other North Carolina dialect regions, they do not exhibit the degree of local dialect accommodation shown by the Cherokee. This difference may be explained in terms of the Lumbee’s early exposure and shift to English, exposure to a wider range of varieties of English, and close contact with both European and African Americans since 1730. Their identity as American Indians has been questioned, leading to greater linguistic burden on marking themselves symbolically as the ethnolinguistic “other”—neither white nor black—in tri-ethnic Robeson County.