Language variation and change in an Amdo Tibetan village: Gender, education and resistance
Reynolds, Jermay J.
This dissertation examines variation in the realization of the final bilabial nasal (m) among speakers of Amdo Tibetan farmer dialect. The bilabial nasal (m) in words like lam `road', for example, neutralizes with the alveolar nasal /n/ in syllable final positions and thus becomes len. The merged variant [n] is typically described as an innovative dialect feature of farmer dialect resulting from language contact with Chinese and other languages of the area. Using sociolinguistic interview data from 60 speakers of a single (transitional mountain) farmer village in Qinghai Province in Western China, balanced in terms of sex and age and stratified by literacy, this dissertation quantitatively explores linguistic and social factors conditioning the use of the variable.The overall production pattern associated with merging is indicative of a sound change in progress, with younger speakers leading older speakers. This is perhaps the first report of a sound change in progress in a Tibetan speech community. Moreover, it finds that merging interacts with age, sex and literacy in a number of complex ways. While merging is led by female speakers in the earlier stages of sound change, sex-based variation disappears among younger speakers, among whom literacy status is the primary social conditioning factor, with the illiterate speakers favoring the merged variant [n].By drawing on ethnographic insight, it is shown that the originally female-led change towards the non-merged variant [n] is best explained by local marriage practices and the traditional socioeconomic roles played by older speakers. On the other hand, the disfavoring of the merged variant [n] by more literate younger speakers suggests a revitalization of this non-merged variant. Furthermore, examination of the local linguistic ideologies and production patterns of younger speakers suggests that the increased use of the non-merged variant [m] is socially motivated. Many of the more educated speakers are taking a stance against merging, as it indexes encroachment of the Chinese language.
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