Language, Ethnicity and Identity in a New Jersey Korean-American Community
This dissertation investigates the variable patterning of two phonological features in the speech of 24 Korean Americans in the most densely populated Korean American community in the US, Bergen County, in the northeast corner of New Jersey, bordering Manhattan, New York City. The quantitative analysis, including detailed acoustic phonetic analysis, is augmented by ethnographic observation and analysis of variation in the speech of individual speakers, to gain further insight into the social meanings of linguistic variation in this community. The variable features investigated, /ɔ/ and /æ/ (which is commonly referred to as a short-a), are pivotal in delimiting US dialect areas, especially in the Northeastern US, since two major cities, New York City and Philadelphia, show patterns for the variables raising of /ɔ/ and raising/fronting of /æ/ that distinguish them from other US dialect areas and from `general American English'. The study also presents the first quantitative sociolinguistic study of Korean American English.The analyses yield two major findings. First, Bergen County Korean Americans show participation in the traditional New York City Metropolitan area English (NYCE) regional production pattern - raised /ɔ/ and a recently developed pattern of phonological conditioning for tense /æ/, the pre-nasal /æ/ tensing system. The findings thus help dispel the common assumption of non-White ethnic groups' non-participation in regional variation and change (Labov 2001: 506).The second major finding investigates the effect of social factors on variation within the community. The examination of speaker gender, residency area, and religion strongly suggest that the variable patterning of each feature is associated with a different aspect of Bergen County Korean Americans' local ethnic identity. Results suggest that the height of /ɔ/ is associated with Korean ethnic identity, while the degree of /æ/ tensing in pre-nasal environments is associated with local Bergen County identity of Korean Americans. The associations between various types and facets of identity and patterns of language variation are further revealed in the examination of intra-speaker variation across sociolinguistic interview topics, and it is found that participants use variants of /ɔ/ and /æ/ to shape their desired identity and refrain from undesired identities.Focusing on a major ethnic community and its members provides significant contributions to the study of language variation and change, language and ethnicity, and language and identity. This dissertation introduces Korean Americans and their English production patterns, and fills an existing gap in the field. Secondly, it helps dispel the widely held belief that ethnic minorities in the US do not participate in patterns of (White) regional variation and change. Finally, this dissertation indicates that there are important connections between the variable use of regional features and Korean Americans' ethnic and local identity and those different features can be associated with different facets of identity.
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