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Lecture | LUCL Colloquium - Spring 2016

LUCL Colloquium: English in Paradise?

  • David Britain
Friday 1 April 2016
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

English in Paradise? Challenges, opportunities and early results from work on new Englishes in Micronesia


In this presentation, I outline recent ongoing work on the development of a time-aligned-transcribed sociolinguistic corpus of spoken Micronesian English, and discuss early results from analyses the project team are conducting on some linguistic variables in the data.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to sight Micronesia, an archipelago of islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean. Since the end of Spanish colonial rule of the northern Pacific just over a century ago, different parts of Micronesia have come under the control of a range of other nations: Germany, Japan, the UK, Australia, and, for most of Micronesia since 1945, the United States. Today, English is a or the national language in each of the seven political entities that make up contemporary Micronesia.

Investigating the English of Micronesia is interesting and important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is an entirely unexplored area dialectologically. Secondly, recent theoretical attempts to present a unified account of the diachronic development of Englishes world-wide have almost entirely been based on varieties that have emerged as a result of British rather than American colonialism. Finally, although under Anglophone control, few Micronesian islands experienced significant settlement or contact with English-speaking settlers. The linguistic motivation of this project then is to investigate the emergence of previously unresearched new Englishes that have been formed with little face-to-face contact with the superstrate language. One would expect to find, therefore, significant evidence of substrate influence in the emerging Micronesian varieties.

Fieldwork trips to five Micronesian Islands in the Pacific (Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Kiribati, Palau, Nauru, and Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia) led to the collection of a corpus of over 200 hours of sociolinguistically sensitive recordings of conversational English from over 250 local islanders, old and young, male and female, more and less educated and travelled. A collection of recordings from Guam is planned for later in 2016. Time-aligned transcriptions have been made for all recordings using ELAN, and the corpus currently comprises over 1.5 million words. I report on some of the variable linguistic features we are investigating in the corpus: these include future tense marking in Saipanese English, the realisation of /d/ and the grammaticalisation of terms of address into discourse markers in Palauan English, the realisation of alveolar stops in Kiribati English and the insertion of non-etymological /h/ in Kosraean English. 

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