UBC Undergraduate Research

Perceptual identification of talker ethnicity in Vancouver English Wong, Phoebe


As a result of historical and ongoing immigration patterns, English in Metro Vancouver has been in close contact with Punjabi and Cantonese for years. This persistent language contact, the establishment of Chinese and East Indian communities, and the struggle of Canadian-raised Punjabi and Chinese identities set up ripe conditions for the formation of Chinese and East Indian ethnolinguistic repertoires. Thus, the purpose of this project was to investigate listeners’ ability to identify the ethnicities of white, East Indian, and Chinese talkers in Vancouver in order to determine the existence of such repertoires. Semi-spontaneous speech of talkers from these three groups was recorded. Then listeners from Metro Vancouver were presented with sentences from these recordings and asked to identify the talker’s ethnicity for each sentence in a forced-choice identification task. Results indicate that listeners were able to identify talker ethnicity above chance, implying the emergence of salient ethnolinguistically-associated features contributing to the diversity of Vancouver English. In addition, listeners with Chinese social networks exhibited higher accuracy identifying Chinese talkers than listeners with white social networks, emphasizing the role of experience in perceiving talker ethnicity. Finally, results indicating that listeners were most likely to misidentify East Indian and Chinese talkers as white as opposed to the other Asian talker group argue against the existence of a general Asian ethnolinguistic repertoire. These results also suggest that Cantonese and Punjabi Canadian communities can preserve elements of their linguistic heritage while establishing a space in the mainstream Vancouver community.

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