Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Linguistic Variation and Social Practice in a Vietnamese American Student Organization
by Nguyen, Emily, Ph.D., New York University, 2019, 352; 22615974
Abstract (Summary)

Explorations of ethnicity and linguistic variation have long been a major focus within sociolinguistic research. The ever-changing landscape of ethnic minority communities in the U.S. present further opportunities to examine how language becomes a resource individuals and communities can use to position themselves in relation to a host of social identities. This dissertation seeks to explore how members of an Asian American identified community position themselves in relation to local and ethnic identities through the use of two linguistic features.

This dissertation examines linguistic variation and social practices among members of a Vietnamese American student organization at a university in Minnesota, and one main group of participants as well as two control groups are included: (1) speakers who are affiliated with the Vietnamese American Student Organization, (2) speakers who represent a sample of white peers (control), and (3) speakers who were born and raised in Vietnam and identify strongly as Vietnamese (control). Data in this study were collected though ethnographic fieldwork that took place over the course of one academic year at the university. Analyses rely on ethnographic observations and recordings of individual speakers in sociolinguistic interviews.

The variables of interest in this study include TRAP shifting as part of the Northern Cities Shift, a locally identified variable, and /l/-vocalization, a feature linked to heritage language influence among Asian American communities in previous research. Results of the TRAP shifting analyses suggest that general shifting of this vowel has not progressed among speakers in this study to the extent shown in research on areas affected by the Northern Cities Shift, such as Rochester, Detroit, and Chicago. Pre-nasal contexts show the most and largest degree of shifting while non-nasal contexts show little evidence of shifting. Analyses point to an overall conclusion that the NCS has not fully progressed in this geographic region. Further, comparisons between speakers affiliated with the Vietnamese American student organization and the control group of white peers show no significant differences in relation to this vowel variable. A further analysis of pre-velar raising suggests that this particular TRAP context promotes shifting and may be subject to community-specific social meaning among Vietnamese Americans.

Results of the analyses of /l/-vocalization show significant differences between the main Vietnamese American speaker group, white peers, and native Vietnamese speakers born and raised in Vietnam, with native Vietnamese speakers exhibiting by far the highest rates of /l/-vocalization, white speakers exhibiting the lowest rates, and Vietnamese American speakers exhibiting intermediate rates. In an analysis of /l/-vocalization among the main Vietnamese American speaker group alone, independent factors of affiliation to the Vietnamese American student organization, birthplace, birth order, and social class reach significance. Taken together with ethnographic observations, /l/-vocalization is explored as a variable correlated to non-local and immigrant or “FOB” identities.

This research adds to our knowledge of the linguistic practices of Asian Americans, an understudied group in sociolinguistic research, and emphasizes the wide range of histories and cultures that this label encompasses. The purpose of this research is to examine how speakers negotiate a diverse set of identities within the bounds of a specific community and how shared experiences shape the social meaning of linguistic variation. These issues are examined with focus on the intersections of ethnicity and other meaningful social categories given a more nuanced view of ethnicity in which ethnic groups are not monolithic and their linguistic productions may reflect ethnic identity, local affiliation, and a host of other social alignments.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Singler, John Victor
Commitee: Guy, Greg, Blake, Renee, Davidson, Lisa, Reyes, Angela
School: New York University
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/5(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Asian American Studies
Keywords: Asian American, Ethnography, Identity, Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Sociophonetics
Publication Number: 22615974
ISBN: 9781392839690
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