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Title

Putting Michiganese on the Map: A Study in Perceptual Dialectology

Abstract

Perceptual dialectology, the study of attitudes toward language variation, shows that individuals determine dialect boundaries not only by linguistic features, but also along geographic lines and according to sociocultural differences. Perceptions of places where speakers have accents and even what aesthetic qualities a given accent has are in this way a dynamic confluence of what speakers hear via variation in language use and also their internal, culturally mediated social attitudes. Speakers’ perceptions of dialects therefore correspond directly to their attitudes about groups of people who speak those dialects. This study investigates how Michigan speakers divide the state into dialect regions, and therefore into groups of speakers, and what characteristics are assigned to a “Michigan accent.” Participants marked on a map of Michigan where they believe distinct dialect regions exist, and provided descriptions of the language and speakers in the places they indicated. Results show that speakers perceive several distinct regional Michigan accents, most saliently attributed to speakers in the Upper Peninsula and Detroit, though these are marked socially and linguistically along different criteria: While the U.P. is described in terms of its geographic distinctiveness and specific lexical features unique to the region, perceptions of Detroit are racially driven by references to an African American population and stigmatized language use.

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