/æ/ and /ϵ/ in El Paso English

Lance Levi Williams, University of Texas at El Paso


The production and perception of front vowels /æ/ and /ϵ/ by El Paso residents was examined in a pilot study to begin to establish linguistic variables in an understudied yet dynamic speech community and explore the question of the unity of the speech community and possible influence of L2 English speakers on L1 English speakers. 25 subjects, males age 19 to 34, were given both tests of perception and production, and these results were analyzed with respect to their social and linguistic backgrounds. In general, subjects in the Anglo group appeared to be more united in their production and perception of the target vowels than subjects in the Hispanic group. Prosodic factors are suspected to play a role in the perception and production of the vowels studied when traditional acoustic properties F1 and F2 are insufficient to make the distinction, and it appears Anglo and Hispanic speakers may employ these cues differently. Some members of the Hispanic group who were not fluent Spanish speakers showed production similar to speakers of English as a second language, suggesting the possibility of acquisition-like linguistic variables being propagated through sociolinguistic avenues. Production of the two vowels does not appear to corroborate previous findings; lower vowel /æ/ especially appears to be much higher in the vowel space than predicted by previous data, likely complicating the distinction between the two vowels. Evidence of conditional raising of /æ/ was found in many participants, especially in prenasal environments, while _L appears to be a conditioning environment for /æ/, /ϵ/, and /ey/ in what appears to be a prelateral chain shift of these three vowels in the El Paso region, with a high frequency of lowering and retraction of the latter two vowels before /l/. These linguistic behaviors constitute previously undocumented linguistic variables in the El Paso region. The hypothesis that the Hispanic speech community in El Paso is diffuse is supported by the data, which will necessitate the inclusion of more social variables in future studies. Many questions remain about the nature of speech communities such as El Paso and the nature of linguistic variation within them, and discussion is focused on this topic.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Sociolinguistics|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Williams, Lance Levi, "/æ/ and /ϵ/ in El Paso English" (2010). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1479516.