At this week’s MCQLL meeting, Massimo Lipari will be presenting “Timecourse of rhoticity in Quebec French vowels”. Abstract below.

We will be meeting this Tuesday, November 28th at 3:00PM. Meetings are held both in person in room 117 of the McGill Linguistics department and on zoom.

Quebec French is undergoing a rarely observed kind of sound change whereby the front mid rounded vowels /ø/ (as in jeu), /œ/ (coeur), and /œ̃/ (un) become rhotic. That is, they are produced with a bunched tongue or retroflex gesture resulting in F3, like English /ɚ/. Although this has been known for more than 50 years, this process has remained underdocumented. In particular, little has been written about the source of the change: borrowing from English and internal phonological pressures (e.g., contrast enhancement, coarticulation). In this talk, I present data from a new large-scale corpus study of rhotacization, involving more than 8,000 tokens across 106 speakers from all over Quebec. Generalized additive mixed models (GAMMs), which allow arbitrary non-linear curves to be modelled while automatically estimating the degree of smoothness, are used to investigate the change in F3 trajectory shape over time. Results show that the oldest male speakers in the corpus already show evidence of rhoticity in /ø/; for women, F3 in this vowel decreases over the observed timespan. /œ̃/ (but not /œ/) is also found to decrease in F3 for both men and women. These findings do not neatly concord with any of the proposed explanations for rhotacization: a hybrid account is thus suggested.