Bringing semantics to sociophonetics: Social variables and secondary entailments

E. Allyn Smith, Kathleen Currie Hall, Benjamin Munson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper introduces a novel approach to the question of how sociophonetic information might be stored cognitively that makes use of the tools of formal semantics. This approach involves applying conventional semantic tests for types of lexicalized meanings (e.g. presuppositions, conventional implicatures) to sociophonetic variables, with the hypothesis that, insofar as sociophonetic meaning patterns like lexical meaning, it should be stored in the same way. Two examples of how this approach can be implemented experimentally are given, applying projections tests (Frege, Letter to Peano, University of Chicago, 1896) (i.e., the ‘Family of Sentences’ tests, Chierchia & McConnell-Ginet 1990) and the ‘Hey, Wait a Minute!’ test (Shannon, Foundations of language 14: 247–249, 1976, von Fintel, Would you believe it? The king of France is back! Presuppositions and truth-value intuitions, Oxford University Press, 2004) to patterns of /æ / tensing and retraction in Minnesotan English and /aI / monophthongization in Southern English, respectively. Preliminary results of these experiments indicate that sociophonetic meaning patterns like secondary entailments (such as presuppositions and conventional implicatures) from the semantics literature, being both conventional and subsidiary to the proffered content of an utterance, and thus should be considered lexical. The primary goal of the paper, however, is to present a new way of thinking rather than to provide conclusive laboratory evidence for a specific position.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-155
JournalLaboratory Phonology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 31 2010


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