Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Linguistics Program

Committee Chair

Leora Bar-el

Commitee Members

Tully Thibeau, Mizuki Miyashita


acquisition, second dialects, Pittsburgh English, southwestern Pennsylvania, low-back vowel merger, dialectology


University of Montana


This thesis presents an analysis of second-dialect acquisition of Pittsburgh English phonological features. Pittsburgh English is the dialect spoken in southwestern Pennsylvania. There are two phonological features unique to the dialect: (i) the [ɔ] realization of the low-back vowel merger and (ii) monophthongal /aw/ (Johnstone et al. 2002). The current study is based on speech data collected from nine participants, native speakers of other dialects of English who now live in southwestern Pennsylvania. This analysis shows that these two phonological features can be acquired. This is the first study to examine Pittsburgh English as a second-dialect. Participants read a word list and a short reading passage adapted from data collection methods developed by Johnstone & Kiesling (2011). I analyzed words containing the low-back vowels and /aw/ using the Praat suite (Boersma & Weenink 2013), an acoustic program that extracts vowel frequencies. These frequencies reveal if speakers produce these vowels as found in their first-dialect or as they are produced in Pittsburgh English, their second-dialect. This analysis revealed that three participants have acquired the merger; of these three, two have also acquired monophthongal /aw/. Furthermore, one participant who lacks the merger has acquired the monophthong. This study also provides an analysis of two speaker variables – dialect awareness and gender – in the acquisition of phonological features. Participants’ awareness of the dialect, its features, and any opinions they have about the dialect area were determined through interviews conducted after they provided speech data. I propose that speakers who are aware of the use of monophthongal /aw/ in southwestern Pennsylvania do not produce the feature. I also propose that the presence of the feature correlates with gender, as it is only present in the speech of male participants. However, dialect awareness and gender do not account for the distribution of the merger. These second-dialect findings support previous first-dialect studies of Pittsburgh English (Johnstone & Kiesling 2008; Eberhardt 2009). The analysis put forth in this thesis has implications for dialect studies, as it shows that adults can acquire features of a second-dialect. Furthermore, the same speaker variables that factor into the distribution of first-dialect features are also applicable to second-dialect features. This analysis not only adds to the documentation of Pittsburgh English, but also more generally contributes to the understudied field of second-dialect acquisition.



© Copyright 2014 Lisa Marie Sprowls