Is Toronto English multiethnolectalizing? A sociolinguistic study of the Jamaican community

Vortragende(r) Prof. Lars Hinrichs, Alexander von Humboldt-Fellow
Institution(en) University of Austin, Texas
Datum 25.06.2020, 12 Uhr
Uhrzeit 14:00 Uhr
Ort Virtual, via Teams

External participants: please contact Stefanie Jannedy for an invitation to this event!


This project is a study of language in the Jamaican Canadian community. As a sociolinguistic look at a diasporic group, it exemplifies some of the theoretical stakes in the sociolinguistics of globalization (Hinrichs 2011, 2014; Blommaert 2010). In essence, a study of language variation in diaspora highlights modern urban diversity, and thus forces us to abandon the notions of relative ethnic and linguistic homogeneity, which twentieth-century sociolinguistics is founded on (Smakman 2015). Methodologically, a strong diaspora with some level of heritage language maintenance (Polinsky 2018), such as the one under study here, forces us to include more than the typical single dimension of variation from vernacular to standard forms of speech. At the very least, variation must be understood as a negotiation of local and heritage identities (Le Page and Tabouret-Keller 1985), with linguistic choices variably indexing the different facets of speakers’ bicultural backgrounds. 

My presentation demonstrates the methodological implications for a computational analysis of sociophonetic variation among members of the community. In order to study a primary corpus of interviews with members of the Jamaican community in Toronto, I tap into two baseline corpora of (i) non-Jamaican Toronto English and (ii) mesolectal Jamaican Creole. Formant estimates were spectrographically obtained for more than 50,000 vowels using both semi- and fully automated procedures, which will be demonstrated in the lecture. Most critically, the suite of methods is centered on semi-automated transcription, forced time-alignment of transcripts and recordings, automated formant estimation, and statistics using current data-scientific methods. 

By tapping into recent methodological advances in computational sociolinguistics, we can overcome some of the obstacles that have so far hindered a more fully empirical sociolinguistics of diaspora. For example, we can solve the low-N problem in the face of smaller communities and greater numbers of dimensions of variation.


Hinrichs, Lars. 2011. The sociolinguistics of diaspora: Language in the Jamaican Canadian community. In J.R. Sullivant (ed.), Texas Linguistics Forum - Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual Symposium about Language and Society - Austin, 1–22. Austin: University of Texas at Austin.

Hinrichs, Lars. 2014. Diasporic mixing of World Englishes: The case of Jamaican Creole in Toronto. In E. Green & C. Meyer (eds.), The variability of current World Englishes (Topics in English Linguistics 87.1), 169–194. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Le Page, Robert B. & Andree Tabouret-Keller. 1985. Acts of identity: Creole-based approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge: CUP. 

Polinsky, Maria. 2018. Heritage languages and their speakers. Cambridge: CUP. 

Smakman, D. 2015. The westernizing mechanisms in sociolinguistics. Globalising sociolinguistics: Challenging and expanding theory, 16–35. London: Routledge.

Lars Hinrichs
Associate Professor
English Department, The University of Texas at Austin