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WATER AND THE JAMAICAN IDENTITY
2018

For my most complex piece of research, I was inspired by Jamaicans' pronunciation of the word ‘water’. It is distinct and we’re all cognisant that this pronunciation differs from other English speakers. 

In non-linguistic terms, we articulate the T in the middle of the word, and the -ER at the end of the word sounds like -uh.

 

However, having lived in Canada for 7 years, I observed many Jamaicans change their pronunciation when communicating with North Americans: either to articulate the final r (wata —> waTER), or to do this alongside flapping (wata —> waDER, making their T sound like a D).

 

My main motivation was to observe if Jamaicans alter their speech while living in North America, by examining if they change these very distinct Jamaican features.

 

My sample consisted of 10 male and 10 female Jamaican university students going to school in Canada or the United States. I chose to focus on university students to get a homogenous group in terms of social class and dialect - all of these university students are speakers of Jamaican Standard English.​

Students were interviewed either in person or on Facetime. It was important that in both settings, the participant and interviewer could see each other’s faces. 

 

Half of the interviews were led by myself (a Jamaican) and the other half were led by a female Canadian university student - to examine the direct effect of speaking with a North American.

 

Our language is tied so closely to our identity, especially when living away from home. I sought to answer the following questions:

Would Jamaican students actually flap or pronounce unstressed final /r/ - even in the presence of another Jamaican? Would they do it more when interviewed by a Canadian?

 

What about the effect of sex? Will female students change their speech more than their male counterparts? Is there proof to women being more "linguistically insecure"?
 

Do Jamaicans studying abroad (who are arguably at the "top" of Jamaican society) feel the need to change their dialect to assimilate? If not for assimilation - why else? To gain clarity? To avoid ridicule?

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