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Publications

Bibliographic information and abstracts for publications. Please consult the original periodical or book for the complete text.

Van Hofwegen, Janneke (forthcoming). The development of African American English through childhood and adolescence. In Sonja Lanehart, Lisa Green, and Jennifer Bloomquist (eds.), Oxford Handbook of African American Language. Oxford UP.

After more than a half-century of rigorous research on many diverse facets of African American English (AAE), many questions about the use of AAE over the lifespan have been posed. What are the primary influences on a child’s acquisition of AAE? At which point in the lifespan do speakers optimize or minimize their use of AAE? Which elements of language (morphosyntactic, phonetic, pragmatic) and which variables are most salient in the acquisition and use of AAE in childhood? How do AAE speakers negotiate the use of their home dialect in the face of a mainstream American English-speaking majority? This chapter reviews the spate of research that has attempted to answer these questions. It begins with earlier theories about AAE acquisition and use (e.g., those by Stewart, 1965; 1968; Dillard, 1972; and Labov, 1965), and studies examining the relationship between general- and dialect-specific- language acquisition (e.g., Steffenson 1974; Kovac 1980; Kovac & Adamson 1981; Stockman & Vaughn-Cooke 1982, 1989) and change across the early lifespan to more recent studies tracing the relationship between dialect use and academic performance and social/family measures (e.g., Craig & Washington, 2006; Washington & Craig, 2002). Specifically, the chapter highlights a wide-ranging longitudinal study reported elsewhere (e.g., Van Hofwegen & Wolfram, 2010; Van Hofwegen, forthcoming; Renn & Terry, 2009) in which a cohort of ~80 African American children, followed from birth to post-high school, were examined across a range of linguistic and social factors. From this series of studies, a picture has emerged of an AAE speech community that utilizes a roller coaster of AAE use (but with rather stable vocalic structures), peaking and trough-ing at consistently different points in the life span; a community that gradually learns patterns of style-shifting with mainstream American English (to varying degrees); with important impacts of family, educational, and social factors at varying points along the way.


Thomas, Erik and Janneke Van Hofwegen. (2014). Consonantal variation in the English of a Spanish-Substrate Community. In Proceedings in Bamberg Series, Peter Lang Editions, Methods in Dialectology XIV.

One important means by which new dialects can be formed is from linguistic substratal influence. However, scholarly attempts to watch this process in action are mostly recent phenomena and they often cover only one or two generations. Observation of contact communities of longer standing is needed. We have analyzed such a situation for several years. Our community lies in southern Texas, 54 miles (87 km) southwest of San Antonio, composed of two long-standing Anglo and Mexican American populations. In this paper we are looking at variation of the consonants /l/, //, /r/, as well as voice-onset time of stop,s in apparent time in the Mexican American community as they compare with their Anglo neighbors. Our oldest generation, born before 1940, was Spanish-dominant, but the youngest generation, those born since 1980, is English-dominant, often with only a passive knowledge of Spanish. Our analysis reveals that of these consonantal features, two of them, /l/ and //, display ethnically-salient variation patterns. The other two, /r/ and VOT, are not ethnically relevant in this community, but are most associated with educated speech. It may be that in this community rhoticity, bunched /r/s, and positive VOTs are associated with “standard” unmarked, mainstream speech. These results shed light on what variables may or may not be ethnically distinctive to Mexican American English, and which features are regionally salient as well.


Van Hofwegen, Janneke. (2010). The evolution of /l/ across three generations of African Americans. Language Variation and Change 22: 373-396.

In the wake of numerous analyses of vowels in African American English (AAE), this study examines acoustically the phonetic production of a consonant—the word-initial lateral /l/— across several generations of AAE speakers from an enclave community in central North Carolina. Traditionally, /l/ has been dichotomized into alveolar (‘light’) and velarized or alveo- velar (‘dark’) allophones (Giles & Moll, 1975); recent acoustic and articulatory analyses, however, have shown that light/dark /l/ variants are gradient according to context (Sproat & Fujimura, 1993). The results of the study, analyzing speakers from a long-standing African American community, show that /l/ is darker in younger AAE speakers than in older ones, independent of phonetic context. Comparisons with ex-slaves suggest that a light variant of /l/ may be a substrate feature of AAE that has changed in recent decades. Additional comparisons with regional European Americans suggest that the darkening may be due to convergence with majority American English dialects.


Van Hofwegen, Janneke and Walt Wolfram. (2010). Coming of age in African American English: A longitudinal study. Journal of Sociolinguistics 14: 427-455.

This study examines trajectories of development in the use of African American English (AAE) for 32 speakers through the first 17 years of their lives based on a unique, longitudinal database. Temporal data points in the analysis include 48 months, Grade 1 (about age 6), Grade 4 (about age 9), Grade 6 (about age 11), Grade 8 (about age 13), and Grade 10 (about age 15). Complementary methods of analysis for assessing AAE include a token-based Dialect Density Measure (DDM), a type-based vernacular diversity index, and frequency-based variation analysis. The study reveals different trajectories and peak periods for the use of AAE, including a ‘roller coaster’ and a curvilinear trajectory; at the same time, there is a common dip among speakers in the overall use of vernacular AAE from Grade 1 through Grade 4. Examination of a selective set of demographic and self-regard measures shows no significant differences for gender, school racial density, racial peer contacts, and measures of Afro-centricity, but does show a significant correlation between mothers’ and child use of AAE as well as age/grade.


Van Hofwegen, Janneke. (2009). Cross-generational change in /l/ in Chicano English. English World-wide 30: 302-325.

The acoustic study of consonants has lagged considerably behind that of vowels. While a robust literature exists about vowel shifting, vowel quality, and the sociolinguistic significance of vowels, comparable literature is lacking for the acoustic quality of liquids. This study seeks to supplement the acoustic studies of vowels by analyzing characteristics of the liquid /l/ in its word-initial context. Traditionally, phonologists have subdivided /l/ into two allophones: dark and light, although current analysis has characterized these distinctions as gradient, not discrete. Word-initial /l/ is thought to be the canonically lightest variant of the phoneme, but cross- dialectal research has shown great acoustic variance in its phonetic realization. This case study aims to trace the phoneme through three generations of Chicano English speakers from south Texas, and to draw conclusions about how its variation among speakers and generations can shed light on other sociolinguistic phenomena, such as the persistence of substrate features from Spanish (with its characteristically light /l/s) or assimilation into mainstream American English dialects (with their characteristically dark /l/s). The study shows that there is indeed significant shift in the lightness of /l/—independent of phonetic context—across the generations of speakers under examination. This result supports other studies that show notable assimilation with Anglo English varieties in earlier generations, but robust use of ethnically-marked phonological features among recent generations.