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The role of marriage in linguistic contact and variation: Two Hmong dialects in Texas


Address correspondence to:
James N. Stanford
Program in Linguistics & Cognitive Science
Dartmouth College
305 Reed Hall, HB 6220
Hanover, NH 03755


The role of marriage in linguistic contact and variation has been under-represented in sociolinguistic research. In any practice-based analysis, individual interactions and relationships are crucial. Therefore, marriage relationships – small but intense communities of practice – deserve variationist attention for their role in dialect construction and identity. This investigation of cross-dialectal marriages explores how dialect practices and choices are negotiated between partners. The results show the importance of viewing this linguistic behavior in terms of community ideology, culture, and individual choice, rather than primarily as a matter of the amount and intensity of contact. Likewise, the study shows how less commonly studied minority communities can bring new insights to the study of dialect acquisition and linguistic contact. Specifically, this investigation focuses on marriages between speakers of two different dialects of Hmong, a Hmong-Mien language of Southeast Asia. On the basis of home visits to ten Hmong immigrant households in Texas, the study analyzes lexical and phonetic contrasts and ethnographic interviews. Results suggest that macro-level shifts in Hmong social organization and gender roles are being reflected and constructed by gendered, marriage-level dialect practices. The linguistic behavior in these marriages is best viewed as a matter of community ideology in tension with individual choice: individual wives are choosing to challenge the traditional Hmong ideology regarding language behavior in cross-dialect marriages.

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