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The sociolinguistics of exogamy: Dialect acquisition in a Zhuang village

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Abstract

Adult dialect acquisition is typically studied in relatively idiosyncratic situations where adults happen to move to another community. But how does dialect acquisition play out in indigenous minority societies that have systemic adult migration due to exogamy? Do the in-married spouses acquire the local variety? Why or why not? How much do they acquire? We investigated an indigenous Zhuang community in southern China. Sociophonetic analyses of in-married women and local villagers show that the in-married women acquired the local variety in most respects but not in aspirated consonants. To the limits of their phonological ability as adult learners, the wives followed the local sociolinguistic norm: they acquired the husbands’ variety. By contrast, in societies experiencing greater external cross-cultural contact, exogamous women sometimes use their liminal status to challenge such gendered sociolinguistic expectations. Comparing the present study with outcomes in different societies, we lay the foundation for a typology of the sociolinguistics of exogamy. In this way, we help expand the study of language and gender toward new horizons and under-represented social settings.

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