Commentary on Bill Haddican’s “Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English,” by ARC Student Fellow Maria Cioe Pena

Fishman and Garcia (2001) have called New York City “The multilingual apple.” While the Advance Research Collaborative lecture series has taken us to many different places over the course of the semester, Bill Haddican’s final lecture in the series brought us all home – to that amazing and ever changing multilingual apple.

In his presentation, titled “Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English,” Haddican introduced us to the ways in which New York City English (NYCE) is changing as a result of the multilingual infusions introduced by its culturally and linguistically diverse population. The topic of the lecture – deeply grounded in linguistic theory – could have been rather inaccessible and dense yet Haddican did a great job of creating multiple entry points for a diverse audience. In order to make the topic not only accessible but also interesting to all, Haddican showed a dynamic MRI video of how the tongue engages in vowel production – which results in the high/low front/back assignation given to vowels in relation to tongue placement in the mouth cavity. He also explained how linguist think about vowels, had the audience say words and engage in a shared task. Additionally, he explained sound production and speaking patterns using visual representations of the phenomena he was discussing.

All of these considerations, while small, made a significant impact on the understanding and engagement of the audience. This increased understanding made it possible to appreciate Haddican’s findings in relation to the ways that NYCE is changing. While Haddican spoke about two different variationist studies that looked at the evolution of the NYCE in relation to accent, specifically the contrast between 2 vowels, both related to the ways in which NYCE was changing and the influence that parents – and parents’ home language – had on the application and phonetics/phonology of English presented by their children. While the results are preliminary and require further exploration there seems to be some indication that children/adults who are born into families with a parent who is a “native” speaker of NYCE tend to maintain the sound separation that is slowly disappearing from the speech practices of children/adults who were born into families with two parents whose native language was not English. Another interesting finding of Haddican’s study is that NYCE is changing even for some White “non-heritage” speakers. The reasons for this are unclear and Haddican intends to explore the possibilities in future work with larger samples.

In this final lecture, Haddican was able to bring the audience together under the topics of language, immigration and family relationships. In many ways bringing together many of the topics covered across the semester. I look forward to seeing where Dr. Haddican takes this research and where NYCE goes from here.

~Maria Cioe Pena


García, O., & Fishman, J. A. (Eds.). (2001). The multilingual apple: languages in New York City. Walter de Gruyter.

Haddican, B. (2016). Multilingualism and Language Change in New York City: Insights from the Corpus of New York City English. Presentation, New York, New York.