Dr Zoë Boughton

Research interests

Zoë Boughton welcomes enquiries about postgraduate supervision (for MRes, MPhil and PhD degrees) in areas relating to the sociolinguistics and dialectology of French, such as: phonological and phonetic variation and change; French regional accents and social varieties; dialect and accent levelling; standardisation, purism and language ideology; language attitudes and perceptual dialectology; folk linguistics.

Sociolinguistics of Contemporary French, especially Standardisation and Social-Regional Accent Variation in Metropolitan France

I'm interested in all aspects of the linguistics, and particularly the sociolinguistics, of the French language, but my main area of research is variation and change in the pronunciation (phonetics and phonology) of metropolitan French. During my PhD, I gathered a large corpus (about 60 hours) of speech recordings by carrying out urban dialect surveys in the cities of Nancy and Rennes. The design of the corpus means that I can examine variation with regard to the major extra-linguistic variables of region, gender, age and social class. I'm especially interested in the apparent loss of traditional regional accents in France, whether this is owing to standardisation or levelling, whether uniformisation of speech is continuing and on what level, and how variation is expressed in contemporary French if regional features have been attenuated.

Perception, Salience and Connotations of Accents

The other main strand of my research is the investigation of ‘folk' (= non-linguists') perceptions of and attitudes towards language variation. This is important not least for the reason that speakers' beliefs and feelings about different varieties of a language can materially affect not only their own speech behaviour but potentially the direction of far-reaching linguistic changes. Most early language attitudes research in social psychology focused on hearers' attitudes towards speakers of certain types of language (for example, is a Brummie speaker friendly?; is a speaker of RP trustworthy?). More recently, the field of Perceptual Dialectology has sought answers to other questions, such as how many different varieties of a given language its native speakers believe to exist and where they think these are located geographically. My work on French has involved asking native speakers to listen to audio clips of other native speakers (from Nancy and Rennes) and say where they think they are from, what their socio-economic background might be, and so forth.

The two studies I have carried out so far have both been reported in the press. Here are links to articles in The Guardian and the Chicago Tribune.



Forthcoming Research Projects

A quantitative variationist analysis of word-final post-obstruent liquid deletion in my corpus (i.e. the dropping of /l/ and /R/ in words like table > tab' and quatre > quat') has revealed conclusively that this variable functions as a sociolinguistic marker in contemporary metropolitan French. I am now carrying out an investigation of the effects of following phonological context on the variant realised; that is, whether the token is followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a consonant, or a silent pause. My working hypothesis is that there is a particularly strong interaction between the following phonological context and the social class of the speaker.

In the article that appeared in the JFLS in 2006 I presented some results of a perceptual study carried out in the Pays de la Loire region. This reported on non-linguists' ability to identify the region of origin of a sample of speakers from Nancy and Rennes based on short audio extracts, and on their perceptions of these speakers as having a rural or an urban background. Further data yet to be analysed and published concern two more key aspects of this study: (i) the identification of the socio-economic background of the speakers and (ii) the hearers' evaluations of the aesthetic qualities of the speech samples.