science research final paper | Accent (Sociolinguistics) | Second Language

Julian Rauter

Margaretville Central School
Dialect Acquisition in Downstate Migrants to the
Catskills: A Study in Speech and Conflict

Table of Contents
Abstract: p. 1
I.

Review of the Literature: pp. 1-2

II. Hypothesis: p. 3
III. Methods and Materials: pp. 3-7
A. Speakers: pp. 3-6
B. Stimulus File: p. 6
C. Rating Sheets: p. 7
D. Raters: p. 7
IV. Results: pp. 7-9
V. Discussion, Conclusions, and Significance: pp. 9-13
VI. References and Citations: pp. 13-16
Attachment: p. 16

List of Figures
Fig. 1: British/Canadian childhood D2 acquisition (Chambers 1992), p. 1
Fig. 2: Canadian/Alabaman adult D2 acquisition (Munro et al. 1999), p. 2
Fig. 3: 9-point rating scale, p. 7
Fig. 4: Native/Migrant group rating comparison, p. 8
Fig. 5: Percentages of Catskill friends reported by Migrants, p. 9
Fig. 6: Percentages of Catskill coworkers reported by Migrants, p. 9

Abstract: Individuals moving from one dialect-specific area to another often pick up some
characteristics of the new region's speech patterns. Dialect acquisition is subtle in adults and
therefore understudied in the field of sociolinguistics. This study collected speech samples from
natives of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York and Catskill residents originally from the
New York City Metropolitan Area. A perceptual methodology using a 9-point scale was
employed to determine acquisition (Munro et al. 1999). Fifty percent of the migrant ratings fell
in the range of 7-9, indicating a lower-than-expected degree of acquisition. Post-hoc tests showed
that ratings of the two groups differed significantly (p < 0.0001). Despite their high lengths of
residence, migrants were still perceived to exhibit a strong degree of “downstate” accent. This
supports the “critical period” hypothesis about language change and its application to D2 speech
learning. The data collected in this study also point to the existence of a social conflict between
Catskill natives and downstate migrants. Many of the downstate speakers reported encountering
prejudice from Catskill natives because they were “city people”; the low acquisition levels reveal
a linguistic component to this social incompatibility.
I. Review of the Literature
Most studies in dialect acquisition focus on children. Up to about age 18, people are more
receptive to learning a new language or dialect. Later learning is associated with “increasingly
less native-like pronunciation” (M.J. Munro et al. 1999). Those studies that do focus on adults,
such as Flege (1995), have shown that changes in pronunciation are possible throughout a
lifespan, but become increasingly limited as age increases. The notion of convergence as stated
by Giles & Smith (1979) says that individuals tend to switch their speech styles to be more like
those with whom they are interacting, regardless of age. It has been concluded from this that
"adult migrants to a new dialect area [are] able to acquire some but not all of the features of the
D2 [second dialect]" (Munro et al. 1999).
Dialect acquisition has been studied in several
ways. Chambers (1992) collected speech samples from
a migrant Canadian group residing in England and a
native British group and compared the percentages of
specific phonological features in the two groups.
Amount of acquisition in this study was quantified by
measuring percentages of certain dialectal features in
the immigrant children’s speech. It was noticed that
the older children (ages 15-17) had very low
percentages of measurable dialect acquisition, as seen
in Fig. 1. However, it was apparent that they had
acquired the British dialect to some degree. Though
Fig. 1: Percentage of British dialect features in
the speech of British children (black bars) and
the children had not acquired the dialect under close
Canadian children living in Britain (gray bars)
linguistic analysis, they still sounded like they had
(Chambers 1992)
acquired it.
Munro et. al. (1999) studied second dialect
acquisition with a different method. This study accounted for the fact that adult immigrants into
an area will begin to sound like the inhabitants of that area, regardless of how much they have
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actually “linguistically” acquired the area’s speech
forms. This required the use of a perceptual study.
The perceptual method is common in L2 (second
language) research, notably Flege et. al. (1995).
This was the first study to employ it in D2 (second
dialect) research. The basic methods consist of
eliciting speech samples from one immigrant
speaker group and one native speaker group. The
samples are then played in a randomized order to
natives, who are asked to rate how close to their
own speech the speakers sound. For example,
Munro et. al. asked native Canadians and native
Alabamans to rate speech samples on a scale of 1 to
9 in terms of how close or far from their own
Fig. 2: Frequencies of each rating (from 1 to 9)
assigned by Canadian listeners to the speech of
speech the samples were. The immigrants were
native Alabamans (AA), native Canadians (CC),
generally rated with intermediate numbers, showing
and Canadians living in Alabama (CA) (Munro
partial perceptual acquisition. In Fig. 2, the gray
1999)
bars represent these immigrant subjects.
This supports previous claims that though subjects outside the critical period may not
acquire the D2 perfectly, they will likely sound like they have acquired it to the untrained ear.
Not only that, but they may be capable of fooling the trained ear. This was suggested by the last
part of the “Canadians in Alabama” study, which had phonetically trained listeners rate certain
dialect-variable words from the two subject groups. In fact, the trained listeners rated the
immigrants closer to the “American” side of the spectrum than the untrained listeners. While this
may be skewed by the use of a coarser rating scale, it still stands as evidence that untrained
laymen are often capable of detecting speech difference approximately as well as professional
linguists. While this theory had already been supported, it was not known previously whether it
applied to D2 acquisition (Munro et al. 1999).
The dialects of New York State were first investigated in the 1940s by the Linguistic
Atlas Project. Dr. Hans Kurath supervised the creation of a linguistic map that placed a large area
of southeastern New York in the Hudson Valley dialect area (Hawkins 1941). This included the
Catskill Mountains of the southeast-central upstate region. However, this claim was later
challenged by a study that found incidence of Appalachian grammatical features in the Catskills.
This provided evidence that the Catskill Mountains are not only geographically but also
linguistically distinct from the Hudson Valley (Birns 1986).
Sociolinguistic studies in the Appalachian region have shown that Appalachian English
often carries negative stereotypes, being associated with lower-class and uneducated speakers.
This sort of stereotype can cause interpersonal conflict, as their speakers may be seen as inferior
by the speakers of other less stigmatized dialects. This can also cause resistance to
accommodation (Luhman 1990).

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II. Hypothesis
The research sought to answer the primary question of how much of the Catskills dialect
permanent migrants from downstate New York are perceived by natives to exhibit in
conversational speech. This led to the formation of the following hypothesis:
If the speech of adult downstate migrants to the Catskills is rated by adult natives of the region,
they will be perceived to have partially acquired aspects of Catskill dialect. “Partial
acquisition” is here defined as 50% or more of the ratings falling in the intermediate range of
4-6 on a 9-point scale.
The primary goal of this research was to confirm or disconfirm this central hypothesis, but data
mining allowed for the addition of some secondary questions related to the social dynamics
between the two groups.
III. Methods and Materials
1. Speakers
In order to ensure the study’s validity, a set of criteria were laid out at the beginning of the data
collection process. Here are the initial criteria, with later alterations and notes in sub-bullets:
• The native group of speakers must consist of 10 speakers, all of whom were born in the
Catskill Mountain region (defined here as anywhere in Greene, Delaware, Ulster, and
Sullivan Counties, with the exception of towns such as Kingston in the eastern part of
Ulster County occupied by the Hudson River).
• The majority of speakers came from the Delaware County town of Margaretville,
Fleischmanns, and Roxbury, with several others from the Ulster County town of Phoenicia
and the Greene County town of Halcott Center.
• The subject must have lived in the Catskills until at least age 18.
• Several subjects left the region for college and lived outside of the Catskills for over 10
years, but almost all of these subjects reported having returned no more recently than 5
years ago. The only exception was Subject A9, who was considered still a valid sample of
“Catskill” speech as he was part of a family that claims over four generations of residence
in the Catskills and has a strong regional identity.
• The subject must currently reside in the Catskill area and must identify themselves as a
Catskill native.
• Participation was voluntary, so agreement to participate was considered self-identification
as a native.
• The subject must be over 25 years old.
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• The migrant group of speakers must consist of 10 speakers, all of whom were born and
grew up in or around the New York City Metropolitan area (including Long Island,
Northern New Jersey, and the lower Hudson Valley starting with Putnam and Orange
Counties).
• That a subject “grew up in” the downstate region was initially defined as residence until the
age of 18, but the availability of subjects forced me to allow two exceptions. Subject B3
moved from Long Island to the Catskills town of Roxbury at age 16, and Subject B4 spent
part of her adolescence in an English-speaking part of Montreal. Both were considered to
be acceptable samples as the estimate of 18 years is in fact based on no specific rule about
the “critical period” for speech learning; it was merely selected due to the fact that it was
well outside of the critical period. (Different theorists have posited that the critical period
age may be as low as 12 or 15 years)
• The subject must have lived in the Catskills for a minimum of 5 years.
• Most subjects well exceeded this number.
• The subject's first language must have been English, as second-language acquisition can
affect second-dialect acquisition.
• The subject must be over 25 years old.
Communication with Dr. James Emil Flege resulted in the initial creation of a fifth criterion for
the migrant subjects:
• The migrant subject must have daily contact with Catskill natives (4 out of the 5 people
with whom they verbally interact the most on a daily basis must be Catskill natives).
It turned out that this was nearly impossible as many people migrated to the Catskills along with
their family, who were also from downstate. This criterion was eliminated after it became
apparent that very few people met it. It is possible that the response to the question “How many
close friends/coworkers do you have who are Catskill natives?” was a better metric for
determining daily interaction with Catskill natives.
Over the course of five months, I recorded twenty speakers. Each of these speakers was
either found through a personal connection or through responding to a flyer posted in several
public locations in the Delaware County villages of Margaretville and Fleischmanns. The text of
the flyer read as follows:
Just how “Catskill” are you?
Performing research on Catskill life and culture. Looking for interview subjects: both Catskill
natives and full-time residents who are originally from downstate New York, including NYC and
Long Island. Interviews will last less than an hour and will be recorded for data purposes.
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Subjects must be at least 25 years old. Non-natives must have lived in the Catskills for at least 5
years. Contact me at catskillstudy@yahoo.com or [home phone number] if you are interested in
helping further our knowledge about the Catskills and its people.
Please provide your age, place of birth, and length of residence in the Catskills.
The majority of subjects contacted me at the catskillstudy@yahoo address and set up a
date to be interviewed. Subjects were recorded wherever was convenient, so long as it was quiet
enough to get a high quality recording. Eight subjects were recorded at local libraries, eight in
their offices or places of business, three in their own homes, and one in my home.
The Catskill speakers ranged in age from 28 to 70 with a mean of 55.5 and the migrant
speakers ranged in age from 42 to 76 with a mean of 59.6. The LOR (length of residence) in the
Catskills for the transplants ranged from 7 years to 41 years, with a mean of 28.4 years.
Each subject was informed only that I was performing research on life in the Catskills
and the conflict between Catskill natives and downstate migrants; they were not told that the
project had a linguistic purpose until after the speech sample was collected.
All of the recordings were collected with a Dayton Audio iMM-6 Calibrated
Measurement Microphone connected to an Apple iPod Touch running the free application Voice
Record Pro from BejBej Apps. Each subject provided two recordings, the first of which was a
sociolinguistic interview. This consisted of asking the subject to relate their life story in a brief
fashion and asking questions as they arose. Cues to subject interest in a particular topic were
followed and served as fodder for further questions. The purpose behind this was to bring the
subjects to a conversational speech level in which their most natural dialect patterns could
emerge. It also served to collect qualitative judgments on Catskills life and insight about the
upstate-downstate conflict from both sides of the issue. Interviews ranged in length from about
10 minutes to just over 40 minutes. They were kept and used heavily in the qualitative part of the
study’s data analysis.
The second recording was a speech elicitation exercise drawing from the precedent set by
Munro et al. (1999); subjects were asked to view and narrate a simple picture story (see
Attachment). Eight panels in length, it portrayed a man entering a grocery store, purchasing
several goods, and then slipping on a wet floor. The purpose of this was twofold: to elicit casual
speech as well as possible pronunciation variations between upstate and downstate speakers.
Though very little is known about the phonology of the Catskills dialect, Dr. Aaron Dinkin (a
dialect geographer specializing in upstate New York) indicated in personal correspondence that
short “a” sounds are often tensed in the proximity of consonants such as “m” and “b” in the
speech of NYC Metropolitan Area inhabitants. As a result, the picture story contained images
that would elicit words such as “ham,” “can,” “pan,” “man,” and “fan,” in the hope that the
pronunciation of short “a” might serve as a linguistic shibboleth (distinguishing marker) for
whether a subject acquired the Catskill dialect. Subjects were presented with the picture story
and asked simply to narrate what was going on in the picture. They were not told the purpose of
the exercise until after they had finished narrating the story; they were merely told that it was not
intended as a psychological test of any sort. These speech samples ranged in length from about
half a minute to two and a half minutes. They were later edited into the stimulus file that was
presented to the raters.
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In addition to the interview, the speakers were asked to fill out a brief sheet asking their
age, place of birth, and (for the migrants) how many close friends and coworkers they had who
were Catskill natives.
2. Stimulus File
Once all of the samples had been collected, they were copied into Audacity Sound
Editing Software Version 2.0.5 and a ten second sample was edited out from each. The original
plan was to extract all the samples from the beginning to ensure similar content, as done in the
precedent study (Munro 1999). However, when the recordings were compared it was found that
not all of the subjects provided ten seconds of relatively continuous speech within the first thirty
seconds. This required altering the criteria and finding the utterance in each sample that came
closest to ten seconds in length.
Once each file was edited, the twenty ten second files were copied over twice into an
iTunes playlist, for a total of forty files. The playlist was then shuffled to place the files in a
random order. This order was recorded in a research notebook to be used in the creation of the
stimulus file. The file started with a neutral voice relating the following instructions:
You will be presented with a series of recordings of speakers, each around ten seconds in length.
Some of the speakers are from the Catskills, others are not. Please use the following scales to
rate how much each speaker sounds like a Catskill native on the 9-point scale, with 1 being
Definitely From the Catskills and 9 being Definitely Not from the Catskills. After being played
each sample, you will have 2 seconds of silence to circle the number that represents how Catskill
each speaker sounds. The samples will be played twice each in a random order, so you will hear
the same sample more than once.
Please rate the speakers on the basis of their voice cues alone, as if you are speaking with them
on the telephone or listening to them on the radio. The speech samples were extracted from
longer recordings and are therefore often not complete sentences. Pay no attention to what is
actually being said by the speakers; focus only on their accent and speech forms.
The following two recordings are a warm-up in order for you to get used to the rating process.
These instructions were followed by the presentation of two warm-up speech samples that were
not part of the original group of twenty. Their presentation was followed by this instruction:
Now that you have completed the practice, you will begin to rate the subjects, beginning with
number one.
After this instruction, the samples were edited onto the file in the random order determined
earlier. I also included a voice saying the number of each sample before it was played in order
for the raters to keep in pace with the recording.

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3. Rating Sheets
The raters were presented with a packet labeled “Catskill Rating Sheet,” the first page of which
contained the instructions related at the beginning of the stimulus file. Under these instructions
were two 9-point number lines marked A and B. These corresponded to the two warmup
samples. The remaining pages consisted of identical number lines numbered 1 to 40, one for each
of the speech samples in the stimulus file. An example of these number lines is below:

Def. From
Catskills

Def. Not From
Catskills

Fig. 3: Number line used by the raters to indicate the degree of Catskill dialect they perceived in speakers.

4. Raters
As most of the speakers lived in Delaware County, it was important that most of the raters
were from a different part of the Catskills to control for the possibility of them recognizing any
of the speakers. The first rating session took place at Neversink Town Hall in the Sullivan
County town of Grahamsville. This session collected ratings from thirteen subjects, mostly from
the towns of Grahamsville and Denning. A later rating session took place in the Fairview Public
Library in Margaretville, collecting ratings from six subjects. Several other separate rating
sessions were performed in Sullivan County, which provided three more completed sheets, for a
total of 22 raters. Subject selection reduced the possibility that the raters would recognize any of
the speakers. Based on precedent, the rater group had to consist of about twenty people, so this
was considered a sufficient number of data points. In total, 880 separate ratings were collected.
IV. Results
Before the frequency distribution could be created, it was necessary to determine whether
the raters were consistent in their perception of the speakers. Intra-rater reliability was found by
calculating Pearson r correlations between the first and second ratings of each speaker. These
correlation coefficients varied significantly between raters, with the highest being 0.92 and the
lowest being 0.18. It was necessary to discard some of the lower scores in order to boost the
group reliability, so all raters whose reliability fell below the threshold of 0.30 were removed
from the data set. This boosted the mean intra-rater reliability from 0.53 to 0.63.
The relatively small population from which the raters were chosen represents a
convenience sample and this helps to explain the comparatively low intra-rater reliability

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experienced. However, 13 out of the 22 raters had reliabilities above 0.55, which was considered
a sufficient level of intra-rater reliability. Some of the raters reported that they found the task
particularly difficult, and others used very few numbers on the scale. The most extreme example
of this was the least reliable (0.18) rater, who almost exclusively rated speakers as 1 or 9.
Because of the four discarded raters, the remainder of the statistical analyses were performed on
only 18 raters.
Inter-rater reliability was found by calculating an Intraclass Correlation Coefficient
between the remaining 18 raters. The value of 0.76 was considered acceptable, especially
considering the low intra-rater reliability. Even if they did not perceive the first and second
presentation of each speaker with great consistency, at least the raters generally viewed the same
speakers as “high” and “low” relative to each other.
The distribution of ratings for the natives and migrants was very similar, with a 0.11
difference in variance. The mean rating for the natives was 4.48; the mean for the migrants was
5.75. A paired-sample means t-test on speaker groups showed a significant effect of speaker
group on ratings (p < 0.0001), as did an ANOVA performed on the pooled ratings of individual
speakers, F(19, 700) = 7.787, p < 0.0001.
The frequency table (Fig. 4) shows percentage of ratings assigned by the raters to each
speaker group. The
ratings assigned to the
natives are clustered
towards the left, as
expected, but the
ratings assigned to the
migrants do not fall
primarily in the middle,
rather they cluster at
both ends. This runs
counter to the
hypothesis, which
stated that 50% or more
of the ratings for the
Definitely Catskill
Definitely Not Catskill
migrants would fall in
the intermediate range
Fig. 4: Percentage of ratings from 1-9 assigned to Catskill Natives and
Downstate Migrants by the 18 raters.
of 4-6; in reality, only
about 20% fell in this
intermediate range. The possibility exists that the criteria stated in the hypothesis were not the
only measure of whether the downstate migrants had acquired the Catskill dialect. While a
majority received ratings falling in the 7-9 range, the migrant ratings from 2-6 in this study
follow a similar shape to those from 1-6 in the “Canadians in Alabama” study.
The sheets given to the transplant group contained the following multiple-choice
questions:
How many coworkers do you have who were born or grew up in the Catskills?
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0-5
6-10
11-15
16-20
21 or more
How many close friends do you have who were born or grew up in the Catskills?
0-5
6-10
11-15
16-20
21 or more
The pie charts below show the frequencies of each answer for the ten downstate migrants.
The fact that the majority of responses were in the 0-5 category shows a decided lack of social
relationships between upstate and downstate, at least in this study’s sample. This likely resulted
in a dearth of verbal contact between migrants and natives.

> 21

16-20

16-20

0-5

6-10

0-5

11-15

Figs. 5 and 6: Percentages of close friends and coworkers who are Catskill natives as reported
by migrant talker subjects
V. Discussion, Conclusions, and Significance
This study examined the perceptual D2 acquisition of people from the New York City
Metropolitan Area living in the Catskill Mountains. Its primary goal was to determine whether
the transplants would be perceived as having an intermediate degree of Catskill dialect in their
speech, enough so that Catskill natives did not perceive them as totally foreign. If they had, this
would strengthen the idea that D2 acquisition is possible after the critical period, as theorized in
the Speech Learning Model proposed by Flege (1995). It would also support the validity of
perceptual methods for quantifying acquisition. If they had not, this would strengthen the critical
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period hypothesis. Though the criterion for “intermediate degree” was not met by the data,
neither were the transplants perceived by the raters as completely foreign. The conclusions of
this study, therefore, are somewhere between the two scenarios described above.
There are several factors that could have influenced the data to disconfirm the hypothesis.
As stated earlier, the convenience sample from which the raters were drawn resulted in some
very low intra-rater reliabilities, which likely skewed the accuracy of the data to a significant
degree. However, if more raters were discarded the sample size would drop even lower, which
would provide an even less reliable picture of the population being sampled. The low reliabilities
can mostly be attributed to the fact that the listeners were not heavily trained in the task. Many
raters (especially those with lower reliability coefficients) reported that they found the task very
difficult. The ratings of both the natives and the transplants are clustered towards the extremes of
the scale, which may indicate that the raters did not feel confident enough to assign intermediate
ratings. Those who rated speakers more extremely tended to have lower reliabilities, as rating the
first presentation of a speaker with a 7 and the second with a 2 is less reliable than rating the first
a 5 and the second a 4.
Though the difficulty of the task and low rater reliability may have resulted in the shape
of the distribution, it is also possible that the raters placed migrant subjects at the far end of the
spectrum because they did not have any native downstate people to compare them to. Flege &
Fletcher (1992) found presence of a “range effect” on ratings of L2 learners wherein “the larger
the proportion of native (or near-native) speakers included in a set of [speech samples] being
evaluated, the more strongly accented listeners judged sentences spoken by non-native speakers
to be.” The raters may have perceived the downstate speakers as more foreign simply because
their speech contained any “city” features at all. Had the stimuli contained speech samples from
New York City/Long Island speakers, the migrant ratings may have clustered closer toward the
intermediate range. Though the speech differences between L2 learners and native speakers are
more noticeable than those between D2 learners and native speakers, the same range effect may
have been present. This conclusion is also supported by the “Canadians in Alabama” study:
“Although both listener groups rated the immigrant Canadians as more Canadian- sounding than
American-sounding, their sensitivity to differences between the two groups of Canadian speakers
led them to rate the Canadian immigrants to Alabama as having an intermediate degree of
American accent” (Munro et al. 1999).
This study contributed evidence to several principles of dialect variation and acquisition.
Though the differences between the migrants and natives were often subtle (certainly more so
than the contrast between Inland Urban Canadian English and Alabaman English), the raters
were still capable of detecting dialectal differences. However, the low average rater reliability
calls into question the validity of using linguistically untrained raters. It is likely that a larger
sample size of raters would have more clearly supported previous conclusions about the rating
ability of the linguistically untrained ear.
The relatively close means of the natives and migrants (4.48 and 5.75, respectively) at
first caused a belief that the hypothesis would be confirmed. However, these numbers were
affected by the more extreme ratings employed by less reliable raters. A better perspective on the
data can be gained by looking at the medians of the two groups, which are 4 for the natives and 7
for the migrants. These numbers indicate that the migrants were perceived as speaking very
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differently from Catskill natives, which would show that they had not acquired the dialect to a
very noticeable degree.
It is regrettable that there is only one recent academic catalogue of the Catskill dialect
(Birns 1986), as this prevented the research from taking a more empirical linguistic perspective
on the features that were or were not acquired by the migrants. The 1986 dissertation “Dialect in
the Catskills: a study in language and culture” by Dr. William Birns takes a solely grammatical
survey of the Catskill dialect. This was sufficient to draw the conclusion that the Catskills are
linguistically separate from the Hudson Valley due to the presence of “Mountain Speech.”
However, the fact that the only extant valid data on the Catskill dialect is grammatical in nature
makes it difficult to perform meaningful analysis on acquisition in the manner than studies such
as Munro et al. (1999) do. The perceptual methods were originally only part of the study; the
earlier plan was to quantify presence of Catskill grammatical features in interview recordings of
Catskill natives and downstate migrants. However, it was concluded that this would be difficult
due to the noticeability of grammatical variation in everyday speech. Lexical and grammatical
differences are considered “easier to subdue” than phonetic features. Because of the lack of data
on the phonology of the Catskill region, it was nearly impossible to determine what aspects of
the speech samples had the greatest effect on ratings. It is highly possible that some raters rated
subjects as more “Catskill” simply because they did not exhibit any downstate features in their
speech, which is contributed to by the range effect discussed earlier.
The fact that the migrants were not rated as having a strong degree of Catskill dialect may
serve as evidence for the critical period hypothesis, but it is also possible that acquisition was
affected by the social context of upstate-downstate interaction. Munro et al. (1999) concluded its
discussion of the Canadian immigrants to Alabama with the following:
“Another promising area for investigation of the degree of D2 acquisition is the attitude
of the migrant group towards the host culture. Unlike L2 learners, immigrants to a new
dialect region may have little need to acquire D2 characteristics, except where there are
problems with intelligibility across the dialects in question. In future work, an
examination of the relationships among attitudes, critical features for intelligibility, and
listeners' ratings of D2 accent may yield interesting findings.”
This study did not investigate any of the critical features for intelligibility between the downstate
and upstate dialects, as the Catskill dialect does not have an abundance of phonetic features that
impair understanding. However, it did focus heavily on attitude of the migrant group towards the
host culture, as well as vice versa.
There are several social pros and cons for a downstater acquiring the Catskill dialect.
With any migration, speaking “locally” gives one a social edge and reduces one’s perception as
an outsider. In the case of the Catskills and New York City, this effect is intensified by a complex
interregional relationship with several historical and social facets.
The Catskills have been a large part of the New York City Water Supply since the early
20th century, when several Catskill towns were evacuated to make room for the construction of
reservoirs. This was continued into the 1950s, and some older Catskillians still feel resentment
toward the city for their displacement. The upstate-downstate relationship is further complicated
by the historical “Borscht Belt” of resorts and hotels in the Catskills that catered to weekenders
from the NYC Metropolitan Area during the 1940s-60s. During this period, the Catskills’
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economy flourished, but the late 20th century brought economic downturns as many of these
establishments went out of business. Today, the Catskills retains a heavy economic dependence
on New York City. The majority of houses in many Catskill towns are owned by part-time
residents who only come up during the weekends and summer. Many Catskill natives resent this
proliferation of second-homeowners as they feel that the “city people” do not respect the land
and culture of their region. Many also feel overlooked by the government, as state and federal
funds for education and public works are usually directed toward wealthier areas of New York
State, especially the downstate region. Several 2014 candidates for local and state legislature in
the Catskill region played off of this resentment by producing attack advertisements that accused
their opponents of diverting government funds downstate. The combination of these factors has
caused many Catskill natives to form strong prejudices against people from downstate,
employing slurs such as “flatlander” and, more harshly, “citiot” against those from downstate.
A proportional sample of this prejudice was found in the ten natives interviewed during
this study. Several reported that they did not care for the presence of second-homeowners in their
communities, two of the most salient examples being subjects A2 and A7. Subject A2
complained that his hometown had been overtaken by “boutiques” and other “touristy”
establishments that cater to people from downstate, and that he was no longer able to buy
“country” goods such as building supplies without driving to a different town. Subject A7 related
an account of working in his local volunteer fire department as an example of why his bias
against downstaters was justified. He claimed that during the flood of 1996 a man from the city
called the department to ask if they would build a fire in his weekend home so it would be warm
when he arrived. He stressed that the man did not seem to understand that the firemen could not
move more than two blocks in any direction due to the weather. This anecdote, whether fully true
or not, is a good example of the Catskill view of downstaters as demanding, weak, and
impractical.
Not all of the Catskill natives reported negative attitudes towards downstate; some
claimed to have no bias against downstaters. However, all reported that they believed a conflict
was present between the two groups. It is worth noting that those who exhibited the strongest
negative attitudes had spent the majority of their lives in the Catskill region, and those who had
lived and worked in other parts of the country generally had more tolerant views. When
questioned, many of these people said that they believed their experience living in other places
could be the source of their less prejudiced attitudes.
On the converse side of the upstate-downstate relationship, many downstaters reported
experiencing difficulty becoming part of the community once they decided to become full-time
residents of the Catskills. Seven of them had worked in the Catskills for at least part of their
lives; the other three had retired to the region. Those who retired reported the most difficulty, as
they did not have the opportunity to form working relationships with Catskill natives. The most
extreme example of this was Subject B4, who claimed that she had zero friends who were
Catskill natives. The town she lived in had a large enough population of downstate transplants
that she was able to maintain a social circle without making friends with locals. She did not give
the impression that she disliked Catskill people, just that she felt unwelcome in their community.
The prejudice experienced by downstate migrants, whether justified or not, creates a
barrier to D2 acquisition that may explain why 50% of the migrant ratings in Fig. 4 fall in the
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range 7-9. Very few migrants have a large volume of verbal interaction with natives, as shown by
the removal of the “4 out of 5” criterion in the Hypothesis/Subject Criteria section. Not only that,
but Catskill natives may shift towards more standard speech forms when interacting with
downstaters due to a lack of comfort or familiarity. The main incentive for a downstater to
accommodate to the Catskill dialect would be to become part of the community, which is not
socially necessary for people like Subject B4 who have a network of fellow downstaters living in
the Catskills. A final (and likely prolific) factor that might keep downstaters from acquiring the
Catskill dialect is its relation to Appalachian English or “Mountain Speech,” an American dialect
which carries many highly negative socioeconomic stereotypes. Speakers of Appalachian
English are generally considered to be poorer and less intelligent than the average American,
which deters acquisition. Subject B3 related an anecdote that expressed this prejudice; after
living in the Catskills for several months she heard her younger brother say he went to the
“crick,” and immediately slapped him in the face. Munro et al. (1999) referred to class
stereotypes as a possible factor working against acquisition in Alabama, as Southern American
English carries many of the same stereotypes as Appalachian English. Migrants from downstate
would rather go on sounding like “flatlanders” than start talking like “hillbillies.”
This study supported many commonly held perceptions in modern acquisition study. It
used perceptual methods to quantify adult dialect acquisition, a method that was chosen due to its
rarity in the field. The somewhat inconclusive rater reliability in this study causes this to remain
relatively unexplored linguistic territory; the only other adult D2 acquisition study to employ
perceptual methods remains the “Canadians in Alabama” study. The use of two groups with a
prejudicial relationship suggested interesting conclusions about acquisition and attitude toward
host and migrant cultures.
Adult dialect acquisition, though a subtle phenomenon, warrants further sociolinguistic
study. Future research might look to pinpoint the specific characteristics that make speech raters
reliable to determine whether accent sensitivity is a systematic attribute. The nature of perceptual
D2 acquisition also has great potential for interesting results: further inquiry might investigate
how well perceived dialect strength correlates with quantified presence of acquired features.
The Catskill region provides a wealth of untapped data for linguists and other social
scientists. Its status as an isolated rural area only three hours’ drive from the largest city in the
United States creates a unique sociocultural situation. Research with a heavier sociological bent
could pinpoint some specific behaviors in migrants that cause them to be better accepted by
Catskill communities. Anthropological analysis of the region would likely help to create a better
picture of how the upstate-downstate relationship developed over time, and what cultural aspects
of the Catskills may be threatened by the influx of second-homeowners. The application of
different academic perspectives to the people of the Catskills is sure to yield many noteworthy
findings about patterns of human interaction.
VI. References and Citations
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Attachment: Picture Story used in Speech Elicitation

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