The Correlation of Tonal Shifts and Dialect Use with Socioeconomic Class in Dalian, China

  •  Linda Pang    


Drawing on Professor William Labov’s seminal 1962 experiment, this paper examines tonal variation amongst employees of department stores targeting three different socioeconomic classes in Dalian, China. The experiment recorded pronunciations of the tone of yī (the word “first” in the phrase “first floor” 一楼), which is pronounced in first tone in standard Mandarin and shifted to the third tone in Dalian dialect. In this experiment, it was hypothesized that for the four department stores studied, an employee’s tone in pronunciation of first tone words would shift towards the third tone the most in the store catering to lower socioeconomic classes and shift the least in the store catering to higher socioeconomic classes. From analyzing the data collected, the non-first tone pronunciations were the most frequent in the lowest ranking store and less frequent in the higher ranking store. Therefore, the salespersons’ tonal shift in pronunciation is shown to correlate with the socioeconomic class of the customers being targeted.

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