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Vilnius speech

Research of adult speech variation and attitudes

In this research a classical Labovian sociolinguistic interview is applied. The interview consists of: 1) socio-demographic information about the informant – his/her parents birthplace, occupation, age etc.; 2) free conversation about Vilnius, memories about it from the informant’s childhood, changes in the city over time, comparison with other Lithuanian or European cities etc.; 3) text and word pairs, which the informant is asked to read; 4) assessments about Vilnius speech and its status among other Lithuanian language varieties. The main goal of the interview is to record natural, authentic speech of the informants and then, by giving them text and word pairs, to extract the reading speech, which requires more control. This method helps the researcher to explore how language changes as the informant’s attention to the speech increases.

The data will consist of more than 120 interviews with adult Vilnius born informants from five age groups. The majority of the informants will be native Lithuanian speakers, but interview corpus will also include two control groups consisting of bilingual (Lithuanian and Russian/Polish/Belorussian/Ukrainian) informants as well as non native Lithuanian informants.
The average length of an interview is about 40 minutes. All the recordings are transcribed with CLAN and certain phonetic and prosodic features are coded for further automatic analysis.
The primary analysis of the interviews has shown that the most salient features of Vilnius speech are the shortening of unstressed long vowels in pre-stressed and post-stressed positions and stress attraction from short inflectional ending to long penultimate syllable, e. g. ateĩni(su) draũgeįdõmukambariuõsevilniẽčius.
The research of vowel lengthening (seen as stereotipical feature of Vilnius) in the speech of second and third-generation Vilnius dwellers has revealed that vowel lengthening is not a very common phenomenon. It depends largely on the type of the syllable, the stress place and a specific vowel. The lengthening commonly affects the stem of the word and mainly the stressed syllables; but the unstressed ones (pre-stressed and post-stressed syllables) usually remains short. The lengthening of short inflectional ending, which is highly associated with bilingual speakers of Russian or Polish origin, is extremely rare in the speech of Lithuanian informants: they lengthen short vowels in the inflectional ending almost five times less frequently than in the stem of the word. The vowels i and u are lengthened most often, whereas a and e are lengthened more rarely.

Despite the negative prescriptive attitude to Vilnius speech, the analysis of overt attitudes of Vilnius citizens has revealed that Vilnius citizens value their language rather high. They perceive the speech of the capital as the principal speech variety of Lithuania and top-rank it among the other varieties of Lithuanian. Vilnius speech is assessed as the variety that is closest to the standard Lithuanian if not the standard itself – the same that is spoken on the radio and TV. Indeed, phonetic features of Vilnius speech are actually characteristic to the broadcast media.