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Accepted Paper:

Title: “Qa baram!:” The role of phonological reduction in shaping negative language attitudes towards Western Kazakh speakers  
Zhansaya Turaliyeva (Nazarbayev University)


People often perceive the speech of individuals from the Western regions of the country negatively. Reports from other regions' speakers claim that understanding Western Kazakh (WK) is difficult because the spoken language is faster than other varieties of Kazakh (Bizhanova, 2022). Possibly for such a reason, WK is perceived to be rude.

A pilot investigation revealed that, while WK speakers' speech rate is not the fastest, WK speakers employ phonological reduction more often. Specifically, Westerners phonologically reduce verbs 50% more than North-Eastern Kazakh speakers. This finding suggests phonological reduction may explain why WK speakers are perceived to be fast speakers.

It now remains to understand how the perception of this phonological feature is extended by listeners to a moral assessment about WK speakers. Iconization is a process through which language users infuse structural linguistic elements with symbolic significance, often reflecting cultural values or moral judgments (Irvine&Gal, 2000). In this study, I will show the steps through which phonological reduction is iconized into rudeness evaluations in the case of WK.

To address this question, I conducted a matched-guise experiment. Participants from different regions of Kazakhstan listened to an audio sample, featuring a WK speaker, without knowing the dialect and had to guess it solely based on the audio. The findings indicate that the half of participants successfully identified the dialect as WK, while the rest identified it as Southern. This suggests that the dialect is not readily distinguishable to native speakers of Kazakh unless they are informed that the speaker is from the Western region, and consequently, speaks WK. The outcome of the performance prompts an inquiry into the nature of the comments evoked thereby.

Subsequently, I analyze the responses of these participants to identify whether they perceive WK negatively and if so, the reasons behind such perceptions. People indicate that the negative perceptions may result from cultural beliefs associating the Kishi Juz, inhabitants of the Western region, with traits like cruelty and aggression due to being historically known for their warrior heritage. Moreover, every participant agrees that the frequent reduction of verbs in the speech affects their comprehension more, which makes them feel irritated. These results indicate that the negative attitudes towards the WK are primarily ideological constructs, which may not be negatively perceived in the absence of relevant information.

Concluding, results suggest that the frequent phonological reduction of WK speakers may affect the negative attitudes about WK being shaped.

Panel T08LANG
Exploring Low-Resource Languages through Corpus Work: Challenges, Innovations, and Insights
  Session 1 Thursday 6 June, 2024, -