19 Jul 2022
My article “Reflections of the French nasal vowel shift in orthography on Twitter” has just been published in a special issue of the Journal of French Language Studies. The special issue covers French variation in digital media, with articles discussing the special forms that French takes in text messages, chat, and social media. My article discusses the spelling of nasal vowels on Twitter. Depending on the variety of French, there are usually 3 or 4 different nasal vowels. Because the way these vowels are pronounced has shifted over time, their traditional spelling doesn’t always straightforwardly reflect their pronunciation. For example, in a word like avant ‘before’, the second a differs from the first not only in its nasal quality, but also in its place of articulation, which is closer to an oral o [ɔ̃]. On Twitter, where some people can be pretty playful in their spelling, I observed spellings like avont that reflect this shifted pronunciation. In my study, I compared the frequency of shifted spellings of different words to see whether words that tend to show more shifted pronunciation in speech are also more likely to have these shifted spellings. This turns out not to be the case, and I suspect it’s because the factors that affect shifted pronunciation in speech (things like prosodic stress and phonological context) can conflict with the factors that affect creative spellings (things like written word length and spell-check). Still, the fact that these spellings are observed on Twitter (often with special markers like capitalizing the changed letter) shows that speakers are aware of this sound change and use spelling to comment on it.