This chapter examines the phonetics and phonology of vowels in Jamaican Creole (JC). JC is quite different from the other English dialects studied in later chapters. When untrained Americans listen to the speech examined here, they understand very little of it, if any. Nonetheless JC is historically related to the American dialects. It is the descendant of a 17th century creolization process which, simply put, consisted of West and Central Africans acquiring and nativizing the vernacular and dialectal British Englishes (including significant exposure to Irish and Scottish varieties) which their forced labor brought them in contact with. This chapter is a purely synchronic analysis. Historical issues are discussed separately in Appendix 2, which presents some evidence for chain shifting in Caribbean Creoles, and discusses the important role of the principle that mergers are irreversible in language history, in ``decreolizing'' creoles in general, and in Jamaican Creole in particular.
This chapter follows the general pattern of the other chapters on individual dialects. I begin with some background information about the speakers. I then discuss the surface phonological inventory and structure of the vowel system, some impressionistic transcriptions of the stressed vowels, the overall shape of vowel space, the sound-shifts that are ongoing or completed in this dialect, and the effects of stress on vowel quality. To my knowledge this is the first acoustical study of JC vowels.
A phonetic grammar is presented which derives the relationships among of mean locations of vowel classes in F1-F2 space. This grammar applies general principles of phonetics and of sound change in a language-specific way to specify the phonetic quality of vowel nuclei. A small study of phonetic vowel length was also conducted.