Phonological Variation and Change in Gikuyu: A Case Study of Mathira Dialect in Kenya
Macharia, D. Muthoni
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Language variation and change is an interesting sociolinguistic area of investigation. This study sought to investigate phonological variation and change in the Mathira dialect of Gikuyu language in Kenya. The objectives of this study are: to identify and describe the phonological variation of the variable (5) in the Gikiiyii spoken by the Mathira dialect speakers, to correlate the phonological variation of the variable (5) with the social variables of age, gender and education, and to describe the direction of the phonological change in progress in the variable (5) in the Mathira dialect. To achieve this, a sample of 36 informants (18 males and 18 females) was selected from the target population. This was done through judgmental sampling. A questionnaire was used to elicit bio-data. The informants were tape recorded as they responded to interview questions and picture reading. The data collected were transcribed on paper and then correlated with the social variables of age, gender and education. The observations were then used to explain phonological variation and change. The Variationist Theory and the Cognitive Phonology Theory were used in the data collection, analysis, interpretation and discussion of the findings of the study. The data were analyzed quantitatively using ANOVA and Pearson's correlation. In the data analysis, it was found that the (5) variable was realised as two variants;  variant (the voiced dental fricative) and  variant (the voiceless dental fricative).  Variant had higher scores than  Variant. The major finding that emerged from the study is that that there is a phonological change in progress in the Gikiiyti spoken by the Mathira dialect speakers. Age and gender were seen to influence the variation of the dependent variable, thus, there is a significant correlation between the phonological variable under study with age and gender which implies and this change is being led by adolescents and women. The social factor of education was also included and it emerged that respondents with secondary and tertiary levels of education identified more with variant  which is the more prevalent form in the Gikuyu language, an indicator that education also plays a role in the phonological change. The findings have implications for various groups involved in language studies, for example, teachers, students and researchers of variationist sociolinguistics, anthropologists, and sociologists among others. The study recommends further research to be carried out on other levels of language change such as morphological, syntactic, lexical and semantic among others. Further research can also be done in other African languages.