Can you spot wealthy New Yorkers by their ‘R” sounds?

Is it possible to gauge how wealthy a New Yorker might be just by the way they pronounce their /r/ s? A new paper in the Journal of English Linguistics investigates whether variations of rhoticity [viz. the prevalence, or lack of, the /r/ sound in speech] in wedding-consultants’ speech could be correlated with the amount of money a bride states she is willing to spend on her wedding dress. That is to say, the amount of money she has at her disposal, used as a measure of her (perceived) social status. The paper, in the Journal of English Linguistics, June 2015, 43: 118-142, can be downloaded here for US$30. “(r) You Saying Yes to the Dress?”: Rhoticity on a Bridal Reality Television Show

[Background: The paper was inspired by the work of professor William Labov at the University of Pennsylvania, who, in 1966, published ‘The Social Stratification of (r) in New York City Department Stores’ finding that employees at Saks (which was considered upmarket) tended to have the highest rate of constricted /r/ s than those at Macy’s or S.Klein (considered not-so-upmarket)]

Further insight into the new study is provided (free of charge) by the University of Pennsylvania, which hosts another (earlier) paper by the same two authors …A Department Store Study for the 21st Century: /r/ vocalization on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress’. It describes how data were gathered from recordings of the 2007 TV docusoap ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ which was set in the New York bridal salon Kleinfeld. Analysis of the speech of the bridal consultants involved in sales transactions (focussing on words such as Fur, Start, Letter, Square etc) showed that :

“ […] when consultants are working with a bride in the High budget category (over $8000) constricted [r] is the favored variant. Slightly less favoring [r-1] is the Medium category ($3000 -$5000), followed by the Low category (under $3000).”

The consultants were presumably attempting (consciously or not) to reflect the speech patterns of their customers. Thus the new study supports Labov’s findings that wealthy New Yorkers tend to constrict their /r/ s.

Bonus: Here are some more videos featuring speech of New Yorkers for your own comparative analyses.

Postscript : According to Wikipedia, an extreme example of /r/ suppression can be found in some New York accents – R-labialization , or as Improbable prefers to call it ‘Woticity’.