Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 07:29:03 -0500
From: Mike Salovesh
Subject: Re: Deleted "to"; 'em singular

David Sutcliffe wrote:
> Dear List,

> What about the following features which I
> would have thought originally Black and/or Southern:
> 1) Deletion of _to_ infinitive marker as in "I want you guys have a good
> time"

Fairly widespread usage in (white) Chicagoland a generation or two ago.
The most frequent incidence I have noted was in (Irish) Bridgeport and
Back of the Yards, on the South Side, and in North side areas of heavy
Polish settlement. The "deleted to" alternates with an unstressed schwa
where "to" might have appeared: "I want you guys uh have a good time".

This isn't part of my usual speech pattern. When I deliberately set an
alternative pattern (speaking platform English all the time can have
horrible social consequences), I fall into the schwa form.

> 2) The use of 'em for (h)im in unstressed position. (This question
> assumes that speakers generally have an opposition between schwa and lax
> /I/ in unstressed syllables).

Perfectly good (white) Chicagoese when I was growing up. Most varieties
did have that two-way contrast. The "'em" form may well represent a
homonym pair, for either "him" or "them", in the unstressed position.

There are some speakers who have a three way split in unstressed
syllables: schwa, lax /I/ (or is that a barred i?), and a lax, backed
mid-front /e/ or /E/. The third one sounds too centralized to be in the
homophone range of /e/ - /E/ in stressed syllables, but it isn't as
central as schwa, either. For those speakers, "'im" (for him) and "'em"
(for them) would contrast: the "him" form would have schwa, the "them"
form would come out in the backed /e/ - /E/ range.

I get the impression that the three-way split in the unstressed position
is a kind of hyperurbanism. (There's my old Milwaukeee teacher
inveighing against "dropped aitches" again.) Making consistent
distinctions among two or three unstressed, central vowels doesn't
restore the "missing" h or th, but it does maintain clear contrast
between him and them.

-- mike salovesh
anthropology department
northern illinois university PEACE !!!