Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 08:46:54 EDT
From: RonButters
Subject: Re: Ben vs. bin

In a message dated 5/7/98 6:20:07 PM, you wrote:

<<'Ben' [bEn] is the norm in (again) Minnesota, and probably as far east as
Chicago, according to my many polled students. I've lived out of Minnesota
for 30+ years now, so I noticed the change from my childhood [bIn] to [bEn]
first in Garrison Keillor: remember his opening song, "I've ben gone so
long ...? Then I started hearing it in my Mpls. brother, and then my
rural-area nieces, and on and on. My sister (in Winona, MN) doesn't have
[bEn], so I suspect it started in the Minneapolis area or northward and has
been spreading outward. Any other thoughts on this spread? BTW, I discuss
it in my Soclx class as another vowel shift, from British tense [i] to lax
[I] to lowered lax [E]--something like the [e] to [E] (noted by Bergdahl)
to [ae] in "available" that I asked about the other day. I recall Reagan's
similar lowering in [kael[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]fornya] ([E] for me); is this common on the West

[I] versus [E] in environments before nasals is generally subject to
neutralization (cf. PIN versus PEN, JIM vesus GEM) and for many speakers the
two phonemes have merged. Speakers who have merged/neutralized the two vary
freely in speech from [bIn] to [bEn]. Speakers who have not merged/neutralized
the two hear BEN and tend to assume that it is an invariant pronunciation.

Also, sentence and word stress affect BEEN, which tends to be lightly stressed
and therefore reduced even for speakers who do not have [I]/[E]

So in short, it may not be accurate to say that [bEn] is the "norm" in
Minnesota: it is more likely that speakers say both [bIn] and [bEn]--that
free variation is the norm.

Also, at least part of the reduction of [ae] in CALIFORNIA must be stress-
related. The main stress is on the FOR, and [ae] will therefore tend to become
less tense (or, rather, more lax). Still, the lowering of [ae] to [E] before
liquids is not particularly new--cf. WHEELBARROW is typically [wilbEro]. By
the way, Ronald Reagan was not a native Californian (there aren't that many
85-year-old native Californians in anyi case). The Midwest--most particularly,
lower Illinois (where [wilbEro] is normal)--must take the blame for his