Date: Tue, 5 Dec 1995 00:35:23 -0500


Subject: Great Northern Vowel Shi**

On Mon, 4 Dec 1995, Larry Horn wrote:

FWIW, My wife's name is Holly and she complains that Minnesotans call her

[haeli]. A bit of an exageration, but not too far off. This fronted,

nasalised pronunciation seems to be age graded (with younger people

seeming to have the more fronted/nasalised version) and, I believe,

urban, altho I have not made enough tapes (I did a small study of this

feature in the summer of '94) of ruralites to make any conclusive


Ah yes, the Great Northern Vowel Shift. I've heard Bill Labov talk about it

for years, but my most memorable encounter was still my first, back in the

early 1960's in my undergraduate days at the University of

RIAAAENNN-ch'ster (that's supposed to be a highish front very nasalized

vowel)--the university/city east of Buffalo, where I spent one puzzling but

ultimately enlightening hour on a blind date with a young woman from the area

who seemed to be talking about salads and couldn't figure out what \I/ was

saying, since she meant SALads, you know, as opposed to liquids...


Now we have returned to a significant topic for consideration, pinheads

and bubbleheads to be forgiven. What is it with all of this vowel

shift shit? I think this list needs to engage itself in a serious

discussion of Labov's hypothesis, rather than bowing down to that

name as some god or something. He was simply somebody's student who

lucked into a good situation, and so forth.

I was sitting in the airport in Lexington, waiting for a plane and I

eavesdropped on the perfect illustration of Mister Bill's famed

NVS (read Northern Vowel Shift), when i heard this yankee guy say to some

other guy, I lost my wallet in the bar last night. The concept of

shift notwithstanding, the sentence is perfectly diagnostic for the

crucial low vowels under consideration. Guess what went where. Perhaps

I'll save it for some revelatory paper at some important conference.

All of this rot and nonsense about vowel shifting buys into some major

and yet unstated assumptions about the phonoloogy/phonetics of spoken

Americn English. To say that a shift has occurred assumed that all

speakers at some point participated in some basic system. I would

suggest that some pronunciation patterns reflect not a change from this

system but a persistence of some variety historically that the generative

agenda, into which Mr. Bill buys wholsale, is not willing to acknowledge.

I would include your friends, Larry, in this group.



Terry Lynn Irons t.irons[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Voice Mail: (606) 783-5164

Snail Mail: UPO 604 Morehead, KY 40351