Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 10:30:04 -0500
From: "Dale F.Coye" CoyeCFAT[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
Subject: Re: NYC socks vs. Saks
About the NY Times quote on the socks-Saks confusion at Bloomingdales...
The sound change referred to here has been going on for a while and
illustrates the collision of two dialects. I've been observing a lowering of
the vowel of SACK in the Northeast, especially among upper and middle class
students for 20 years. This lowering puts it down in the lower-left corner
of the traditional vowel chart. I've heard this from prep school kids all
over New England and as far South as DC. It's also especially noticeable in
younger speakers of Brit. Eng. where it gets so low it sounds like the
traditional Scots vowel in SACK.
At the same time the Great Lakes region, including much of Upstate New
York has as its salient features the raising of the vowel of SACK, and also
of the vowel in SOCK. Non-linguists call this the FLAT A of Chicagoans and
Central New Yorkers. When the vowel of SOCK (and this includes a huge number
of words) is fronted it also ends up in that lower-left corner of the vowel
chart, creating a situation perfect for the confusion reported here.
Great-Lakes SOLID sounds exactly like Prep School SALAD. At college over 20
years ago I remember a guy from Saratoga talking to one of his black friends
from NYC. At one point he referred to some cement BLOCKS propping open his
door, using the fronted vowel. The black friend got somewhat peeved, and
said "Did you call them BLACKS, they're BLOCKS, man, please!" Which created
great consternation and puzzlement among the group.
The raised Great-Lakes vowel of SACK does not collide with the next vowel
in the standard chart, the vowel of HECK, because the latter is centralized
and lax, while SACK is tense, though they're about equal in height. This
means that, unfortunately, there will be no confusion of SAKS and SEX. It
would have livened things up in Saks.