Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 10:30:04 -0500


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.