Date: Thu, 4 Jan 1996 10:30:04 -0500 From: "Dale F.Coye" 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.