Date: Tue, 7 Mar 1995 10:05:41 EST


Subject: lowback merger

Ohio University Electronic Communication

Date: 07-Mar-1995 10:05am EST

To: \emote Addressee ( _MX%"ADS-L[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UGA.CC.UGA.EDU )

From: David Bergdahl Dept: English

BERGDAHL Tel No: (614) 593-2783

Subject: lowback merger

Coming from LI I naturally differentiate low-to-mid back round awful from low

central-to-back offal. All of my Ohio students' autos, however, are named Otto.

I long believed this homophony (to my ear) was the famed merger. Some

students, however, maintained they could discriminate the two and, in fact, used

different phonetic symbols for them [not always the appropriate ones, but

different ones]. Now, after reading Labor's "3 Dialects of English" and

purchasing his Linguistic Principles of Sound Change:Internal Factors, I believe

my students were right. Some of my Ohioans have merged vowels, but others with

Northern Cities Sound Shift have a low central-to-front unr vowel for offal and

a short low back vowel for awful (sometimes flat, sometimes round, but always

clipped). According to Labov, this is part of the chain shift initiated by the

tensing and raising of ae, which doesn't take place in the merger dialect.

Now the interesting part: in more formal styles and when self-monitoring the

preferred vowel is unround. I always wondered if this shift was a movement away

from the rounded AW vowel. In Labov's scheme the tensing and raising of ae

leaves a gap which the unround offal vowel attempts to fill (giving the fronted

vowel of dollar and color), followed by the lowering and centralizing of the

vowel of awful. My interest lies in whether the subjective response of dialect

speakers shouldn't be paramount in deciding whether a vowel is merged or not.

(I remember the joke about the northern teacher responding to a pupils request

for the spelling of rat; when told r-a-t the pupil responds, not mouse-y rat. .

.but "right now." Surely we wouldn't say the teacher's confusion in this

anecdote is paramount in deciding whether the vowels are merged or not. In my

own mostly r-less dialect dock=dark and god=guarded, but only the second pair

"feels" merged to me: in the first there's a backing of the r-less dark.)

Comments welcome.

David Bergdahl Ohio University/Athens "between the Midwest and


cc: James Coady ( COADY )

Received: 07-Mar-1995 10:05am