Date: Fri, 29 Mar 1996 21:37:41 -0600
From: "Timothy C. Frazer" mftcf[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UXA.ECN.BGU.EDU
Subject: Re: dialect areas and the latest American Speech
On Fri, 29 Mar 1996, Baden Hughes wrote:
Noted your AS message. Is there any way of getting hold of a copy of What
determines a dialect area? by Lawrence M. Davis and Charles L. Houck as
appearing in this issue ?
I just read this article and it's very provocative. Larry and Charles
raise some serious questions about whether or not we can truly draw
dialect boundaries in any way that is statistically valid. I'd like to
throw several corollary questions out to this list.
First, granting for the sake of discussion that Larry and Charles are right,
which I can't judge, not being a math person, their article
talks about boundaries in the USA based upon LInguistic Atlas type data.
Are there dialect boundaries ANYWHERE that would be valid by these same
tests? In other words, if dialect boundaries are indeed more the
product of subjective perception than a relfelection of objective
realities, is this simply a something that is true for USA English, or is
it true everywhere?
Second, much of the discussion in this article is based on lexicon.
Instances of "dialect mixture" involve people who manifest two
regionalisms for the same object, like "frying pan" and "skillet."
Are these problems confined entirely to lexical geographies, or can we
make the same generalizations about pronunciation and morphology or syntax?
Sociolinguists in the Labovian tradition identify northern and southern
vowels shifts, along with a Midland area which participates in neither.
What is the relationship between "dialect mixture" and these phonological
Third, I would think if Larry and Charles' conclusions were valid, they
would apply to other forms of human geography besides dialectology. Is
it just as tricky--or downright impossible--when we try to map other
kinds of behavior? I'd be interested to see some geography department
types get into this debate.
Fourth, a comment rather than a question. Certainly Davis and Houck have
a point about regional differences -- at least, those of the sort we
measure in things like Kurath 1949 -- being harder to demonstrate west of
the Missississippi. Wolfram's 1991 map (based on Labov's work) show a
narrow Midland band in the east spreading everywhere as we approaches the
Rockies (from the east, that is). I suspect one reason for this as that
the the two non-Midland cultural hearths, the North and South, didn't
keep their identity farther west. Cotton farming--well, there was some
in Texas, but not in Oklahoma or New Mexico, so plantation culture and
"plantation southern" kinda peter out as you go west. (And you don't get
the concentrations of AFrican Americans whose dialect might contribute a
lot to the distincition between Plantation Southern and "South Midalnd").
In the north, Yankee culture gets more and more diluted as you go west.
You still find those little villages that look like they were transplanted
from New England in southereastern Wisconsin, but I suspect not so much
in North Dakota (although they turn up again in n. California and
farther NW). And Larry and Charles are right when they point out that
Inland Northern is not exactly uniform, although I think it probably has
a common set of features.
Fifth--if we give up on "dialect areas" or "dialect boundaries"--not that
I am going to, but if--does that still mean that there are not certain
features whose variation is at least in part regional?
Well, enough rambling for now.