Date: Fri, 21 Nov 1997 23:18:11 -0600


Subject: Re: Merzouri

Mark Mandel continues his query, more precisely this time:

I'm sorry, I didn't express my question -- or perhaps my doubt -- precisely

enough. All the other examples of "er"

from the text that you mention as evidence that it's intended to convey an

r-less schwa are UNSTRESSED. But the

first syllable of "turnip" (spelled as "ternup" in the text, IIRC) is


unless we're talking about far different

changes than I thought we were. And I have trouble imagining a vowel in that

syllable that is any kind of match for

an r-less schwa. Maybe a diphthong with a palatal glide at the end, such as is

often transcribed "oi" ("da corner of

Toity-toid an' Toid"), but not an r-less schwa.

In referring to stressed/unstressed, you're assuming that a dialect writer

would adjust his/er spellings to differentiate on the basis of stress. Few

writers have that sophisticated an understanding of linguistic processes.

Consistency in the spelling counts more than niceties like level of

syllable stress in literary dialect marking; they're after stereotyping,

not accuracy.

The sound in question isn't exactly the same as a schwa that you or I would

produce, but a higher and tenser vowel like my Uncle Ed produced. And like

many speakers of British dialects produce. The New York / New Orleans "oi"

diphthong isn't likely to be used in Cracker speech, back in 1850 or now.

Some "modified IPA" transcription systems have used both the wedge and a

symbol like a 3 with rounded top to represent mid-central r-less vowels,

and schwa and 3 with hooks to indicate r-ful mid-central vowels (unstressed

and stressed, respectively). This hook-less 3 in stressed and unstressed

versions is what I'm claiming the Cracker in the story used. I also would

imagine the Cracker to have quite a "drawl," i.e., lengthening of these

syllables so that these pronunciations were salient for his tormenter,

along with the salience of his spellings 'ternups' and 'pertaters'. A side

comment: where did the -er of 'taters' come from if not from a vernacular

pronunciation similar to the Cracker's?

The "oi" diphthnong you refer to in -Vr- nuclei is closer to [3I] than to

[oI], at least to my ear, whether in NY or NO or AAVE dialects.