Language Change Within My Own Experience

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Robert Schunk, Apr 7, 2015.

  1. Robert Schunk Registered Senior Member

    I'm here referring to the famous "Northern Cities Vowel Shift", which I first noticed in the late 1960's among people just months younger than myself, in the form of "aesc raising", which means that the vowel "aesc" (pronounced "ash") is raised so that it's pronounced "ay", so that "bag" is pronounced "bayg" (rhymes with "Haig").This sound change irritated me like you wouldn't believe, but has since morphed into a proper vowel shift, such that, in my native Milwaukee, if you ride the bus to your job, you say that you "ride the boss to your jab"!

    Anyways, I've very tentatively traced the origin of this vowel shift back to Southern Appalachia, very likely via US Highway 23, the legendary "Hillbilly Highway". This makes sense, as the aesc-raising which began the whole vowel shift would have taken root in Chicago and Detroit during the Second World War or so, and have spread from there at least as far as Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, as exemplified by the speech of television news correspondent Ashliegh Banfield, whose speech displays aesc-raising, yet not the rest of the vowel shift.

    Yet this is nothing new, as the global spread of the English language clearly marks her as a proto-language, due for breakup into daughter languages. This was evident as early as the Second World War, when the US and Canadian soldiers famously got along with their British counterparts, save in armored and mechanized units, where brawls frequently broke out due to the differences between North American and British automotive vocabulary.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2015
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I was born in Chicago. We moved to Arizona when I was 9 and I began noticing the difference in vowels. My "æpricot" vs. their "aypricot." My "roof" has the vowel in "could," while theirs has the vowel in "boot."

    English went through its "breakup" phase a long time ago, when England was ruled by the French so there was no formal oversight of the language. Since then, it's coalesced into four recognized dialects: British, American/Canadian, Indian and Australia/New Zealand. There are accents within each dialect, but these days they are more-or-less intercomprehensible--even in the U.K.

    Electronic media will eventually diminish difference in accents. When I was young (the 1940s and 50s), I could not understand the dialog in British movies. Then Masterpiece Theater with its British productions showed up on our TV, James Bond invaded our movie theaters, and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were blasting from our radios.

    Listen to one of Queen Elizabeth's speeches shortly after she took the throne, and compare it to her contemporary accent.

    The same has happened here. Again, back in my childhood I couldn't easily understand a Southern dialect. Early country music was inscrutable. Today, all American speech has been leveled, to a greater or lesser extent, by the hybrid Hollywood/Manhattan accent used by radio and TV announcers.

    To a lesser extent, the British and American dialects are slowly moving toward each other. The Aussies are caught in the middle: Keith Urban has been here for 25 years and now sounds like one of us.
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  5. Robert Schunk Registered Senior Member

    There may be ways in which the standard forms of various dialects may be re-amalgamating, but Northern Cities Vowel Shift appears to present a counterexample on a social level less influenced by the mass media You also forget that the various dialects of ancient England started out rather different from one another, my favorite example being Old West Saxon first personal singular pronoun "ic", whose only Modern English reflex can be pronounced "itch", having obviously been replaced by "I", which can only be the reflex of an old word which would have been spelled "ih" in Old West Saxon orthography (which word would be pronounced similarly to Modern High German "ich"). Likewise, the speech of young African-Americans of certain seems sharply differentiating from that of other English speakers.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 11, 2015
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The West Germanic Vowel Shift had already begun in the dialect continuum of the tribes who contributed immigrants to Britannia. Apparently, influences that we cannot identify, a millennium and a half later, affected each individual word differently: Modern German finden vs. Modern English "find" -- yet Modern German scheiss vs. Modern English "shit." [Yes, tossing in a "dirty" word is bound to increase the popularity of this discussion.

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    In English, the vowel shift ended rather abruptly in the 11th-12th centuries when Norman French became its most powerful influence. But in Germany it continued for a millennium. We see its force in the speech of the Jewish immigrants to Germany. Yiddish words have vowel changes that carry on the trend, even though German itself began to settle into a stable phonetic paradigm at that time.
    • German drei --> Yiddish dreh (I'm not using the more-or-less standard Yiddish transliteration system, which spells this drei, in order to highlight the vowel shifts)
    • German haus --> Yiddish hoyz
    • German das --> Yiddish dos
    • German uber --> Yiddish ieber
    • German euch --> Yiddish aykh... etc.
    This accent (or dialect, depending on whether you can understand it) once had the trendy name "Ebonics," but now it carries the more respectable name "African-American Vernacular English," abbreviated AAVE. It can be easily argued that it is neither an accent nor a dialect but a cant, deliberately crafted to discourage understanding by outsiders. The fact that virtually all of its speakers can instantly switch to Standard American English (albeit with many remnants of the Southern U.S. accent which is slowly fading away among Euro-American Southerners) when appropriate supports this contention.

    "Black English" has been studied extensively. It turns out (duh!) that many of its differences from Standard American are, in fact, the result of the influences of the most common African languages spoken by the slaves who were the ancestors of today's African-Americans. One of the most enduring phonetic differences is a vagueness, or even complete loss, of final consonants, which those source languages did not have. Many well-educated Afro-Americans still have trouble pronouncing "both" and often render it as "bofe." A word like "lists" is even more difficult.
  8. Robert Schunk Registered Senior Member

    Oh, for cry . . . .

    Post appears to have been damaged by the SciForums software. Edited by Fraggle Rocker, moderator. Original poster is urged to make the necessary repairs.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 16, 2015

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