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Vowel Shifts in Northern California and the Detroit Suburbs


Northern California Vowels






/i/ The vowel in him, sit, and bid is moving in two directions.

Before ng, it shifts towards the vowel in beam, bean
Example: think sounds like theenk
Before other consonants, it shifts towards the vowel in hem, set, and bed .
Example: did sounds more like dead

/e/ The vowel in bed, set, send is shifting towards the vowels in bad, sat, sand .
Example: friend sounds more like frand

/uh/ The vowel in but, rust, bun is shifting towards the vowels in bet, rest, Ben .
Example: fun sounds more like fen

/ae/ The vowel in hat, hand, pass is splitting into two varants.
Before nasal consonants (n, m, ng) it becomes a diphthong, and the first part of the diphthong is shifting towards /iy/
Example: stand sounds more like stee-and
Before other consonants, as in hat, rack, cast, it shifts in the other direction, towards the vowel in hot, rock, cost
Example: that sounds more like thot

/o/ The distinction between the vowels in cot and caught, Don and Dawn has been lost. The merged vowel is pronounced between the two.
Example: mom sounds more like mawm

/uw/ The vowel in boot, soon, dude is shifting towards the vowel in bit, sin, did. Usually, it takes the form of a diphthong [iw]
Example: move sounds more like mi-oov

/U/ The vowel in look, put, could is shifting towards the vowels in luck (sometimes lick), putt (sometimes pit), cud (sometimes kid ).
Example: brook sounds more like bruck

/ow/ The vowel in boat, tone, ghost becomes a diphthong, and the first part of the diphthong is shifting towards the vowel in bet, ten, guest.
Example: goes sounds more like ge-oz


***For more information on the vowels of dialects in the US, see William Labov's Atlas of North American English

Spectrograms for the vowels in stand and that. Note that there are three dark bands, or formants. (These are clearest in the spectrogram on the right.) One can characterize vowels on the basis of the frequencies of the lower two formants. The horizontal line in the spectrogram to the left shows the first (lowest) formant, since it is less distinct. The red vertical lines show the area of the vowel where one would measure the formants.
(The measurements for these two vowels are shown in the second vowel plot below).

stand

that


***These spectrograms were made with Praat software developed by Paul Boersma and David Weeninck of the Institute of Phonetic Sciences at the University of Amsterdam.

Plotting the frequency (in hertz, or cycles per second) of each of the first two formants, as below, yields a picture very much like vowel space in the mouth - what is commonly referred to as the vowel triangle).

Below are two vowel plots, showing the splitting of /ae/. Both plots show the position of /ae/ before nasals (stand, ham, hang) as empty squares, and /ae/ elsewhere (laugh, that, had) as black squares. /iy/ (feet, me, mean) is also shown (black circles) to show the relation of pre-nasal occurrences to it.

The two plots are of the same girl in two different situations. In the first, she is talking to me in an interview situation. In the second, she is engaged in "drama" - an intense conversation with her friends about friendship intrigue.

Interview Speech. Note that the empty squares are higher than the black squares:



Drama Speech. Note how the empty squares and the black squares have drawn apart, so that the empty squares are up by /iy/ and the black squares have moved down:



Below is a vowel plot showing the shifting of /uw/ (new, food). This vowel is represented as black circles with arrows. When /uw/ is followed by /l/ as in school, it does not shift, but remains where we expect it to be. This plot shows that other occurrences of /uw/, however, overlap with the vowel in mister (empty circles) and approach the vowel in me (empty circles with arrows).



***These plots were made withPlotnik software, developed by William Labov of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania.


Detroit Area Vowels






The Northern Cities Shift is a rotation of the low and mid vowels:

/ae/ The vowel in bad, laugh diphthongizes, and the first part of the diphthong approaches the vowel in made
Example: laughs at sounds more like lafes ate

/o/ The vowel in top, bottle shifts towards the vowel in laugh
Example: on sounds more like Ann

/oh/ The vowel in caught, dog shifts towards the vowel in top, bottle
Example: all sounds more like doll

/uh/ The vowel in lunch, tough shifts towards the vowel in all, caught
Example: fun sounds more like fawn

/e/ The vowel in flesh, ten shifts towards the vowel in flush, ton
Example: seventeen sounds more like suventeen

/ay/ The first part of the diphthong in right shifts towards the vowel in all, caught
Example: typing sounds more like toyping