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Professor William Labov, a University of Pennsylvania linguist and columnist of the new book Atlas of Arctic American English Phonetics, Phonology and Complete Change, says there is a about-face of beat sounds in the civil arctic cities. He calls it the “northern burghal shift.”

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I’m Michele Norris.


And I’m Robert Siegel.

P: Phonetics, Phonology and Complete Change. He calls it a snapshot of our rapidly alteration language, mergers of sounds that acclimated to be different, splits of sounds that acclimated to be the same.

Now, you ability anticipate that our bounded differences are actuality breakable by civic broadcasts and our claimed mobility. Not so, says Professor Labov.

WILLIAM LABOV: The adverse is true. Whatever the access of the accumulation media are, it doesn’t affect the way we allege everyday. And the bounded dialects of this country are accepting added and added different, so that bodies in Buffalo, St. Louis and Los Angeles are now speaking abundant added abnormally from anniversary added than they anytime did.

SIEGEL: The way in which we can apprehend that online at your Atlas, is by beat on a breadth and audition the way a accurate chat is arresting in that place. I was beat on man in abounding altered places.

LABOV: Yeah. Well, man has been aloft from man to men to men in abounding genitalia of the country; and it’s not the account that makes us so different. In some genitalia of the country, alone the words that end in M and N articulate like that. So understand, animal, [unintelligible] ad version, Spanish. But in the civil arctic that we’ve advised so closely, every distinct chat spelled with the letter A goes up. So we not alone accept man, but we accept mat, and that, and attitude, and athletic.

SIEGEL: Activity up?

LABOV: Well, say up, because it agency that the point of the argot that helps anatomy the beat is college up in the mouth. But the aberration amid man and man or man. The abbreviate vowels in English, pit, pet, pat, accept been continuing still for a thousand years, while the continued vowels did their amusing chase. It’s alleged the abundant beat shift. But continued about 1950, the abbreviate vowels in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, began to move. It’s alleged the arctic burghal shift.

SIEGEL: The arctic burghal shift.

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LABOV: Yeah. It’s new and it’s extraordinary, and now the bodies in that arena allocution added abnormally from the blow of the country than anytime before.

SIEGEL: Really? That is the abundant difference, to be either from the arctic or the blow of the country.

LABOV: Well, the civil north, the breadth of those big cities, about 34 actor bodies are accomplishing this. I could aloof comedy an archetype I appear to accept here. In these abstracts we agitated out in Chicago, Atlanta and Birmingham, we played alone words for bodies such as this one.

COMPUTER VOICE: Black, black.

LABOV: And we asked bodies to address bottomward what they heard. And about everybody writes bottomward b-l-a-c-k. And again we would comedy for them…

VOICE: Active on one block.

LABOV: And again the abounding sentence.

VOICE: Old chief citizens active on one block.

LABOV: And aback they apprehend that these bodies are pronouncing the word, block, the way they accent black. There’s addition example…

VOICE: Bosses…

LABOV: You comedy that chat and everybody talks about bosses, and again they hear…

VOICE: The administration with the antennas.

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LABOV: And they’re apprehensive who are these administration with the antennas? And again they hear…

VOICE: I can remember, vaguely, aback we had the busses with the antennas on the top.

LABOV: And they accomplished that this being is adage the chat bus the way they say boss. So that’s aloof a few little samples of this abundant circling of vowels, which agency that aback bodies appear to Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, or Rochester, they anticipate they accept aggregate they hear, but there will be a lot of misunderstandings.

SIEGEL: You already acicular out to me some years ago a adverse fact, which is that if one doesn’t accomplish a acumen in one’s own speech, one may not apprehend it in added people’s speech.

LABOV: Half of this country has a alliance of the chat classes, cot, caught, don, dawn, hock, hawk. You can apprehend the aberration as I’m adage it.

SIEGEL: I can apprehend the differences, yes.

LABOV: But if you came from Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, those words complete appealing abundant the same. There are lots and lots of mergers that are demography place. Some of them are about finished. For example, which and witch acclimated to be altered in two-thirds of the country. Now, there’s alone in a few bodies who accomplish that difference. I’ll amplify it. The blurred one sounds like, which. It’s like alarming out a candle. When. And the added W, or the way we accent it mostly today is, when.

SIEGEL: These are alleged mergers, breadth sounds that acclimated to be alert and altered are now arresting appealing abundant the same.

LABOV: Yeah, and it’s a one-way deal. That is, the breadth that has the alliance is activity to aggrandize at the amount of the breadth that has the difference.

SIEGEL: One absorbing alliance I’d like you to allocution about is the alliance amid do, I do, one says at the altar, and the dew on the grass in the morning.

LABOV: The d-e-w chat acclimated to accept a little glide, dew; and that’s abundantly disappeared. But the aberration in the beat remained. So bodies acclimated to say dew and do. Aback I formed in New York City, I acclimated to ask people, can you say, I do? And they would say, yes. Can you say, I do? And they would say, yes. And I would say, can you allocution about the dew on the grass? And they would say, yes. But what about the do on the grass? And they would alpha to beam because that could alone beggarly a dog’s leavings. So that little aberration was there.

SIEGEL: We, of course, appointment a adaptation of that every hour here, which is aback we accept to say that now you’re activity to apprehend the news.

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LABOV: But if you anticipate about that complete of account or dew, it’s amazing to ascertain that throughout all of Arctic America, a complete is affective advanced appear the French complete of ieu. So that a apparition acclimated to say, boo, but today, everywhere in Arctic America, the apparition says, boo. Can you apprehend the difference?

SIEGEL: Why do you anticipate this happens? Why do you anticipate that afterwards some years of best bodies pronouncing the chat one way, there’s about-face appear pronouncing a simple chat addition way?

LABOV: We accept assertive theories about the automated factors that do this, and again sometimes it turns out that there’s a amusing amount that bodies put on assertive sounds. In the case of these mergers, best bodies don’t apprehension them, and they aloof appear after a distinct being acumen that the alliance is activity on. Accent is not actual stable.

SIEGEL: Now, for all of the mergers that you address on, there’s at atomic one breach you advise us about, and that’s the breach of the abbreviate A sound, which at one time would be actual altered aback it appeared in ham and, I guess, man. It was actual altered at one time. No longer.

LABOV: In New York Burghal and all the cities of the mid-Atlantic states, there is this analytical breach which we hunt aback ultimately to its origins in the 13th aeon in England. But today, New York Burghal has its system, and Philadelphia has its system, and they’re absolutely different. In New York, we say, cab, mad, flag. But in Philadelphia it’s cab, and flag. And alone three words afore D of that sound, mad, bad, glad, as against, sad, dad, fad. So it’s like a lock and key system. And you can calmly admit a apostle from those cities by the actuality that they accept that intricate pattern.

And I don’t beggarly to advance that all the dialects, earlier dialects, are alteration and developing. The baby ones are activity to the bank and disappearing. If you accept a burghal of a brace hundred thousand, the affairs are its bounded accent will disappear. But it won’t go into the administration of accepted English. Rather it will absorb with the bounded accent and strengthen forth with it.

SIEGEL: Well, William Labov, acknowledge you actual abundant for talking with us today.

LABOV: Good talking to you.

SIEGEL: William Labov is one of the authors of The Atlas of Arctic American English Phonetics, Phonology and Complete Change.

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