Tuesday 28 June 2011

AmE, 1911

Here are two scans from the Maître Phonétique, the IPA’s official journal, of a hundred years ago. They are transcriptions of the North Wind and the Sun story, made by E.H. Tuttle, and were published in the issue of the m.f. dated Sep-Oct 1911.

The phonetician Edwin Hotchkiss Tuttle (1879-?) was one of the founder members of the Linguistic Society of America, and a frequent contributor to the m.f..

What makes each of these scans particularly interesting as historical documents is Daniel Jones’s handwritten note alonɡside.

In both extracts the headline, əmerəkən iŋɡlɪʃ, uses different symbols for the first and second vowels of English. I seem to remember that Tuttle was from New England, and that may have been a peculiarity of his speech. (You can click on the images to enlarge them.)

The first extract represents the speech of Baltimore, MD. The pronunciation is shown as nonrhotic! DJ comments in the margin
T. spent 9 mʌnθs hiə

At the time the IPA used an acute accent to show a particularly tense vowel, a grave accent to show a particularly lax one. So the ɔ́ə of north, warm must imply greater initial tensity than for the ɔː of stronger, along, while the of agreed and the of blew imply greater tensity in the second part of the vowel.

Compare Wikipedia’s account of current Baltimore speech.

The other scan is of southern New England. DJ’s marginal comment reads
T livd in sauθ sentrəl Connecticut fə 28 jəːz

The subscript dots in ḍɪspjuútɪŋ, ṭeɪk, fə̣ːst indicate retroflexion (= modern ɖ, ʈ, ɚ). In the first two cases they represent progressive assimilation following ɹ — a phonetic detail I do not remember having seen discussed anywhere.

I have not previously seen any reference to the possible elision of w from wəz was. Do we still have this in AmE?

The note about “ðə fɔ́ɹm ʃoʊn” refers to shone, the past tense of shine (nowadays BrE ʃɒn, AmE ʃoʊn). Evidently the New Englanders of the time, perhaps embarrassed by the BrE/AmE difference, simply avoided the form.


  1. That's not how they talk in The Wire!

  2. The [i] in the first syllable of "English" is due to the relatively common process of pre-velar tensing, which occurs in many dialects of American English. This also causes "egg" to rhyme with "vague".

  3. I'm surprised to see the nonrhoticity of the Baltimore extract. It's sort of a commonplace of modern American dialectology that Baltimore is one of the few major East Coast cities to have never had a mainstream nonrhotic dialect; perhaps this needs to be reexamined?

  4. @Rory:

    It looks more like tensing of the stressed KIT vowel before a nasal. Note that "wind" is consistently given as [wind], and "in" is once given as [in] rather than [ɪn], when prosodically more salient.

  5. It seems "shone" continues to cause embarrassment to Americans. The 1949 IPA handbook has "shone" for BrE but "began to shine" for AmE; the current AmE recording has "shined".

  6. @Rory/vp: Yeah I think that pre-nasal tensing is a known feature of the Baltimore accent. You can hear it in The Wire in the -ing suffix, pronounced -iːn or -in.

    Unfortunately, most of the main actors are not Baltimore natives and many don't even attempt a Baltimore accent, so you need to listen out for it.

  7. I can't believe that a native of Baltimore at any time would have had the accent represented in the first transcript, unless perhaps the speaker were an African-American whose accent originated further south. I think that this is a transcript of some American Southern accent that has erroneously been attributed to Baltimore. I lived in Baltimore for a time in the 1980s and, while I heard some very strongly characterized local accents, all were fully rhotic. The transcript represents the final vowel of words of the happY set as [ɪ], a trait of Southern accents but not of Baltimore ones.

    On YouTube, you can listen to the speech of one of Baltimore's most famous natives, H. L. Mencken, who was born there in 1880, here, and to a sample of more recent and more demotic "Bawlamerese" here.

  8. vp's hypothesis of KIT tensing better accounts for the data, but Rory's point is also a useful one, that pre-velar tensing is common in many American dialects. Though I assume "bank" is the TRAP vowel, I was surprised to find that most respondents though of the "bank" vowel as being the same as the "bake" (i.e., FACE) vowel rather than the "back" vowel.

    Like MKR, I was very surprised by the first passage. Reading it aloud, it sounded to me exactly like an old Southern gentleman rather than a Mid-Atlantic speaker of any but Southern extraction (noting that there's a large expat Southern population around the DC area).

    As for w-less "was", I don't say it, but I do perceive it as a common (if stigmatized) pronunciation in some dialect groups for rapid speech. FWIW, perceive it as somewhat archaic, e.g., out of context I would expect it to be from someone who grew up in a rural setting in the 19th or early 20th century.

  9. It seems to me that all stressed KIT vowels are transcribed as i, with ɪ restricted to unstressed syllables.

    Although the "Baltimore" sample is non-rhotic, THOUGHT and NORTH seem to be distinct.

  10. North Wind and the Sun reminds me of Canepari... I wonder what symbols he'd chose of his 500 or so. He managed to cover how many: 150 English accents? And mentioned John C. Wells in the process and his lexical sets. Check Canepari's website.

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  12. I actually think the Baltimore speaker may have a kind of mid-Atlantic accent (in the Cary Grant sense). The distribution of vowels is consistent with Edith Skinner's "Speak With Distinction". See the distribution here and compare with what is apparent from the Baltimore speaker. The only inconsistency is that the Baltimore speaker has CLOTH = THOUGHT, while Skinner has CLOTH != THOUGHT.

    Here is the apparent distribution of the Baltimore speaker:

    KIT i (unstressed ɪ)
    DRESS e
    TRAP æ
    BATH æː
    LOT ---
    CLOTH ɔː
    STRUT ʌ
    FOOT u (unstressed ʊ)

    FLEECE ií (unstressed i)
    FACE eɪ (unstressed e)
    PALM --
    THOUGHT ɔː
    GOAT oʊ (but ou in "cloak")
    GOOSE uú (unstressed u)

    PRICE ɑɪ
    CHOICE ---
    MOUTH aʊ

    NURSE əː

    NEAR ---
    SQUARE ---
    START ---
    NORTH ɔə
    FORCE ɔə
    CURE ---

  13. Can't offer more than an anecdote, but w-less 'was' is common in rural central-eastern Kentucky.

  14. John, I wonder if Tuttle's perception of difference in the two vowels of 'English' was conditioned by the nasalization of the first one. Just a thought...

  15. @Ronald Kephart:

    In his transcription of Baltimore speech, Tuttle consistently uses i for stressed KIT and ɪ for its unstressed equivalent, regardless of nasalization.


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