ENG4820 | Week 13  African American English Continued | Dialects and Shifts in North America 

African‐American English and the Oakland School Board  RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN TASK FORCE; A POLICY STATEMENT AND DIRECTING THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS TO DEVISE A PROGRAM TO IMPROVE THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AND APPLICATION SKILLS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDENTS No. 9697-0063 WHEREAS, numerous validated scholarly studies demonstrate that African-American students as a part of their culture and history as African people possess and utilize a language described in various scholarly approaches as "Ebonics" (literally "Black sounds") or "Pan African Communication Behaviors" or "African Language Systems"; and WHEREAS, these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems have origins in West and Niger-Congo languages and are not merely dialects of English; and [MG: Revised from the original – “WHEREAS, these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English; and”] WHEREAS, these studies demonstrate that such West and Niger-Congo African languages have been recognized and addressed in the educational community as worthy of study, understanding and application of their principles, laws and structures for the benefit of African-American students both in terms of positive appreciation of the language and these students acquisition and mastery of English language skills; and WHEREAS, such recognition by scholars has given rise over the past fifteen years to legislation passed by the State of California recognizing the unique language stature of descendants of slaves, with such legislation being prejudicially and unconstitutionally vetoed repeatedly by various California state governors; and WHEREAS, judicial cases in states other than California have recognized the unique language stature of African American pupils, and such recognition by courts has resulted in court-mandated educational programs which have substantially benefited African-American children in the interest of vindicating their equal protection of the law rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; and WHEREAS, the Federal Bilingual Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1402 et seq.) mandates that local educational agencies "build their capacities to establish, implement and sustain programs of instruction for children and youth of limited English proficiency; and WHEREAS, the interest of the Oakland Unified School District in providing equal opportunities for all of its students dictate limited English proficient educational programs recognizing the English language acquisition and improvement skills of African-American students are as fundamental as is application of bilingual or
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second language learner principles for others whose primary languages are other than English. Primary languages are the language patterns children bring to school; and WHEREAS, the standardized tests and grade scores of African-American students in reading and language arts skills measuring their application of English skills are substantially below state and national norms and that such deficiencies will be remedied by application of a program featuring African Language Systems principles to move students from the language patterns they bring to school to English proficiency; and WHEREAS, standardized tests and grade scores will be remedied by application of a program that teachers and instructional assistants, who are certified in the methodology of African Language Systems principles used to transition students from the language patterns they bring to school to English. The certified teachers of these students will be provided incentives including, but not limited to salary differentials; NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Education officially recognizes the existence, and the cultural and historic bases of West and Niger-Congo African Language Systems, and each language as the primary language of many African-American students; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Education hereby adopts the report, recommendations and attached Policy Statement of the Districts African-American Task Force on the language stature of AfricanAmerican speech; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Superintendent in conjunction with her staff shall immediately devise and implement the best possible academic program for the combined purposes of facilitating the acquisition and mastery of English language skills, while respecting and embracing the legitimacy and richness of the language patterns whether they are known as "Ebonics", "African Language Systems", "Pan African Communication Behaviors", or other description; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Education hereby commits to earmark District general and special funding as is reasonably necessary and appropriate to enable the Superintendent and her staff to accomplish the foregoing; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Superintendent and her staff shall utilize the input of the entire Oakland educational community as well as state and federal scholarly and educational input in devising such a program; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that periodic reports on the progress of the creation and implementation of such an educational program shall be made to the Board of Education at least once per month commencing at the Board meeting of December 18, 1996.
Source: http://www.cnn.com/US/9701/16/black.english/ebonics.amend.html?iref=newssearch   

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New York Times March 1, 1997

Dispute Over Ebonics Reflects a Volatile Mix That Roils Urban Education
By PETER APPLEBOME It was after 11 P.M. at a routine school board meeting in December, full of long-winded tributes to outgoing board members, when the Oakland School Board hurriedly approved a recommendation many members had barely read. It said black students spoke a separate language called ebonics. Almost three months later, the issue is very much alive in Oakland, where the policy is still being debated; in Los Angeles, which has postponed consideration of a proposal to train all teachers in ebonics; in the state Capitol in Sacramento, where a bill calls for banning such study, and nationwide, where most school districts are grappling with how best to teach black students. Since the Oakland resolution, ebonics has gone from a term most people had never heard of to a flash point for many of the most volatile issues in American education. But for all the elements of caricature and hyperbole that have gone into it, the dispute over ebonics, or black English, exemplifies the tensions that characterize urban education today, a volatile mix of politics, pedagogy and social issues. The city at the center of the dispute has played a historic role in black politics, and is now grappling with sweeping demographic shifts as Hispanic and Asian-American residents become increasingly influential. Some school board members here have adopted as their language guru an educator who teaches ''medicine, ethnology and gerontology'' at a small black medical college. Dr. Ernie A. Smith has a fervent following among a small group of black educators in California, but little standing among professional linguists. Most of all, it is a reminder of how difficult it is to improve the nation's schools at a time when people fervently disagree not just on what students should learn, but also on who they are and how they best learn. The City: Oakland Is Familiar With Controversy If educators were asked to draw up a list of likely sites for an issue like ebonics to flare up, Oakland would have been near the top of most lists. Indeed, part of the context overlooked in the furor over ebonics was how it reflected national concerns, filtered through the prism of a district with a long history of controversy and a commitment to multicultural politics that goes well beyond the national norm. In 1991, Oakland schools were thrown into chaos when the school board rejected social studies textbooks approved by the state, saying they did not properly reflect California's ethnic groups. Schools began that year with no social studies textbooks, while a local committee tried to come up with the district's own materials. One seventh grade work sheet, entitled ''Crimes of a Racist Society,'' which included pictures of the nonwhite victims of a mass murderer in Milwaukee and an editorial cartoon of Justice Clarence Thomas, was withdrawn after it become the subject of local controversy. Over time, the political complexities have increased as Hispanic and Asian children have become an increasing part of the district. Black children make up 53 percent of the student population in Oakland, the state's last district with a black majority. But just as Hispanic and Asian-American students now make up a majority of the 5.3 million children in California's public schools, blacks in Oakland will probably lose their majority before long.

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A drive along Oakland's International Boulevard and nearby streets, with their Mexican taquerias, Vietnamese beauty shops, Korean United Methodist Church and Vietnamese children bouncing basketballs and wearing baggy hip-hop attire, is a reminder of how much this city is changing. The ebonics resolution stemmed from a task force created last year as a response to the troubling performance of black students in Oakland. As a group, their grade point average is 1.8, the lowest of any ethnic or racial group. They make up 71 percent of the city's students in special education classes, but only 37 percent of those in gifted and talented programs. Blacks make up 64 percent of the students held back each year, and 80 percent of all suspended students. But the task force reflected political issues as well, particularly the frustration many blacks felt with the resources committed to black children in the district and the way other minorities were entitled to Federal bilingual education funds. The task force recommendations included recruiting more black teachers and improving parent involvement and student nutrition among other measures. But rather than going through the normal committee review, the report and the resolution on ebonics were submitted directly to the board. And with no debate, the board approved the resolution with almost no discussion or study. Even some task force members say its report and the resolution on ebonics were the result more of a small core of district staff and board members dedicated to expanding the black English program rather than an informed consensus. ''I got a call from the superintendent last summer, but I never went to a meeting,'' said Joseph E. Marshall Jr., a former Oakland teacher who heads the Omega Boys Club, a violence-prevention group in San Francisco. ''Next thing I knew this whole ebonics issue was out there. I didn't know my name was on the document until someone told me.'' ''It's a peripheral issue, and that's what makes me mad,'' Mr. Marshall added. ''It's thrown the focus off the real problems these kids have.'' Also significant was the timing of the vote. The resolution was voted on at the last meeting of an outgoing board that was going from a 4-to-3 black majority to one with three blacks and one Hispanic, one Asian and two white members. Supporters of the resolution say it addressed an educational need and that ebonics was only a part of the board's approach. ''Educators do a great job of restating the problem, and we have restated the problem a thousand times,'' said Toni Cook, a black member of the school board who called for the task force that came up with the ebonics report. ''We have blamed everybody, not including God. We didn't finger-point. We came up with recommendations, and not just one, but nine of them.'' But others, including some blacks, say the recommendations had as much to do with self-esteem and racial politics as with sound pedagogy. And they say the resolution and policy statement -- explicitly saying blacks ''are not native speakers of a black dialect or any other dialect of English'' -- was clearly addressed to gaining Federal money, which is available only to those for whom English is not their native language. ''The resolution itself was the subjective opinion of a few people on the task force -- they weren't linguists,'' said Jason Hodge, a 22-year-old student at the University of California at Berkeley who was elected to the board in November and began serving on the board after the resolution passed. ''Many task force members have told me: 'Everybody else has a language. Why can't we? Everyone else has something. Why can't we?' '' He added, ''I feel that's the wrong way to go about things.'' The Advocate: A Black Educator With a Mission Last March, Oakland organized a conference on language and black students. The conference, held at the Oakland Hilton, was originally to be called the Great Debate. In the end, it was called the Great Collegial Discussion.

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Of the five experts asked to appear before a group of about 300 educators, nearly all of them black, there was no doubt who was the dominant presence and the favorite of the conference organizers. It was Dr. Smith, a 58-year-old self-described ''interdisciplinary scholar'' and a passionate advocate of the idea that blacks speak a separate language called ebonics. Dr. Smith, a short, stocky man with a shaved head, began his talk by stressing the importance of religion, saying those without religion were merely educated fools. Then he launched into stem-winding oratory, defending ebonics and arguing that the black children who speak it deserve special programs and funds similar to those from other ethnic groups who receive bilingual education. Dr. Smith was born in Haskel, Okla., in 1938, and received degrees from the Los Angeles Metropolitan College of Business and the California State University at Los Angeles. He received a Ph.D. in comparative culture from the University of California at Irvine in 1974, and then taught linguistics for several years. He is now a professor of medicine, ethnology and gerontology at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, which was established in 1966 and is one of four historically black medical colleges in the United States. For years, Dr. Smith has been the leading California advocate of ebonics, a term coined by Dr. Robert Williams, a black psychologist, in 1973. The officials in charge of the state's most conspicuous ebonics programs, Noma Lemoine of Los Angeles and Nabeehah Shakir in Oakland, cite Dr. Smith's work frequently and enthusiastically. Most of the language of the resolution, including a part tracing the roots of ebonics to the Niger-Congo region of Africa and the idea that ebonics is genetically linked to Africa -- a point he says refers to the language roots, not human genetics - comes directly from Dr. Smith's writing. Asked for supporting documentation on ebonics recently, Ms. Shakir offered a paper Dr. Smith wrote for the 56th Yearbook of the Claremont Reading Conference in California. It is an impassioned political and linguistic defense of ebonics, dismissing most writing on black speech, even by respected black linguists and authors, as ''misinformation from implied or explicit white supremacist postulates.'' It argues that while some blacks have developed ''very splendidly developed oral mimicry and English grammar skills,'' blacks are entitled to government funds for programs that teach English as a second language, just as other ethnic groups are. ''If this is not done,'' the paper concluded, ''there will continually be internecine racial strife, conflagration and turmoil in our nation's cities, and ultimately the destruction of white America.'' Dr. Smith declined to be interviewed. Through a spokesman, he said a interview would ''tabloidize'' his research. He said he would submit to an in-person interview for his standard consultant's fee of $1,000. In a brief telephone conversation, Dr. Smith said he had been a paid consultant to the Oakland district, but declined to say how much he was paid. ''African-American speech has two parents,'' he said. ''It's stupid to look at a hybrid language and not look at both parents. It's like looking at O.J.'s kids and looking at one parent and not the other.'' He declined to discuss the issue further. ''You want more, you've got to pay for it,'' he said. In two speeches recently in Los Angeles and Oakland, Dr. Smith repeated most of the ideas in his papers. He ranged from arcane linguistic matters to political oratory, taking swipes at virtually everyone who has spoken on the issue, including sympathetic linguists. Among other things, he hailed Oakland's schools for rejecting ''the white supremacist double standard'' that classifies English as a language but not ebonics, ridiculed blacks who spoke ''king's English'' -- ''You're not speaking English just because you learned how to mimic old Massa and Missus Ann'' -- and said that since fossils of the oldest known human so far have been found in
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Africa, English, if anything, is a dialect of African languages. ''If we were on the globe first, how can our language be based on European languages?'' he asked. Despite his following in Oakland and Los Angeles, professional linguists tend to view Dr. Smith with polite expressions of skepticism or with outright scorn. ''Dr. Ernie Smith is not what we'd call a member of the community of linguists,'' said John H. McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, who is black. ''There is a community of linguists who study Creole languages and black English, and he is not one of them.'' The Reality: A Need to Find The Middle Ground Ms. Cook, the Oakland School Board member, said she hoped the ebonics controversy would contribute to a more balanced discussion of education for black children. ''I have got to the point of thinking it was God's hand,'' she said. ''We couldn't have planned it this well, not with all the media strategists in the world sitting at one table. We're actually talking about urban education. We haven't done this with any flourish since Brown versus Board of Education.'' But few outside Oakland are so sanguine. ''If that was their idea, it backfired,'' said John Baugh, a Stanford University linguist now teaching at Swarthmore College. ''I've been deeply concerned about the creation of racist web sites and the way this has turned into a joke to a lot of people. Despite good intentions, the way this was introduced has done very little to enlighten anyone about the educational needs of AfricanAmerican students.'' Dr. Baugh does not believe ebonics is a separate language. He questions Dr. Smith's linguistic credentials and he thinks the Oakland board's actions began from an inaccurate linguistic premise. But, like many linguists, he said there was much that was valid, sensible and important in the Oakland initiative. Indeed, he said, one of the pressing needs in education is finding a middle ground that accommodates not only children who speak standard English or those for whom English is a second language, but also those like many urban blacks or second or third generation Asians or Latinos who speak English but with ''non-standard dialects.'' ''I see language as a three-stage process,'' he said. ''Not many people jump from a language other than English to what Tom Brokaw produces. The intermediate stage isn't well studied, and in that sense I think Oakland was getting at something that's important not just for blacks, but for other ethnic groups as well.'' In fact, most linguists say that the basis of Oakland's program -- understanding the speech patterns of black students and respecting their speech while teaching standard English -- is a fundamental aspect of improving language skills. Indeed, it is a part of the teaching strategy at many school districts, including 17 in California and other places around the country. The Linguistic Society of America, without addressing the issue of whether ebonics is a separate language, said black English or ebonics is ''systematic and rule-governed'' and that learning a standard language variety can be enhanced by recognizing the legitimacy of other varieties of speech. Mary Rhodes Hoover, a former dean at Howard University who is now a consultant for Oakland, says studies show that teachers who had high positive attitudes, high expectations and more information about the characteristics of black speech were also the teachers whose students scored highest on standardized reading tests. Many experts say a narrowly focused debate over language hinged on a much broader questions of language and culture -- the way an emotionally weighted issue was framed and the language that transformed an educational issue into a political one. It is a reminder, these experts say, of how easy it is for a public debate about education to turn out to be about everything except educating children.
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''This isn't the reason we've got problems in the community,'' said Mr. Marshall, the San Francisco boys club leader. ''I pick up the paper and see: ''Ebonics. What? It's not the reason these kids are dying and going to prison.''


The Real Issues 
  The Price of Linguistic and Cultural Non‐Conformity    We live in an era made notable by more African Americans in positions of prestige and power –  outside of the historically ‘safe’ areas of sports and entertainment – than ever before, from  government to the sciences to the executive offices of major corporations.    The stories they have to tell are each of unique combinations of hard work, support and mentorship,  talent, and good fortune. What they all have in common – which rarely gets talked about – is a high  degree of linguistic conformity to prestiged, majority‐white varieties of English.     From a certain point of view, a case can be made that linguistic non‐conformity is a greater barrier to  material success and cultural acceptance within the majority society than skin color.     Segregation and ‘The Critical Period’     We also live in an era of profound ethnic and economic segregation along lines drawn by legal restrictions  that were invalidated decades ago. Especially in the St. Louis area, generations have grown up in almost  exclusively black or almost exclusively white neighborhoods, immersed in dialect worlds that have grown  measurably more dissimilar in the past few decades.     These facts on the ground interact with the linguistic‐cognitive landscape of separated communities,  specifically their children, in very particular ways.     Children acquire most of whatever language or languages they are exposed to within their first five years or  so. Learning outcomes before that mostly fluid cutoff period are by and large predictable: children will  converge on linguistic systems mostly like those that characterize the speech of their community.     Learning outcomes on the tail end of this critical period are uneven, unpredictable, and costly in terms of  required exposure time and intervention on the part of instructors. This is more and more true as age  increases.     Children who are raised in a linguistically uniform environment, therefore, face a very difficult task when they  encounter a new dialect or language after their ‘critical period’ for acquisition. They also lack crucial cognitive  skills multilingual children develop in order to switch between the two or more systems they have stored in  their conscious and subconscious minds.  These skills are a proven asset to multilingual children everywhere,  giving them an edge in form‐function mapping that transfers readily and advantageously to many, many  other areas of activity.     Which children grow up monolingually but also outside communities in which the prestige language is  broadly spoken, these cognitive disadvantages are compounded by social and economic exclusion, and a self‐ feeding cycle begins: exclusion feeds non‐conformity, which feeds exclusion.      
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  In the early 20th century…    • Adoption by the upper classes of fairly novel features of Received Pronunciation – the standardized  speech of the London elite in Britain – chiefly the deletion of word‐final /r/, a Southern British dialect  feature that arose in the 18th century but remained fairly restricted to Northeastern dialects, owing to  heavy immigration elsewhere from conservative dialect areas in Ireland, Scotland, and northern  England. This is the origin of cah meaning automobile, which people stereotypically associate with  Boston speech.  • In the mid‐20th century, with Americans’ growing self‐perception as a global superpower, British  pronunciations start to lose their prestige. The r‐less pronunciation becomes associated with  socioeconomic extremes: extremely upper‐class (elitist!) and extremely lower‐class.    • Marilyn Monroe (who, as a working‐class Californian, would have spoken a dialect without r‐ deletion) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuZgkVvyV‐o  • Lana Turner (working‐class roots in Idaho, raised by southerners)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwBM6Odu1xE    • Continuation of the Great Vowel Shift’s transformation of Middle English /i/ to /ɑj/ (time, right) and  /u/ to /ɑw/ (out, loud). In Canadian dialects, as well as some in the Northeast and Upper Midwest of  the United States, this shift freezes at the stage of /Λj/ and /Λw/.   o Link: Theodore Roosevelt, recorded in 1912, reflecting pronunciations he acquired in the late  19th century.  • In more recent decades in a number of dialects, the distance between the core vowel and the semi‐ vowel in /ɑw/ has been increasing, from /ɑw/ to /æw/ 


Carver, Craig M. 1987. American regional dialects: word geography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ENG 4820 | History of the English Language | Week 14 | Spring 2009 | Page 8 of 13 


This map was pieced together from decades of formal and informal observation. It reflects the dense lines of differentiation in those areas of the country that have been settled by English speakers the longest, with a great westward smearing of regional features in areas settled since the mid 19th-century. The most distinguishing characteristics that separate American dialects are sets of mergers and shifts in the vowel inventory. A few rough and general observations about sound change: • • Vowel mergers and shifts usually begin in one phonetic environment (before nasal consonants, before /l/, etc.) and spread to other environments. Once mergers and shifts begin, they almost always work their way into the sociocultural landscape of their regions. Conservative and innovative pronunciations take on sociocultural associations that can, over time, accelerate or reverse any change underway.

Changes propagate more quickly and widely if adopted by: (a) speakers of higher socioeconomic status and/or (b) speakers who have strong geocultural pride Changes propagate more slowly and can even be arrested and/or reversed if they are adopted by: (a) speakers of lower socioeconomic status and/or (b) speakers who have strong negative associations with their geocultural origins Two related trends characterize the American dialect landscape of the 21st century: • • Isolated regional dialects, such as the conservative dialects of coastal North and South Carolina (link), are dying off as their speakers’ children and grandchildren assimilate to more widespread regional dialects. Mobility and mass culture have created completely novel situations on the ground: o Very large, very densely populated areas in the “sun belt,” – chiefly the Coastal Southern, Southwestern, and Pacific Southwest dialect areas – with a majority of inhabitants having arrived from other parts of the United States or other countries. o A new class of speakers whose pronunciation, grammar, and word choices are not determined chiefly by geocultural origin but rather by super-regional, largely classbased cultural affiliations: Fronting of /ow/ (so, throw, know) to /εw/ or /Λw/and /uw/ (do, blue, flew) to /Iw/ among younger, upwardly mobile urban hipsters and those who wish to be counted among them (link). Survey: How many of you … … were born at least 100 miles away from here? … have at least one parent or grandparent who was born at least 100 miles away? … have lived at least 100 miles away from here at least once, for at least two years?
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Distinguishing American Dialects Dialects can be very slippery things. Speakers will adjust their production – whether consciously or not – based on many different factors, many of them emotional: • • • • • How do they feel about their sociolinguistic origins? Are they paying special attention to the features of their own speech? What linguistically defined group do they feel they belong to, want to belong to, or want to not belong to? What linguistically defined group do they associate their addressee(s) to? What’s the subject? Family history or quantum physics? Do You  Have  This?  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO 

General  Environment  Merger of /ɑ/  and /ɔ/ 

More  Specifically…  before nasals  before /t/  before /k/  Before /l/ 

Key Pairs  don ~ dawn  cot ~ caught  tock ~ talk  caller ~ collar 

Merger of /I/ and /ε/ before  nasals  Lax‐tense  high   merger in front  mid  vowels before  low  /l/ 

pin ~ pen  bin ~ been  fill ~ feel  fell ~ fail  full ~ fool 


Merger of /ɑ/ and /o/ before /r/ 

card ~ cord 


Merger of /e/ and /ε/ before /r/  Merger of /æ/ and /ε/ before /r/  Merger of /iw/ and /u/ 

Mary ~ merry  merry ~ marry  dew ~ do  news ~ gnus 


Notes  • Playing out in the North Midland, Upper  Midwestern, and Inland Northern areas,  as well as all of the western states. Very  little prevalence in the South  • In opposition with the Northern Cities  Shift (see below), and positively  correlated with rural location or  identification.   • St. Louis is on the southeastern border of  the areas in which the merger is playing  out. Speakers who do not merge tend to  identify more with St. Louis than with  outlying areas. Speakers who merge tend  to be biased against St. Louis.  • Tell a tale, go to hell…  • Strictly Southern, but widespread among  African‐American dialects because of  large‐scale migration from the South into  the northern industrial cities in the early  20th century  • Less prevalent with low vowels    • Originated in white Appalachian dialects  (and from there to African‐American  dialects of the Midwest, i.e. St. Louis) but  is propagating – slowly – through  Southern dialect areas  These mergers are widespread and correlate  only weakly with dialect boundaries 

ENG 4820 | History of the English Language | Week 14 | Spring 2009 | Page 10 of 13 

Getting To Know Your Dialect Markers
St. Louis is a border area between areas undergoing major reorganizations of their vowel systems. The features can be difficult to pin down in isolation. Read through the following passages, which contain words that will tell you where you are in relation to some of the major changes: 1. Yesterday I was going for a drive and saw a man who was standing on a street corner eating a ham sandwich. He seemed pretty glad to see me, but then he ran away along a path leading into the park. 2. My roommate Todd got pretty sick a few weeks ago. He had a pretty bad cough and kept spitting up these big blobs of mucous. Our third roommate Tom and I got so grossed out by it all that we made him sleep on a cot out in the laundry room. He tried to cop some Nyquil off of me but I didn’t have any. I wrote about the whole thing on my blog. Shift  Raising & diphthongization of /æ/  Environment  Before nasals  Key Words  Man  Ham  Stand  Mad  Glad  Stab  Mat  That  Path  Con  Don  Tom  blog  blob  Todd  cough  cot  Cop  Do You Have This?  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO  YES / NO 

Before voiced consonants 

Before voiceless consonants 

Fronting and lowering of /ɔ/ 

Before nasals 

Before voiced consonants 

Before voiceless consonants 

ENG 4820 | History of the English Language | Week 14 | Spring 2009 | Page 11 of 13 

Chain Shifts in Action
THE NORTHERN CITIES SHIFT    The Northern Cities Shift is a massive and ongoing reorganizations of the vowel inventories associated with  the urban centers of the Upper Midwest and Northeast.  The blue line encloses areas in  which /Λ/ is backed. The red  line encloses areas in which  /æ/ is diphthongized to [eə]  even before non‐nasal  consonants. The areas  enclosed by all three lines may  be considered the "core" of the  NCVS; it is most consistently  present in Syracuse, Rochester,  Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago.  (Source). 

/iə/ idea / I/ kit 6  /ε/ pet /æ/ man 4  /Λ/ cut

The numbers (1) through (5) represent the extent of the shift, with the  geographic distribution shrinking as the number gets higher.     In other words, the pronunciation in (1) characterizes the entire  region of the Northern Cities Shift, whereby the vowels in man, had,  cat approaches the diphthong in the second syllable of idea.     The pronunciation in (6), where the vowel in kit starts to sound like  the vowel in pet on the other hand, is generally found only in the core  urban areas such as Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago.  


/ɔ/ caught 3

/ɑ/ cot

ENG 4820 | History of the English Language | Week 14 | Spring 2009 | Page 12 of 13 

The Southern Shift

This shift began about two  hundred years ago, a date  we can derive from the only  partially shifted vowels of  emigrant African American  dialects in Canada and the  Dominican Republic  In this very complex change, some  vowels are shifting into already  occupied slots in the inventory,  while others (shaded grey) are  shifting into quite novel  pronunciations.   The numbers (1) through (8)  represent the extent of the shift,  with the geographic distribution  shrinking as the number gets  higher.     In other words, the pronunciation  in (1) characterizes the entire  Southern dialect area, whereby the  vowels in hide approaches the  vowel in had in most other dialects.    The pronunciation in (8), where the  vowel in card approaches the  pronunciation in chord in  mainstream dialects, is  geographically restricted to  Appalachian dialects but is  spreading.  

/i/ key 3  /Ij/ key /eə/ bed

/iə/ kids 4  /I/ kids /ej/ made 4  /ε/ bed 4  /Iy/ rude

/uw/ rude /ow/ road 6

/ur/ chord


2  /εw/ road

/or/ chord

/Λj/ made 8

/æə/ had

/æ/ had 1  /ɑj/ hide /ɑr/ card

ENG 4820 | History of the English Language | Week 14 | Spring 2009 | Page 13 of 13 

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