Split short-a system fest (Updated December, 2012)

Split short-a systems, in which /ae/ is argued to actually be present as two phonemes (/ae/ and /ae:/), have a long history of being discussed as they are found, both historically and in the present-day, along the US East Coast, particularly in cities such as New York City (Babbitt, 1896; Trager, 1930; 1940; Thomas, 1947; Hubbell, 1950; Bronstein, 1962; Berger, 1968; Cohen, 1970; Setzer, 1998; Becker and Wong, 2009; Becker, 2010) and Philadelphia (Ferguson, 1972; Labov, 1989). Yet a growing body of research in recent years has reported split-a systems and split-a like systems to be found in a diversity of other US locations historically–including Cincinnati (Boberg & Strassel, 1995, 2000); Columbus (Durian, 2010; 2012); Kansas City* (Lusk, 1976); New Orleans (Labov, 2007); and Southeastern Florida (Dinkin & Friesner, 2009). In addition, split systems have also been reported to occur historically more generally in more general geographic areas, including many portions of Southern and Central Ohio (Thomas, 2006); select areas in the Hudson Valley area of New York State (Dinkin, 2009); and generally across many portions of the Eastern US seaboard (Ash, 2002; and Johnson, 1998; see also the “oldies but goodies,” Emerson, 1891; Grandgent, 1892; and Tuttle, 1902).

In quite recent work, Erik Thomas, Charles Boberg, Stephanie Strassel and I have all found evidence of historical split-a systems throughout Central and Southern Ohio, specifically in Cincinnati (Boberg & Strassel, 1995, 2000) and Columbus (Durian, 2010, 2012), but more generally throughout many portions of Central and Southern OH, as well (Thomas, 2006). Given the results of these studies, particularly my own, I have found myself lately interested in learning more about split-a systems. Given that split a systems also appear to be being discovered in an increasingly diverse number of areas throughout the US, I thought this topic might also be of interest to a number of readers out there.

Thus, I have decided to present a series of articles on split short a systems which provide more or less a concise history of what we know about their occurrence and geographic distribution as of November, 2012 in the US. This series is presented below, with the readings divided up by geographic location in which the study occurred, and then chronologically within geographic location. For more on my own recent findings of split a systems in Columbus historically, see the related entry on my Century of Language Change in Columbus blog, as my work has yet to be published, and the dissertation chapter I am writing concerning this topic is still under development.

[* Note that this finding represents my own reinterpretation of Lusk’s findings. Lusk herself diagnoses the short a system to show Northern Cities Shift style raising, rather than split-system style raising.]

New York City

Babbitt, E. H. 1896. The English of the lower classes in New York City and vicinity. Dialect Notes, 1: 457-464. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Babbitt_1896.pdf

Trager, George L. 1930. The pronunciation of “short “a” in American Standard English. American Speech, 5:396–400. http://www.jstor.org/stable/452819

Trager, George L. 1940. One phonemic entity becomes two: The case of “short a”. American Speech, 15:255–58. http://www.jstor.org/stable/486966

Thomas, C.K. 1947. The place of New York City in American linguistic geography. Quarterly Journal of Speech 33.3: 314-320.

Hubbell, Allan F. 1950. The pronunciation of English in New York City: Consonants and vowels. New York: Columbia University’s King’s Crown Press.

Bronstein, Arthur J. 1962. Let’s take another look at New York City Speech. American Speech, 37.1:13-26.

Berger, Marshall D. 1968. The internal dynamics of a metropolitan New York vocalic paradigm. American Speech, 43.1:40-50.

Cohen, Paul. 1970. The tensing and raising of short-a in the Metropolitan Area of
New York City.
Master’s thesis, Columbia University.

Setzer, Kenneth. 1998. The low front vowel /æ/ in the English of New York City: Theoretical implications in a nonstandard dialect. American Speech, 73: 329–336.

Becker, Kara, and Amy Wing-mei Wong. 2009. The short-a system of New York City English: An update. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 15.2: Selected papers from NWAV 37. pp. 11-20.

Becker, Kara. 2010. Chapter 5: Short-a. Social conflict and social practice on the Lower East Side: A study of regional dialect features in New York City English. Doctoral dissertation: New York University.


Ferguson, Charles. 1972. ‘Short a’ in Philadelphia English. In M. Estellie Smith (Ed.), Studies in honor of George L. Trager. The Hague: Mouton. pp. 259-274. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Ferguson_1972.pdf

Labov, William. 1989. An exact description of the speech community: Short a in Philadelphia. In Fasold, Ralph W., and Deborah Schiffrin (eds.), Language change and variation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 1-57.

East Coast More Generally

Emerson, Oliver F. 1891. The Ithaca dialect: A study of present English. Dialect Notes, 1: 85-173. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Emerson_1891.pdf

Grandgent, Charles H. 1892. Haf and haef. Dialect Notes 1, 269-275. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Grandgent_1892.pdf

Tuttle, Edwin. 1902. Phonetic notation. In Edward Scripture, Ed., Studies from the Yale Psychology Laboratory X:96-117.

Johnson, Daniel Ezra. 1998. The tensing and laxing of short ‘a’ in New Haven, Connecticut. B.A. thesis, Yale University. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Johnson_1998.pdf

Ash, Sharon. 2002. The distribution of a phonemic split in the Mid-Atlantic region: Yet more on short a. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 8.3: Papers from NWAV 30. pp. 1-11.

Dinkin, Aaron. 2009. Chapter 4: Short-a phonology and the structure of the vowel space. Dialect boundaries and phonological change in upstate New York. Doctoral dissertation, The University of Pennsylvania. pp. 144-242.

Midwest (with particular emphasis on Ohio)

Lusk, Melanie. 1976. Phonological variation in Kansas City: A sociolinguistic analysis of three-generation families. Doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/LWAA/Lusk 1976.pdf

Boberg, Charles, and Stephanie Strassel, 1995. Phonological change in Cincinnati. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, 2.2:25-35.

Boberg, Charles, and Stephanie Strassel. 2000. Short-a in Cincinnati: A change in progress. Journal of English Linguistics, 28: 108-126.

Thomas, Erik R. 2006. Evidence from Ohio on the evolution of /ae/. In Murray, Thomas E., and Beth Lee Simon (Eds.), Language variation and change in the American Midland: A new look at “Heartland English.” Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 69-89.

Durian, David. 2010. Is it Northern Cities or is it split? Reassessing the historical tensing and raising of /ae/ in Columbus in real and apparent time. Paper presented at Changelings (OSU Socio-Historical discussion group), Columbus, OH. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/CLCC/Presentations.html

Durian, David. 2012. Chapter 6: The rise and fall of short-a in Columbus. A new perspective on vowel variation throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries in Columbus, OH. Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University.

Various Locations (Focus on transmission and diffusion of short-a systems)

Labov, William. 2007. Transmission and diffusion. Language, 83: 344-387. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/language/v083/83.2labov.pdf

Dinkin, Aaron, and Michael Friesner. 2009. Transmission or diffusion?: NYC-like short a in Southeast Florida and the Hudson Valley. Paper presented at NWAV 38, Ottawa, Canada. http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~dinkin/ShortAhandout.pdf

Durian and Gordon’s 2011 NWAV 40 Presentation Now Available

Here is a posting for the final of the NWAV 40 presentation slide shows that we will be posted to the site. This one is the overview presentation by Durian and Gordon for the whole “New Ways of Analyzing Vowel Shifts” double panel. Sticking with the theme, the presentation itself actually introduces some new material presenting new ways of looking at vowel shifts, rather than simply being an overview per se.

This show presents what we believe to be the first reference to “Third Dialect Shift” as a proper term for defining the vowel shift found in recent studies in Canada, the US Midland, and the US West, where LOT backs (and variably raises), TRAP backs, and DRESS also backs. The backing of LOT is often accompanied by merger with THOUGHT, but not always. This term for the Shift also appears in written form outside of this presentation in Durian’s forthcoming dissertation “A New Perspective on Vowel Variation throughout the 20th Century in Columbus, OH,” to be made available in December, 2012.

The slide show can be found here–http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/NWAV40/Durian_Gordon_NWAV40.pdf

Labov (1964) also available in the Less Widely Available Archive (LWAA)

The original dissertation version of Labov’s Social Stratification of English in New York City (from 1964) is now also available in the LWAA as of today. Note, it is 646 pages long (and 26.7 MB!), so may take a little time to download. This version is the one filed on microfilm as a part of the University Microfilms series.

Here is the direct link:


Hindle’s 1979 dissertation now available in the Less Widely Available Archive (LWAA)

By popular request, now available in the LWAA is Don Hindle’s The Social and Situational Conditioning of Phonetic Variation. Note that the scan quality on some pages is a bit dodgy–I don’t currently have access to the original to be able to fix the wonky pages. It can be found directly via this link below, as well as on the standard LWAA page.


Toward a Unified Theory of Chain Shifting (Aaron Dinkin, 2011)

Here is a link to a third paper from the “New Perspectives on Vowel Shifting” panel at NWAV 40. This time, it is a paper by Aaron Dinkin of Swathmore entitled “Toward a Unified Theory of Chain Shifting.” This link provides a .pdf of Dinkin’s slide show.

The abstract for the paper is presented below:

The ontological status of the chain shift as a linguistic phenomenon has been a subject of
some dispute. Is “chain shift” merely a label assigned in retrospect to a collection of
sound changes that happen to have co-occurred in a superficially structured seeming way,
as argued by Stockwell & Minkova (1988)? Or is the chain a unitary process which
simultaneously causes the movements of several phonemes, as argued by Lass (1988)?
This paper explores the ontological status and evolution of chain shifting, focusing on
data from the Northern Cities Shift (NCS) in the transitional region of eastern New York

In the Hudson Valley, raising of /æ/, the triggering feature of the NCS, is absent, while
other NCS features are present, suggesting that the structural relationship does not hold.
At the same time, in “fringe” communities to which the NCS has apparently diffused, the
NCS takes on a more systematic-seeming triangular shape in the vowel space. These
findings corroborate the theories of Labov (2007) and Preston (2008) on the phonological
consequences of diffusion of the NCS, which had not previously been observed in a
single data set.

These results suggest an overall model for the life cycle of chain shifts, unifying
Stockwell & Minkova’s and Lass’s perspectives: In the community where a chain shift
originates, it is a unitary phenomenon in which phonemes move in response to each other.
As it spreads to new communities, the uniformity is broken down and the individual
shifts no longer bear the same structural relationship to each other. If the result of the
shift becomes mainstream in a broad area beyond its originating community, it takes on
the phonetically symmetric and simplified form that is the result of diffusion. A similar
analysis can be applied to the Great Vowel Shift, as well as the NCS.

The Phonological Component of Phonetic Change (Josef Fruehwald, 2011)

Here is a link to the PDF of Josef Fruehwald’s (of University of Pennsylvania) 2011 NWAV 40 “New Perspectives on Vowel Shifting” panel presentation entitled “The Phonological Component of Phonetic Change.” This paper is essentially a companion to Durian and Joseph’s “The Role of Phonetic Analogy in Vowel Shifts,” also presented in the panel (see previous blog entry), which could be said to describe the phonetic component.

Below is the abstract for Fruehwald’s paper:

Phonetic change must be treated as qualitatively di fferent from nearly all other kinds of language
change. Syntactic, morphological and phonological change all progress as the changing frequency
of use of categorical and competing linguistic objects, or processes (Kroch, 1989). Phonetic change
and its paradigmatic cases, vowel shifts, appear to progress as a continuous change in the quality
of use of a linguistic object. My proposal for capturing this property of phonetic change is to treat
it as changing phonetic implementation of relatively stable phonological objects. This approach captures both the continuous nature of phonetic change, and the role that categorical phonology appears to play in vowel shifts (e.g. segmental unity and the “binding force” (Labov, 2010)). It also opens clearer theoretical connections between the study of phonetic change, and phonological theory.

For example, the possible units of phonetic change ought to be the same as the units of phonetic
implementation. Phonological features are implicated as units of phonetic implementation in the
generative phonetics literature (e.g. Cohn (1993)), and parallel phonetic changes which a ffect entire
natural classes, like the Canadian Shift (Boberg, 2005), can be described a change in the implementation of the feature which de fines the class, providing an explanatory account for the phonetic analogy discussed by Durian (2009) and Durian & Joseph (2011).

This approach also implies the conditional relationship: unity in surface phonology -> unity
in phonetic change. Cases of unity or disunity in phonetic change, then, can be taken as a form
of phonological evidence. For example, /ow/ and /owl/ are moving in opposite directions in the
American South (Labov et al., 2006), indicating that there must be phonological process a ffecting
/ow/ before /l/.

By formulating the mechanism of phonetic change in this way, we open a clear path for the study
of phonetic change to inform phonological theory, and vice versa.

Making sense of shifty changes: The role of phonetic analogy in vowel shifts (Durian and Joseph, 2011)

Here is a link to “Making Sense of Shifty Changes: The Role of Phonetic Analogy in Vowel Shifts” by David Durian and Brian D. Joseph, the first of several presentations I am posting here from the “New Perspectives on Vowel Shifting” panels held at NWAV 40. Note–This version is an updated and somewhat more detailed version that what we actually presented in person at NWAV 40.

Here is our abstract:

The idea that diachronic development and cross-generational incrementation of vowel shifts
proceed via processes of rule extension/rule generalization has a long history (King, 1969;
Labov, 1972/1994/2010). Recently, linguists have questioned whether the generalization process
involved might better be classified as analogical, since parallel shifts usually develop and
progress in real world observation of actual speakers’ shifting vowel systems (Gordon, 2001;
Boberg, 2005; Durian, 2009).

Accordingly, we explore here whether this generalization process in parallel shifts is rule
extension/generalization or analogy, specifically phonetic analogy (Schuchardt, 1885;
Vennemann, 1972). Conceptually, phonetic analogy is a reasonable alternative to “extension”,
since “extension” is essentially an analogical likening of, say, a mid vowel to a high vowel.
As the empirical basis for our discussion, we present results of a quantitative analysis of two
parallel shifts (fronting of /uw-ow/; backing of /ae-E-I/) found among Columbus speakers. We
offer real and apparent time change trends from the vowel systems of 62 speakers, born 1896-
1990 and evenly representing social class (middle/working), sex, and generational cohort.
Our analysis shows speakers making use of phonetic analogy during parallel shift development/

This process involves three steps, during which linguistic relationships, such as contrasts between
combinations of place and voicing features which occur as contrastive sets, function as either “models” or “clones”: a) initial extension of a “model” set of relationships to another “clone” set; b) refinement of the modeled set relationship applied to the clone set; c) increasingly “generic” generalization of the refined clone set relationship affecting additional clone iterations.

Data from both parallel Columbus shifts exemplifies how each step occurs. Further, we explore application of this model to other vowel shifts, e.g. the Canadian and Northern Cities chain shifts. Ultimately, we conclude phonetic analogy is the best way to classify the overall generalization process in vowel shift development/incrementation, rather than rule extension/generalization.

A must read for folks interested in the meta-history of Historical Linguistics

This chapter, from the History of the Language Sciences (Vol 3) by Robert Murray, is a definite “must read” for folks interested in the meta-history of research and theory trends in the area of Historical Linguistics. It provides a concise discussion of which research and theory trends that began in the 18th and 19th Centuries were carried over into the Structuralist (and Post-Structuralist) eras, and more importantly, interesting postulations on why some were carried over but others weren’t. (For those interested in one of the continuing sub-themes of this site–work focused on phonetic and phonological analogy–there is also some discussion of Schuchardt’s take on analogy embedded in the discussion.)

Murray, Robert W. 2006. Historical Linguistics in the second half of the 20th Century: The place of Historical Linguistics in the age of Structuralism. In Sylvain Auroux, E.F.K. Koerner, Hans-Josef Niederehe, and Kees Versteegh (Eds.), History of the Language Sciences, volume 3. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 2430-2445. http://books.google.com/books?id=oJDtIToTmcAC&pg=PA2430&dq=The+place+of+historical+linguistics+in+the+age+of+structuralism&hl=en&ei=7arMTbWYJ-HW0QHv1JWwBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=The%20place%20of%20historical%20linguistics%20in%20the%20age%20of%20structuralism&f=false

Contradictions between dialect data and current theories of chain shifting

Here is another interesting piece from the duo of Robert Stockwell and Donka Minkova. This time, they deal with present day chain shifts (and, as usual, also some historical data, as well) and discuss how current theories of chain shifting have problems dealing with aspects of the chain shift data. This article originally appeared in Leeds Studies in English in 1999.

Stockwell, Robert, and Donka Minkova. 1999. Explanations of Sound Change: Contradictions between dialect data and theories of chain shifting. Leeds Studies in English XXX:83-102. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Stockwell Minkova 1999.pdf

How much shifting actually occurred during the Great Vowel Shift?

This time, we present to you the latest piece by Robert Stockwell analyzing the trajectories of the vowels involved in the historical English vowel shift (aka the Great Vowel Shift). This piece comes from Studies in the History of the English Language: A Millennial Perspective, and was published in 2002…

Stockwell, Robert. 2002. How much shifting occurred in the historical English vowel shift? In Donka Minkova and Robert Stockwell (Eds.), Studies in the history of the English Language: A millennial perspective. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 267-281.


Other readings by Stockwell (with Donka Minkova) useful for understanding his (their) take on the GVS include the following, already posted here on the NWAC site:



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