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.

Philadelphia

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

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
State.

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.

Transmission and continuation: 1950’s style

Before Labov took on the issues of transmission and continuation in Sociolinguistic Patterns (1972), Principles of Linguistic Change, Vol 2 (2001), and this 2007 Language article, Charles Hockett took them on in a 1950 Language article. It’s also known as an oft-cited article on age-grading. Makes for an interesting read, if you are interested in the history of research on these topics.

Hockett, Charles. 1950. Age-grading and linguistic continuity. Language, 26:449-457.  http://www.jstor.org/pss/410396

Speaker innovation and linguistic change

Here’s an interesting perspective from James Milroy on the linguistic individual from the vantage point of his or her role in the language change process and the actuation of change. This is taken from his now out of print Language Variation and Change (1992).

Milroy, James. 1992. Speaker innovation and linguistic change. Language variation and change: On the historical sociolinguistics of English. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 164-205. http://www.ling.osu.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/milroy_1992_ch6.pdf

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