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Between California and the Pacific Northwest: The front lax vowels in San Francisco english

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-54
JournalAmerican Speech
Volume91
Issue numberSupplement (101)1
DOIs
StatePublished - 10 Jan 2017

Abstract

English in the Western United States has been described as largely homogenous, primarily based on the bot/bought merger and its contrast with the Northern Cities and the South (Labov 1991). However, as the current volume demonstrates, differentiation within Western US English can be found, based on certain distinct features. One example is San Francisco English, where a delayed acquisition of the low back merger has led to San Francisco English being identified as distinct from other Western varieties (Labov et al. 2006). The current investigation focuses on the presence or absence of two other Western US English features in San Francisco: the front lax vowels in the California Shift (Kennedy & Grama 2012), and pre-velar raising of bet and bat characteristic of the Pacific Northwest English (Wassink current volume). Previous work has shown San Franciscans to participate in other features that characterize the California Shift, such as the fronting of boot and boat (Hall-Lew 2009, 2011), as well as the low back vowel merger (Moonwomon 1991; Hall-Lew 2013). However, these back vowel features do little to speak to the distinctiveness of California English vis-à-vis the rest of the Western US, because all three changes have also been found in other Western states (e.g., Hall-Lew 2005; Labov et al. 2006). While the front vowel shift is potentially more distinctive to California, evidence of its occurrence in San Francisco is still preliminary (Hall-Lew et al. to appear). Furthermore, while pre-velar raising has been shown to occur as far south as Oregon (Becker et al. current volume), there has been no investigation as to whether this feature might be found in San Francisco; perhaps it could be a feature distinguishing Northern and Southern California Englishes? In short, the lack of evidence on the features that are associated with San Francisco English and its relationship to other varieties in the Western US demonstrates the need for further study of this variety, which the present paper undertakes.

    Research areas

  • phonetics, sociophonetics, sociolinguistics, dialectology, variation, English Language, US English, San Francisco, California, vowels

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