Here is the full and expanded abstract for my talk on this subject at the Annual Meeting of the American Dialect Society*…
The impact of the Canadian Shift on /aw/-fronting in Columbus, OH
David Durian, The Ohio State University and Joliet Junior College
Recent studies of Columbus, Ohio have found evidence both of the Canadian Shift (that is, retraction of /ae/ linked to (near)-merger of /a/ and /ɔ/, as well as retraction of /I/ and /E/ linked to retraction of /ae/), as well as the back vowel parallel shift (fronting of the nuclei of /uw/, /ow/, and /aw/) in the vowel systems of speakers born after 1960 (Durian, 2008; 2009; 2011).
In this paper, we present the results of an apparent time investigation exploring the interaction of the retraction of the low vowels involved in the Canadian Shift and fronting of the nucleus of /aw/. This relationship proves interesting to explore because, given the trajectory of these vowel shifts, we might expect a “collision” in production of the nuclei of /aw/ and /ae/ to eventually occur in the vowel systems of young speakers. That is, unless some force intervenes to prevent such a collision. Data are drawn from sociolinguistic interviews conducted with 68 European-American speakers—35 men and 33 women—belonging to 4 generational cohorts born between 1896-1990 and divided evenly by social class background (middle vs. working).
As the results of our study reveal, such collision does not in fact occur. Although /aw/ shows a strong nuclear fronting trend among the oldest 3 cohorts regardless of sex or class background, the youngest cohort (speakers born after 1975) shows a complete reversal of this trend–that is, strong nuclear backing among most speakers. Among the youngest cohort, speakers who also lead in production of the Canadian Shift, in particular /ae/-retraction, tend to also be the strongest retractors of /aw/, again, regardless of sex or class background.
This makes the production of /aw/ among young speakers in Columbus more like that reported among speakers of comparable age in McComb, IL (Frazer, 1983) and Johnstown, OH (Thomas, 2001), both Midland cities. In addition, it is also like the /aw/ reported to be found more recently among younger speakers in Pittsburgh, where many have begun to realize /aw/ more diphthongally, as reported in McCarthy (2004). Given that reversal of /aw/ is strongly correlated with /ae/-retraction, we suggest that /aw/-retraction in Columbus, and quite likely in all of the cities discussed above, may develop as a subconscious strategy among speakers to prevent the “collision” of the /ae/ and /aw/ classes in production as /ae/ retracts.
-Durian, David. 2008. A new perspective on vowel variation throughout the 20th Century in Columbus, OH. Paper presented at NWAV 37, Houston, TX.
-Durian, David. 2009. Purely a chain shift?: An exploration of the “Canadian Shift” in the US Midland. Paper presented at NWAV 38, Ottawa, Canada.
-Durian, David. 2011. A new perspective on vowel variation throughout the 20th Century in Columbus, OH. Doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University.
-Frazer, Timothy. 1983. Sound change and social structure in a rural community. Language in Society, 12:313-328.
-McCarthy, Corrine. 2004. Language change in Pittsburgh: The decline of /aw/-monophthongization and the Canadian Shift. Poster presented at NWAVE 33, Ann Arbor, MI.
-Thomas, Erik R. 2001. An acoustic analysis of vowel variation in New World English. Publication of the American Dialect Society, 85. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
* P.S.: For those interested and attending either ADS or LSA, my paper will be at 12 noon, on Friday, January 7, 2011.