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Patterns of /uw/, /℧/, and /ow/ fronting in Reno, Nevada


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The phenomenon of back vowel fronting is a sweeping change affecting U.S. dialects. The apparent uniformity of these changes compared to those affecting front vowel classes in regional dialects is one of its most striking aspects. While this fronting, affecting the /uw/, /&smallupsilon;/, and /ow/ vowel classes, has been noted by almost every researcher investigating regional vowel variation, the linguistic and social aspects of this shift in the Western region has only recently begun to be explored. As part of a larger research program exploring the diffusion of back vowel fronting across regional dialects and its related linguistic and social conditioning, this paper will help fill a void in the study of back vowel fronting in the Western United States, as realized in Reno, Nevada.
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American Speech, Vol. 83, No. 4, Winter 2008 doi 10.1215/00031283-2008-030
Copyright 2008 by the American Dialect Society
PATTERNS OF /uw/, /U/, AND /ow/
University of Nevada, Reno
abstract: The phenomenon of back vowel fronting is a sweeping change affecting
U.S. dialects. The apparent uniformity of these changes compared to those affect-
ing front vowel classes in regional dialects is one of its most striking aspects. While
this fronting, affecting the /uw/, /U/, and /ow/ vowel classes, has been noted by almost
every researcher investigating regional vowel variation, the linguistic and social
aspects of this shift in the Western region has only recently begun to be explored.
As part of a larger research program exploring the diffusion of back vowel fronting
across regional dialects and its related linguistic and social conditioning, this paper
will help fill a void in the study of back vowel fronting in the Western United States,
as realized in Reno, Nevada.
Along with the low-back vowel (/O/ ~ /A/) merger, back vowel fronting
is one of the most widely cited shifts in American speech. Almost every U.S.
dialect region and even diverse speaker groups within each region appear
to be caught up in this fronting mania. It has been reported in the North,
Midland, South and West, with the Midwest, the South, and the Southeast
at the forefront of shift (Hinton et al. 1987; Luthin 1987; Di Paolo 1988;
Ash 1996; Anderson and Milroy 1999; Fought 1999; Anderson, Milroy, and
Nyguyen 2002; Ward 2003; Hall-Lew 2004, 2005; Fridland and Bartlett 2006;
Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006).
Fronting has most often been reported in the /uw/ (boot) class, with
fronting in the /ow/ (boat) and /U/ (book) classes also found in some re-
gions (Fridland and Barlett 2006; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006). Still, in all
regions, /uw/ class fronting is by far the most advanced shift. Although found
most frequently in the Midwest, /ow/ shift is much less prevalent elsewhere
in the United States and is largely a young speaker shift. While speakers do
not show much conscious awareness of the high back shifts, /uw/ and /ow/
fronting have been reported to be stereotypically associated with a Southern
California speech style, where it has been commonly associated with “Valley
girl” speech (Hinton et al. 1987). With this exception, folk linguistic com-
ments on fronting are rare.
The environmental constraints operating in back vowel shifting also ap-
pear to be quite general, namely with preceding coronal consonants promot-
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 433
ing fronting. Numerous researchers have noted the tendency of prelateral
/uw/ tokens to remain backed in the system, especially compared to alveolar
tokens. However, research in the Memphis area (Fridland and Bartlett
2006) found that advanced speakers often showed fronting of all tokens in
the /uw/ class, mediated by ethnic membership. While African Americans
showed some tendency to front back vowels followed by labial consonants,
European Americans showed fully fronted pre-labial and lateral tokens in
a number of cases. According to The Atlas of North American English (ANAE)
(Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006), other areas of the South have also shown
fronted prelateral tokens of /uw/.
As discussed by Fridland and Bartlett, such
generalized fronting with no retained environmental conditioning suggests
that the impact of linguistic conditioning is gradually reduced when a shift
is in rapid advancement and is leading toward the establishment of a new
norm, as /uw/ fronting appears to be.
More than elsewhere, age has emerged as a factor in predicting shift
involvement in the West (Ward 2003; Hall-Lew 2004). Not surprisingly, it is
younger Western speakers that lead in back vowel fronting. As mentioned by
Hinton et al. (1987), fronting was often identified as a “California speech”
stereotype; therefore, it is not surprising that this shift is most advanced in
the younger generation. In contrast, only /ow/ fronting shows significant
differences by age in other regions (Thomas 1989; Fridland and Bartlett
2006). This lack of a young lead in /uw/ fronting may stem from the lon-
ger histor y of the fronting of this class in these other parts of the United
States, particularly in the South. For example, data from the late 1800s
suggests back vowel fronting had already begun to affect some Southerners
(Bailey 1997), and atlas data from The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic
States (Kurath and McDavid 1961) and The Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States
(Pederson 1986–92) suggest back vowel fronting was present in the areas
they covered. There has been no similar early documentation of such shift
in the West. Thus, back vowel fronting may be an older and, as a result, a
more pervasively established shift in the South, leading to the question of
whether such a shift has spread westward or is simply a similar, but separate,
shift on the West Coast.
If in-migration was responsible for the advent of shift in the West and if
fronting was present for decades in other regions, why do data collected in
the 1950s not show any evidence of fronting in the West, when fronting was
found elsewhere? Certainly, it is true that this may simply reflect the lack of
early linguistic documentation in the West as compared to elsewhere. Still,
interestingly, migratory patterns into California, where the shift in the West
was first noted, show net in-migration gains starting as early as 1940, when
the U.S. Census began collecting data, but population losses in the 1990s
(Corcoran 2003). One would expect that some migratory “fronters” were
american speech 83.4 (2008)434
among the large population gains that began in the mid-1900s. Surely, there
were fronted variants to be found in the region, but these did not appear to
be readily picked up by the locals at that time. The “California” association
with fronted variants in words like dude appears a fairly recent one (Hinton
et al. 1987; Fought 1999). Of course, this does not mean fronting did not
still have the potential to spread into the area through migration, but, if so,
the progression of shift was not as rapid as it seemed to be elsewhere. It is
also curious that at the time fronting appears to be most actively measured in
the West, particularly among younger speakers, migration patterns are shift-
ing so that new migration is predominantly non-native or between Western
states rather than East to West (U.S. Census 2000).
The question is, then, if back vowel fronting spread from other U.S.
dialects, what would cause a delay in the progress of shift, compared to that
found elsewhere? If fronting did not spread East to West, what would create
two simultaneous but separate pressures to shift in exactly the same direction
and in the same order? Such phenomena would best be explained by looking
for some sort of universal shift pattern that tends to reoccur in languages, like
Labov’s (1994) Principle III, which suggests that back vowels tend to front.
Unlike Labov, Stockwell and Minkova (1997) believe that, rather than being
tied to any chain shifting mechanism, the pressure on back vowels to front
is part of a more general tendency to relieve overcrowding in the mouth.
Clearly, there are internal pressures leading to back vowel advancement.
Quite possibly, then, Western fronting is not diffusion of a non-Western
regional shift, but instantiation of a similar shift process.
Milroy (2007) discusses certain types of shifts like back vowel fronting as
global phenomena, distinct from decidedly local shifts like those involved in
the Northern Cities Shift (NCS) or the Southern Vowel Shift (SVS), which
are socially distinctive, choppier in their distribution, and more resistant
to consistent linguistic patterning. Such global shifts, driven by cognitive
and/or physiological pressures with little social interference, progress rapidly
and diffusely explicitly due to this lack of social barriers. In contrast, local
changes tend to be picked up somewhat erratically in terms of linguistic and
social patterning. Viewed in this context, the spread of /uw/ and /ow/ fronting
across the United States appears to be a global change, and its fairly recent
manifestation in the Western states, compared with its greater time-depth
in other regions, invites comparison of the linguistic realization of the shift
there to that elsewhere. Toward this end, the current article explores the
realization of back vowel fronting in these three classes in the Reno area.
This work focuses on the types of linguistic constraints that are at work in
fronting as it is realized in Reno and whether such patterning is consistent
with that found elsewhere, suggesting a fairly universal and natural shift
pattern driving fronting across regions.
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 435
The speech of native Nevadans has not received much attention to date.
Instead, the area has attracted most attention for sin and skin. However, this
image of the state (and the vast migration it has brought to southern Nevada
in the last decade) is actually relatively recent, dating mainly back to the
explosion of gaming in Las Vegas in the 1950s. Nevada was originally settled
by Native Americans and Spanish explorers. More recently, the majority of
new residents have emigrated from other areas of the West, especially Cali-
fornia, Arizona, Washington, and Utah (U.S. Census 2000). In fact, the last
decade has witnessed an incredible increase in Nevada’s population (leading
the nation), with most of this increase due to Californian outmigration, as
reported in the census. Thus, modern speech influences are likely to follow
these recent arrivals.
In much of the work on back vowel fronting in the West, fronting has
been considered part of what is generally called the California Vowel Shift,
though the changes have also been found in Oregon (Ward 2003), Arizona
(Hall-Lew 2004), and Utah (Di Paolo 1988). Thus, Reno, a city poised on
the California border and with a less-transient population than Las Vegas,
is an interesting site in which to explore the encroachment of back vowel
fronting from California and its relationship to back vowel fronting found
elsewhere in the United States.
The results presented here are based on the analysis of reading passage and
word list data (see appendix) from 10 speakers native to Reno, Nevada. This
data was collected as part of a larger project looking at both the perception
and production of vowels in the same speakers and so, while a small sample,
it provides an initial look at this set of variables in this community. All par-
ticipants were students at the University of Nevada, Reno, and were in the
18–30-year age range. To directly compare shift advancement in this sample
to that occurring elsewhere, their data were compared to back vowel data
collected from 10 European American speakers from Memphis, Tennessee,
who previously provided the same reading passage and word list data. They
were recorded with a Tascam HD-P2 digital recorder and a Shure WH30XLR
headset condenser microphone. Each participant was asked to read over the
reading passage until they were comfortable and then they were recorded.
While the lack of spontaneous speech in the sample may have inhibited the
degree of shifting participants displayed in their speech, the use of more
formal speech styles allowed a basically identical set of stressed vowels and
american speech 83.4 (2008)436
environments for each subject to be analyzed (Clarke, Elms, and Youssef
1995), providing a first look at fronting in the Reno community.
Once data were recorded, formant patterns of the vowel tokens in-
volving the /uw/, /U/, and /ow/ classes were examined using Kay Elemetrics
Computer Speech Lab (CSL) 4300B at a sampling rate of 10 kHz and a low
pass filtering rate of 4 kHz. For each vowel, first, second, and third formant
readings were selected by examining linear predictive coding (LPC) peaks,
spectrograms, energy, and pitch of the signal to determine the vowel’s steady
state or central tendency. Representative LPC values of both nuclear and
glide segments were taken. In order to identify the central tendency for each
vowel, multiple readings were taken, allowing the trajectory of the entire
vowel (including onglides and offglides) to be measured. However, only
the steady state readings of the nucleus are used in the present study. The
section of the waveform showing the most consistent F1 and F2 structure
based on a spectrogram of the vowel’s formant structure (and which occupied
a position most removed from the influence of neighboring consonants,
indicated by dips or increases in either of the formants) was selected as this
segment of central tendency (or steady state). The data was then examined
using the PLOTNIK program, which plots the token distribution by vowel
and environment and allows the calculation of mean scores and standard
deviations for each vowel class. As this article is primarily concerned with
nuclear position, glide measurements, although taken, were not considered
at this point in analysis.
In order to make vowel measurements comparable across different
speakers, a five-point vowel fronting index score was developed, and each
vowel token was rated according to this index. (The same index was used
in the data from the Memphis sample.) The index score developed for this
study used a token’s relative position to other more stable vowel tokens in
the speaker’s system to identify degrees of fronting. Fronting is crucially a
relational notion that does not simply correlate to a particular range of hertz
measurement but, most importantly, to the relative relationships among
vowels in an individual’s system. To identify the fronting affecting each back
vowel token, a speaker’s /I/ mean was used to gauge the front range of his
or her acoustic space while the mid central vowel’s mean provided a mid-
system anchor. Finally, preliquid back vowel tokens (e.g., tool, coal ) served
to identify a speaker’s backmost peripher y. To account for the full range of
token clustering found relative to each speaker’s entire productive space, two
intermediate steps of fronting advancement were incorporated on each side
of the midvowel anchor (between the front and back periphery), as discussed
below. An index score of 1 indicated that a vowel token had not been affected
by fronting at all, still defining the back peripher y of the speaker’s system. A
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 437
score of 5 indicated that a token had moved far front of the midcentral class,
into front vowel space. The method of measuring shift advancement used
here first compared speakers by examining the relative placement of each of
the vowel classes in their individual system (for example, the relative overlap
of /uw/ and /I/) and then, based on the range of shift found in individual
systems, by assigning vowel index scores allowing comparison across speak-
ers. The decision to use this approach was based on the work of Evans and
Preston (2001), which suggests that looking at relative change in acoustic
vowel positions for unnormalized individual systems gives a better overall
picture of how much individual phonemes have actually shifted, as this type
of analysis considers not how high or low an acoustic position a phoneme
holds in a system but how that acoustic position relates to the positioning
of other vowels in the system. Additionally, they found tests for statistical sig-
nificance performed on normalized data versus tests on vowel indices based
on nonnormalized data (looking at demographic characteristics) were not
significant using the normalized data but significant when using indices for
nonnormalized data suggesting, they believe, that the speakers’ participa-
tion in the vowel shift was lost when looking only at normalized data. Again,
since this system is based on the relative relationships of vowels within each
individual system (not hertz measurement differences), it allows use of the
same indices across communities.
Figure 1 shows the high front and back vowel nuclei for M.H., a male
Reno native, to give a more comprehensive view of how much back tokens
have fronted relative to front tokens in the Nevada system. As evident in the
figure, while his /iy/ class remains distinctly peripheral and separate from
his other classes, the /I/, /uw/, and /U/ classes are overlapping. His /uw/ class,
in particular, remains distinct from /I/ predominantly by gliding. Only his
preliquid /uw/ token remains back in the system. To make it easier to see
how index scores were calculated, figure 2 shows the labeled token distri-
bution for just his /uw/ class. As you can see, only the tool token remains to
define the back periphery and receives an index score of only 1. Due to
the degree of fronting found in his system, no /uw/ tokens received a 2 or 3
index score. The tokens positioned for ward of midcentral, such as his booed
and boot tokens, but fully in front vowel space, received a 4. The remaining
tokens, far front of midcentral and intermixed with front tokens, were given
a 5 index score.
Figure 3 shows the token distribution for M.S, a female speaker with a
slightly less advanced system. Similar to M.H., her tool token is also still along
the back periphery, receiving a 1 index score. Her booed token, while not
along the back periphery but still back of her mid central class, received a 2
index score. Right above midcentral, her boot token was assigned an index
american speech 83.4 (2008)438
score of 3. The rest of her tokens received a 5 index score, clustered toward
front vowel space. Again, to gain a better view of the relative position of her
front and back system, figure 4 provides a look at her high front and high
back vowel nuclei. As is evident in the figure, only the boot, booed, and tool
tokens remain somewhat back in her system relative to her /I/ vowel.
figure 1
High Front and Back Token Distributions for M.H., a Male Reno Native
figure 2
/uw/ Token Distribution for M.H., a Male Reno Native
F1 (Hz)
F2 (Hz)
2800 2600 2400
2200 2000 1800 1600 1200 10001400 800
/iy/ /I/ /U/ /uw/
boot Bill
hood foot
Bookie full
F1 (Hz)
F2 (Hz)
2800 2600 2400
2200 2000 1800 1600 1200 10001400 800
duke dude
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 439
figure 4
High Front and Back Token Distribution for M.S., a Female Reno Native
figure 3
/uw/ Token Distribution for M.S., a Female Reno Native
F1 (Hz)
F2 (Hz)
3000 2800 2600
2400 2200 2000 1800 1400 12001600 1000 800
/iy/ /I/ /U/ /uw/
shoes sin
sit sue
soup good
foot full
tick big
F1 (Hz)
F2 (Hz)
3000 2800 2600
2400 2200 2000 1800 1400 12001600 1000 800
soup booed
american speech 83.4 (2008)440
results by vowel class. Table 1 shows the overall mean fronting index
scores for the three back vowel classes, /uw/, /U/, and /ow/. ANOVA results
showed a main effect for advancement by vowel class (F2;304 = 88.034;
p < .001). Multiple pairwise comparisons were conducted to determine the
relationships between specific levels of each variable. Bonferroni post hoc
tests, which involve a simple correction to the t-test to accommodate multiple
comparisons, were also used to determine where the significant difference
occurred across the three variables. They showed that Reno speakers’ /uw/
class is significantly more fronted than the other two back vowel classes
(p < .01).
This shift advancement difference between the /uw/ class and the
/ow/ class, in particular, has been found widely across regions and within the
West (Thomas 2001; Hall-Lew 2005; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006). Less
advanced but also shifting are the other two back vowels, /U/ and /ow/. Reflect-
ing the widespread finding that /ow/ class fronting is the least advanced shift,
it is significantly behind the /U/ class (p < .05) as well as the /uw/ class.
Looking at comparable means from the Memphis sample (table 2), the
same /uw/ shift lead emerges (F2;312 = 61.494; p < .001) in that community.
Shift index differences between the Reno and the Memphis samples are small.
Memphians show slightly higher vowel shift indices for the least progressed
shifts in /U/ and /ow/ but a slightly lower index for the more advanced shift
in the /uw/ class. Such results might suggest that /uw/ shift might be nearing
completion in both areas and show the typical S-curve model of change
(Wang and Cheng 1970), where shift is most accelerated in the middle of
acquisition of the new variants and slows down toward the end. On the other
hand, shift in the other two classes is less progressed, with Memphians’ shift
table 1
Mean Fronting Indexes by Vowel Class for Reno Samples
Vowel Class Mean Index Score
/uw/ 4.33
/U/ 2.91
/ow/ 2.43
table 2
Mean Fronting Indexes by Vowel Class for Memphis Sample
Vowel Class Mean Index Score
/uw/ 4.15
/U/ 3.03
/ow/ 2.62
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 441
showing the more rapid acquisition characteristic of the middle stage of shift
and Reno speakers still in the earlier, less rapid, stage of shift. As shift in these
two communities is unlikely to be a result of spread, direct comparisons of
shift advancement are made cautiously. Instead, comparison is intended to
show how regular and systematic the back vowel fronting phenomenon is,
regardless of where it is realized. Still, such findings are generally in agreement
with those reported for the Southern versus the Western region by Labov,
Ash, and Boberg (2006), who show Midland, Southern, and Southeastern
dialects to be more advanced in fronting than Western dialects. In that work
as well, /uw/ fronting emerges as the earliest and most advanced shift in all
communities where back vowel fronting has been studied. Clearly, stronger
internal and, perhaps, external forces are at work underlying the fronting
of this class in contrast to the other two.
The less advanced progression of fronting in /ow/, not just in the West
but also evident elsewhere, may result from a breach of what Martinet (1962)
characterized as a vowel’s margin of security. While /uw/ can disperse across a
much greater acoustic (F2) range before infringing on another vowel class,
/ow/ has a much smaller range before encroaching on the distribution of
midvowel tokens. So, the retardation of the progress of /ow/ shift may be, in
part, simply a result of this acoustic imbalance rather than exclusively any
sociolinguistic distinctions made between vowels.
Still, shifted /ow/ variants do seem to carry greater perceptual weight
than shifted /uw/ variants, requiring something beyond a merely linguistic
explanation. A perception study examining Reno and Memphis speakers’
awareness of fronted and backed vowel variants in terms of relative South-
ernness suggested that there is a difference in the salience and evaluation
of /uw/ and /ow/ class shift (Fridland and Bartlett forthcoming). In a task
asking listeners to pick out the most Southern sounding variant of /uw/ from
synthesized fronted and nonfronted options, Memphis and Reno speakers
were similarly no better than chance at labeling variants regionally, suggesting
that /uw/ fronting has no association as a Southern variant and that backed
variants are not considered non-Southern. On the other hand, fronted /ow/
variants were much more likely to be identified as Southern sounding and
also rated less pleasant and educated than fronted /uw/ variants, especially
by Reno listeners.
Also discussed in Fridland and Bartlett (forthcoming), /ow/ fronting
was clearly more salient as a “marked” shift for listeners in both areas, with
speakers more likely to perceive any marked shift as “Southern” in a task that
requires them to pick out Southern sounding (and thus negatively marked)
speech (see Preston 1993; Lippi-Green 1997). Fronted /uw/ variants, in
contrast, did not seem “marked” for either group. Part of this finding may
american speech 83.4 (2008)442
be a result of /uw/ fronting being a more progressed and, as a result, more
stable shift than /ow/ fronting. Less commonly heard, fronted /ow/ variants
may not be not viewed as favorably. Such results suggest that while /uw/ shift
will continue its trajectory, /ow/ shift may very well remain a more isolated
shift if such evaluation is found more generally.
results by vowel class and environment. The goal of this article is to
illustrate the regularity with which back vowel fronting has progressed across
disparate communities rather than to provide a complete measurement of
degree of fronting in various linguistic environments. In other words, while
I provide a measure of fronting in different preceding and, in some cases,
following consonantal contexts based on index scores, I do so mainly as a way
of showing that the sound change investigated here is exceedingly regular
in its progression in different speech communities.
To do this, I examine environmental conditioning in multiple ways. To
illustrate the extreme regularity of the shift, an investigation of the distribu-
tion of fronted variants in specific consonant environments for the Reno and
Memphis sample is included in the discussion. However, because the study
was part of a larger project that examined a number of other facets of the
productive and perceptual system, there is not a balanced representation of
preceding and following environments to subject to meaningful statistical
analysis when broken down individually. So, to address this inadequacy and
to make these data comparable with those of the majority of other studies
of back vowel fronting, the environmental analysis also collapses the indices
into coronal and noncoronal categories and reports the subsequent statisti-
cal findings. These aggregate coronal/noncoronal distinctions establish the
basic significant patterns found overall in the data, and the more detailed
individual environmental examination is used primarily as a means of showing
how this pattern of regularity emerges consistently even when these contexts
are further broken down.
Examining specific environmental influences on fronting by vowel class
in table 3, it is clear that there are both strongly promoting and strongly
inhibiting contexts for fronting across all three classes in the Reno sample.
(Although the environment match does not line up exactly, equivalent
environments are generally found across at least two of the vowel classes.)
Looking first at the fronting indexes for the most shifted class, the /uw/ class,
palatal and alveolar (and alveolar nasal) contexts are extremely fronted while
lateral contexts, as expected, show little to no fronting, defining the back
periphery of vowel space. In fact, following laterals and preceding palatals
occur on the extreme ends of the fronting index (from 1 to 5).
Collapsing such environmental distinctions into the categories of pre-
ceding coronal and noncoronal (and following lateral), main effects were
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 443
found for fronting advancement across these categories (F1;108 = 955.495;
p < .001). Means are reported in table 4. As the strongly inhibitive effect of a
following lateral on fronting has been widely noted (Labov, Ash, and Boberg
2006), they were separately included in the analysis.
As the mean scores suggest, post hoc tests revealed that /uw/ tokens with
preceding coronals were significantly more fronted than those with preced-
ing noncoronals (p < .001). They also indicated that preceding coronal and
noncoronal tokens were significantly more fronted than tokens followed
by /l/ (p < .001). No main effects were found for the influence of following
consonant type. This lack of influence of following consonant, however, is
complicated by the interaction of different preceding and following con-
sonant combinations. Several of the tokens with a following coronal had
preceding noncoronals (boot, booed), and all of the tokens with a following
noncoronal had preceding coronal tokens (soup, duke, duke’s), creating
competing environmental pressures. The lack of tokens with preceding and
following noncoronals undoubtedly inflated the mean score of the follow-
ing noncoronal category and created a condition of greater apparent shift
advancement compared to the following coronal category.
Because of the sample size, interaction effects could not be examined for
the /uw/ class separately, but they were run on the combined pool of tokens
table 4
Mean /uw/-Fronting Indexes in Coronal and Noncoronal Environments
for Reno Sample
Mean Index Score Mean Index Score
Preceding Environment Following Environment
Coronal 4.87 Coronal 4.09
Noncoronal 3.10 Noncoronal 4.83
Following /l/ 1.63 Following /l/ 1.63
table 3
Mean Fronting Indexes by Environment and Vowel Class for Reno Sample
/uw/ /U/ /ow/
Preceding Environment
Labial 3.10 1.94 1.88
Alveolar 4.56 2.90 3.10
Palatal 4.89 3.40
Velar 4.75 2.89
Glottal /h/ 2.50 2.33
Following Environment
Nasal 4.63 (n) 1.00 (m)
Lateral 1.63 1.00
american speech 83.4 (2008)444
from the three vowel classes overall. When the three classes were combined
(table 5), main effects were found for preceding coronals (F1;227 = 101.238;
p < .001), following coronals (F1;227 = 11.212; p < .01), and their interaction
(F1;227 = 7.951; p < .01). Looking at the confidence inter vals for the inter-
action effect, the confidence inter vals for the two following environments
(coronal [95% confidence interval = 3.871,4.521] and noncoronal [95%
confidence interval = 3.794, 4.338]) overlap in the preceding coronal con-
text, but not in the preceding noncoronal context (95% confidence inter-
val = 2.557, 2.965 and 95% confidence interval = .927, 2.150, respectively).
In other words, the following condition makes a significant difference in
fronting when the preceding sound is noncoronal, but when the preceding
sound is coronal, then the following sound has no effect on vowel fronting
(as was seen above). So, a preceding coronal has the strongest effect on
fronting, regardless of following environment. The effect of a preceding
noncoronal on vowel fronting, on the other hand, is significantly affected
by the following consonant in a monosyllabic token. In general, the results
from both the /uw/ vowel class and the combined vowel class suggest that
preceding coronals have a ver y powerful effect on fronting, with following
consonantal context (with the exception of /l/) less predictive of fronting
This strong influence of coronals is not surprising, as most studies of
fronting in the West have also found coronal tokens to be quite fronted
while following lateral tokens remain steadfastly back (Luthin 1987; Ward
2003; Hall-Lew 2005). Similar results were found widely across regions by
Ash (1996) and Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006) in the Midwest. Thus, these
consonant effects appear extremely regular for fronting across regions. This
inhibitive effect of a following lateral may be mitigated by degree of fronting
advancement, however. Suggesting that even inhibitive contexts may end
up shifted in advanced systems for the /uw/ class, a number of European
American Southerners in Labov, Ash, and Boberg’s (2006) sample and 30%
of the European American speakers in the earlier Memphis sample showed
/uw/ vowels followed by liquids to be fronted, though remaining slightly back
table 5
Mean Fronting Indexes for /uw/, /U/, and /ow/ in Coronal and Noncoronal
Environments for Reno Sample
Mean Index Score Mean Index Score
Preceding Environment Following Environment
Coronal 4.24 Coronal 3.17
Noncoronal 2.59 Noncoronal 3.60
Following /l/ 1.36 Following /l/ 1.36
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 445
of contexts that promote shift more broadly. So, as the shift moves toward
completion, tokens begin to cluster toward the new target, regardless of
consonantal context.
If we review the results reported in earlier work performed in Tennessee,
Memphians showed exactly the same pattern across contexts as Reno speak-
ers (table 6). More specifically, as with Nevadans, palatal and then alveolar
contexts (and alveolar nasals) create the most favorable fronting conditions
for /uw/, followed by preceding labial tokens. Though tokens followed by
laterals show greater shift in the Memphis area, it is still a much less likely
context for fronting and remains backed for 70% of the Memphis sample. So,
while it is clear that once the shift has fully advanced, even resistant tokens
“catch up,” there is no real difference in terms of how the shift progresses
environmentally regardless of where it is realized regionally.
In terms of the coronal/noncoronal distinction, the same pattern of
significantly more advanced fronting in preceding coronal /uw/ tokens was
found (table 7) compared to preceding noncoronals and tokens followed
by /l/ (F1;108 = 20.675; p < .001). As with the Reno sample, no main effects
were found for following environment, again likely due to the skewed dis-
tribution of following noncoronal tokens with preceding coronal consonant
table 6
Mean Fronting Indexes by Environment and Vowel Class for Memphis Sample
/uw/ /U/ /ow/
Preceding Environment
Labial 3.50 2.25 2.38
Alveolar 4.13 2.80 2.67
Palatal 5.00 3.70
Velar 4.34 2.47
Glottal /h/ 3.20 2.56
Following Environment
Nasal 4.11 (n)
Lateral 2.00 1.00 1.44
table 7
Mean Fronting Indexes for /uw/, /U/, and /ow/ in Coronal and Noncoronal
Environments for Reno Sample
Mean Index Score Mean Index Score
Preceding Environment Following Environment
Coronal 4.44 Coronal 4.21
Noncoronal 3.50 Noncoronal 4.36
Following /l/ 2.11 Following /l/ 2.11
american speech 83.4 (2008)446
The other back classes show a similar distribution of tokens to that
found for the /uw/ class. Table 3 included a breakdown of /U/’s distribu-
tion by environment. Looking at the results for the /U/ class, velar and then
alveolar contexts create the most favorable fronting contexts, while vowels
with following laterals again show no fronting. As found for the /uw/ class,
labials also are less likely to promote shift in the /U/ class, though they are
not as inhibiting as liquid tokens. Vowels preceded by a glottal /h/ fell in the
middle of the index range.
The fronting of the velar tokens may seem surprising, but it is most likely
a result of the effect of the following context, an alveolar (good), which
probably encouraged greater fronting than for a velar alone (and possible
lexical conditioning). In contrast, although she did not specifically examine
/U/ fronting, Ash (1996) had a number of velar initial tokens, followed by
labials in the /uw/ class (e.g., coop), which probably resulted in the backer
realizations she found in this context. Velars, unlike alveolars and labials,
have a more complex and less consistent F2 and F3 range (Kent and Read
2002), and therefore, other consonantal effects may play a greater role in
terms of vowel effects.
Few studies have incorporated the /U/ class in fronting measurement so
there is little comparison to be made in terms of contextual effects beyond
the study performed in Memphis. That study, not surprisingly, showed essen-
tially the same relationship among the contexts and the degree to which the
vowels were affected by fronting (table 6), with the exception of the ordering
between the alveolar and glottal environments. Velars remained the most
fronted environment and laterals, like those of the Reno speakers, showed
no fronting whatsoever. Labial tokens were less resistant than laterals, but
also lagged behind the other contexts in terms of shift advancement. Again,
the realization of fronting is remarkably consistent. A statisical comparison
of the /U/ class was not possible due to the small number of tokens and their
distribution across coronal/noncoronal categories. Its mean scores by context
were reported mainly as a way of showing that fronting in this class hints at
the same internal forces at work in the fronting of the /uw/ class.
An analysis of the distribution of tokens in the /ow/ class provides even
more evidence of regularity at work. A similar pattern to that found for the
other back classes is found for /ow/ by environment in the Reno sample
(table 3). Namely, preceding palatals and alveolars (coronal consonants)
most strongly promote shift, similar to their effect in /uw/ fronting. Vowels
preceded by a labial were less likely to front, particularly if they were bilabial
nasals. While there was no /ow/ class token preceding a lateral in the Reno
data, it would be surprising if that context did not define the back periphery
as it has in both other back vowel classes, given the extreme regularity of the
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 447
linguistic conditioning reported here. Similar results by individual environ-
ment were found for the Memphis sample (table 6). Vowels with following
laterals were measured for that population and, of course, found to be least
likely to be fronted. Clearly, the linguistic effects on fronting are extremely
regular and general, both across classes and regions.
Looking at the Reno sample’s /ow/ data broken down by coronal versus
noncoronal distribution, main effects for both preceding and following en-
vironment were found (F1;97 = 45.887; p < .001 and F1;97 = 12.715; p < .01,
resp.). Mean differences for both contexts are reported in table 8. As is evi-
dent in the table, both preceding and following coronals promote fronting
advancement to a greater degree than noncoronals in either position.
Similarly, the data from the Memphis sample, broken down by coronal/
noncoronal distinctions, show the same pattern. A significant main effect
was found for both preceding and following environments (F1;73 = 12.662;
p < .01 and F1;73 = 13.339; p < .001, resp.). Again, preceding and following
coronals were significantly more likely to promote shift advancement than
noncoronals in either position (table 9). As there was a following lateral
token in this sample, its distribution relative to coronal and noncoronal
tokens was examined as well, and, as with the /uw/ class, it was significantly
less advanced in fronting than either preceding (F2;97 = 10.125; p < .001) or
following (F2;97 = 11.044; p < .001) coronals or noncoronals.
In contrast to the /uw/ class, the effect of following environment was
significant depending on coronal membership or nonmembership in the
table 8
Mean /ow/-Fronting Indexes in Coronal and Noncoronal Environments
for Reno Sample
Mean Index Score Mean Index Score
Preceding Environment Following Environment
Coronal 3.18 Coronal 2.45
Noncoronal 2.03 Noncoronal 2.04
table 9
Mean /ow/-Fronting Indexes in Coronal and Noncoronal Environments
for Memphis Sample
Mean Index Score Mean Index Score
Preceding Environment Following Environment
Coronal 3.21 Coronal 2.86
Noncoronal 2.59 Noncoronal 2.62
Following /l/ 1.44 Following /l/ 1.44
american speech 83.4 (2008)448
/ow/ class. Most likely, this finding is a result of the skewed distribution of
following noncoronals in the /uw/ class, as all tokens that ended with a
noncoronal consonant began with a coronal consonant, leading to a more
advanced degree of shift than expected due to the strong promoting tendency
of preceding coronal tokens, as discussed earlier. On the other hand, the
/ow/ class tokens with following noncoronals were distributed more evenly
in terms of preceding consonants, with alveolar, labial, and word boundary
contexts represented (soap, oak, poke). Thus, as would be expected, the follow-
ing noncoronal environment was less advanced in fronting for this class.
As discussed in Fridland and Bartlett (2006), the regularity found for fronting
is not surprising given the acoustic characteristics of the various consonants.
Sounds like alveolars have high F2 values creating a pattern of decreasing F2
during CV transition and thus creating a more likely context for fronting in a
following vowel with an incipient tendency. Labials, on the other hand, have
a lower F2 value and show increasing F2 CV transitions and therefore exert
little fronting influence on the F2 of a back vowel which also has a lower F2
range (Kent and Read 2002). Laterals, particularly following laterals (dark
/), are also inhibitive of fronting and have, similar to labials, been found
to have low F2 values (Lehman and Swartz 2000), partially explaining this
context’s resistance to fronting. In contrast, light / l/ tokens are more likely
to show fronting (Fridland 1998). In addition, the strong antiformant val-
ues associated with laterals may also be playing a role. Thus, the pattern of
conditioning found here makes phonetic sense.
The question is, since it certainly appears that back vowel shift proceeds
with extreme regularity across time and space, what might this tell us about
the process of the shift involved? Does this regularity suggest these shifts
occurring in the three regions have a common source and are, in other
words, spread from the same well? Not likely. The regularity, in fact, suggests
that this shift is one of a truly global nature, as discussed by Milroy (2007)
and referenced earlier. Other regionally distributed shift patterns, like the
SVS or the NCS, involve shifts that are not regularly distributed across par-
ticipants either in terms of the degree to which vowel classes are affected
or the conditioning within each class. So, for example, while some areas
of the South affected by the SVS show movement toward reversal of the /i /
and /I/ classes and the /e/ and /E/ classes (Feagin 1986; Labov 1994), many
other areas show no shift in the high front classes (Fridland 1998, 1999;
Thomas 2001), though they do show /e/ and /E/ reversal, and no clear pat-
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 449
tern of environmental conditioning has been reported for either shift across
participants. The fact that the changes affecting these same front vowels in
the NCS are creating a pattern that is opposite that found in the SVS, with
/E/ and /I/ falling or backing rather than peripheralizing, also suggests that
these front vowel changes are widely subject to socially driven, rather than
linguistically driven, pressures.
In contrast, back vowel fronting is very regular, differing mainly in
the degree of advancement overall. This regularity in diffusion makes it a
good candidate for an internally motivated shift, driven by instability in the
American vowel system more generally, rather than any regional or social
association. In a preliminar y examination of commonalities across vowel
systems in languages exhibiting back vowel fronting, Ferrari (2005) found
that fronting was by far most commonly attested in languages that had larger
primary vowel inventories such as English. Such shift was rarely reported in
languages with less than seven vowels. Similarly, much earlier research sug-
gested that vowel systems with more than three levels of height (Haudicourt
and Juilland 1949) show a greater tendency toward fronting. These findings
suggest that there is an inherent tendency for such systems to adjust in such
a way to gain a greater margin of security around the back vowels. Thus, the
result is likely coalescence or shift in such systems. Any resulting shift is then
subject to regular phonetic processes. The diversity of languages exhibiting
fronting makes it likely that such internally driven shifts can spontaneously
originate and not just be the result of diffusion across disparate speaker
groups. Of course, given that such pressures have probably existed for quite
awhile, what precipitated the shift in different sites now as opposed to several
hundred years ago is an open question. However, migratory fluidity and vastly
more open communication networks must surely play a role.
/uw/ class fronting is always found to be more advanced than shift in /U/
or /ow/, suggesting that it is the /uw/ class that instigates the shift and that
this class is under the greatest continuing physiological and/or cognitive
pressure to front. Subsequent fronting in the /U/ and /ow/ class, both lag-
ging behind and slower to proceed than /uw/ fronting, may be subject to the
same inherent pressure toward drift, though this is less attested than /uw/
fronting in world languages, suggesting that these classes are less driven by
such linguistic pressures. Possibly, a combination of analogic and inherent
pressures underlie the shift in these classes.
This, of course, does not mean that once begun, these shifts will nec-
essarily overtake any speaker within their path, but such shifts do seem
to cut across speaker groups (such as ethnic groups) that typically do not
participate in other regionally or socially marked shifts. For example, /uw/
fronting has been found in African American speakers both in the North
american speech 83.4 (2008)450
(Anderson and Milroy 1999; Anderson, Milroy, and Nyguyen 2002) and
the South (Fridland and Bartlett 2006) and in some Latino speakers in the
West (Fought 1999). In contrast, shifts like those involved in the NCS are
resisted by African Americans in the North (Labov 1994, 2000) or, in the
case of shifts like /ay/ monophthongization in the South, are adopted with
differently ordered phonetic constraints by different ethnic groups (Bailey
et al. 1996; Bailey and Thomas 1998; Schilling-Estes 2000; Thomas 2001).
Clearly, this is not the case in the adoption of /uw/ fronting where, for ex-
ample, African Americans and European Americans show exactly the same
pattern of conditioning (Fridland and Bartlett 2006).
In addition, the continuing regularity of the shift in areas that have been
affected for many years (such as the South) and areas more recently affected
(the West) suggests that there is ver y little in terms of social constraints that
back vowel fronting is hitting up against. In fact, with the exception of /ow/
fronting, people do not seem to have a social association at any level with
fronted back vowels. As discussed in Fridland, Bartlett, and Kreuz (2004,
2005), the shift does not appear to be a social indicator for those affected
when compared to other more regionally distributed (but still unconscious)
shifts. Instead, particularly in terms of fronted /uw/, it appears that the vowel
class has a new target that is being acquired in successive steps, driven by
mainly internal factors. The progression of /uw/ shift from those tokens most
physiologically and acoustically conducive to fronting (such as coronals)
to those least conducive (such as prelateral and labial contents), with even
inhibitive contexts showing signs of eventual advancement in areas (such as
the South) where the shift appears to be completed, suggests that speakers
may (unconsciously) recognize and model their production on the target
of the most advanced tokens, with contextual effects moderated over time
in the establishment of the new norm. Vowels in the process of shift tend to
have widely scattered distributions of tokens differentially affected by shift
based on environment (Labov 1994). The more advanced fronting of tokens
preceding laterals in the South might be simply the logical next step in terms
of the complete acquisition of a new norm, with the tighter token clustering
associated with an established nonshifting norm.
An interesting question is why is back vowel fronting, in the /uw/ class
in particular, mostly opaque to social association when so many of the other
shifts affecting U.S. dialects take on regional or ethnic distributions? One
obvious difference is that back vowel fronting is F2 driven with comparatively
little involvement of F1. As discussed by Labov (1994), people seem to be
much more sensitive to change in F1 compared to change in F2; therefore,
changes involving F1 shift are often more salient to listeners. Back vowel shift
may be less available to social analysis than F1-shifting vowels, which are more
noticeable, leaving back vowel classes to shift unfettered by social obligation.
/uw/, /U/, and /ow/ Fronting in Reno, Nevada 451
In addition, the strong internal pressure for drift affecting the /uw/ class
may also render it less socially malleable, as the pressures leading to shifts,
such as those affecting Southern or Northern front vowels, do not seem as
uniform or linguistically motivated. Again, such questions are really outside
the scope of this article, which intends to be only a preliminary investigation
and musing on the pressures behind back vowel fronting and its distribution
across regional dialects. As more research is done on the realization of back
and front vowel shift across the United States and elsewhere, answers to the
questions alluded to above should emerge.
Reading Passage and Word List
reading passage. Some mornings in the summertime, when the sky is fair and the
lawn covered in dew, the good Duke Post and his wife Peg walk down to the brook
by their house. There, beside the trees, is their favorite place to sit, talk, and sip cof-
fee. Her father, Don, and his dog, Bookie, often stop by to chat while their children,
Betty and Kate, toss off their shoes and leap headfirst into the deep brook. It makes
Peg feel like a kid again to watch them dive, shout, and slosh around in the water
and swing off the old black tire tied to the oak tree.
One hot hazy, dull afternoon, she gave a call to their friends Pam and Ben
Powder, inviting them over for supper. On the way, their truck got stuck in the mud,
and they showed up an hour late, for which they caught a good deal of teasing. But
soon the crowd was having fun and the good hosts put out tunafish sandwiches,
hot dogs, a big pot of bean soup, and beer bread. When they were done eating, it was
a sin that no one had saved room for Peg’s tasty spice cake that was yet to come.
After supper, Duke, Ben, and his pal Bill went out on Duke’s inflatable boat.
Unfortunately, the sky got grey and started to pour rain. Bill lost his footing on
the slick bank and fell in the water. After ten minutes he finally got into the boat.
Once back on shore, the sudden weather shift sent everyone home, and the party
was over.
word list: dutch took cop dude shout bet collar cough
town dock tide foot up bit tuck pail
soap peel ghost dish deaf cause nail bade
dip soup dive full seat beg bait poke
same hock cow date pill kid call tool
pot gate tick sue debt bid hood type
gave boot tie cot dad bought paw file
dog did coal deep hawk bed sell sad
does half deed peek dull pal bead date
boat pod take booed pad doze did but
american speech 83.4 (2008)452
1. Fronting before /l/ may, of course, be realized differently in communities exhibit-
ing a large degree of / l/ vocalization.
2. This research has been supported by a grant from the National Science Founda-
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... The change has been observed in a wide range of distinct varieties of English. It has been reported in dialects throughout England (Tollfree 1999;Altendorf & Watt 2008;Cheshire, Kerswill, Fox, & Torgersen 2011), the United States and Canada (Clarke, Ford, & Amani 1995;Fought 1999;Labov 2001;Fridland 2008), South African English (Mesthrie 2010), as well as Australian and New Zealand English (Cox 1999;Easton & Bauer 2000). The change is so widespread that it is probably more unusual to find a dialect in English that does not exhibit GOOSE-fronting. ...
... Hall-Lew 2011). The change is generally not subject to public commentary, nor does it exhibit strong associations with any social groups (Fridland 2008;Haddican, Foulkes, Hughes, & Richards 2013). Investigations of the change generally do not report style shifting. ...
This study investigates children's real time incrementation of language change as it is impacted by community-wide patterns of linguistic variability. The investigation combines apparent time analyses across an age-stratified sample of adult speakers, with real time analyses across a panel of speakers spanning childhood to adolescence. Three variables are analysed: GOOSE-fronting, a socially unmarked change; TH-fronting, a socially stigmatised, rapidly expanding change; and T-glottaling, a socially stigmatised, steadily shifting change. Variables are selected based on their social and generational profiles which present learners with more or less challenging community patterns to extract. Real time analyses confirm that community variance impacts on speakers’ ability to increment change in real time. Findings provide support for the momentum-based model of language change and builds on Labov's (2012:267) theory of the ‘outward orientation’ of children, which views learners as capable of extracting age vectors from generational differences.
... GOOSE exhibits a very forward position, almost as far forward as KIT, indicating a realization in line with [ʉ̟ ] or [ȳ], paralleling fronted GOOSE found in many varieties (Labov 2001, 475-479). By contrast, FOOT exhibits a back position (e.g., [ʊ]), showing no evidence of the fronting or centralizing that typifies some US and UK varieties (Fabricius 2007;Fridland 2008). NURSE occupies a position slightly front of center (e.g., [ɜ̹ ]), but not as front as that found in New Zealand (Gordon et al. 2004). ...
... 12 First, it is notable that FOOT is stable over time as a high, back vowel. This contrasts with some US varieties, where it has a centralized realization (Fridland 2008). GOOSE is relatively stable, shifting only slightly fronter in the mouth over time, and Young Adult productions are almost as far forward as KIT. ...
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Depictions of Australian English in theater and film by non-Australian performers are often met with negative public reactions by Australian audiences. This partially stems from misconceptions about Australian vowel pronunciations (e.g., that mate and might are homophones); however, there is also a general lack of awareness about how Australian English has changed over time. Research in dialect coaching has long argued that dialect practitioners and learners must have sociolinguistic awareness of the phonetic reality of the dialect being represented. This paper is a resource to assist in the development of such awareness. Research methods from sociolinguistics and phonetics are applied to provide a detailed description of Australian English vowels as evidenced in a large, longitudinal corpus of spontaneous speech data. The corpus captures the speech of 95 Anglo-Celtic Australians in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, and includes recordings made at two points in time (1970s and 2010s) with speakers born between 1914 and 1999. The empirical description of vowel productions over time presented here provides a guide for dialect coaches and performers alike for application in their work with Australian English.
Drawing on data from well-known actors in popular films and TV shows, this reference guide surveys the representation of accent in North American film and TV over eight decades. It analyzes the speech of 180 film and television performances from the 1930s to today, looking at how that speech has changed; how it reflects the regional backgrounds, gender, and ethnic ancestry of the actors; and how phonetic variation and change in the 'real world' have been both portrayed in, and possibly influenced by, film and television speech. It also clearly explains the technical concepts necessary for understanding the phonetic analysis of accents. Providing new insights into the role of language in the expression of North American cultural identity, this is essential reading for researchers and advanced students in linguistics, film, television and media studies, and North American studies, as well as the larger community interested in film and television.
Drawing on data from well-known actors in popular films and TV shows, this reference guide surveys the representation of accent in North American film and TV over eight decades. It analyzes the speech of 180 film and television performances from the 1930s to today, looking at how that speech has changed; how it reflects the regional backgrounds, gender, and ethnic ancestry of the actors; and how phonetic variation and change in the 'real world' have been both portrayed in, and possibly influenced by, film and television speech. It also clearly explains the technical concepts necessary for understanding the phonetic analysis of accents. Providing new insights into the role of language in the expression of North American cultural identity, this is essential reading for researchers and advanced students in linguistics, film, television and media studies, and North American studies, as well as the larger community interested in film and television.
This study revisits the longstanding distinction between /u:/ (moan) and /ʌu/ (mown) in East Anglia, where the Long Mid Mergers that resulted in a single goat vowel did not take place. Words such as ‘road’ and ‘rowed’ are therefore not homophonous. Recently, however, this distinction has started to break down. Acoustic analysis of 24 speakers indicates change in apparent time, where a merger by approximation of moan and mown is taking place in Lowestoft (northern East Anglia) for working-class speakers. Findings further suggest that a previously reported ongoing merger between moan and goose, which occurred as a result of a chain shift, was not completed but may have had a hand in deferring the moan/mown merger in East Anglia over many years. goose fronting is also reported as a change in apparent time.
The fronting of the back vowel /u/ is an on-going sound change in many varieties of English. While /u/-fronting is argued to be primarily phonetically constrained, many studies report the significant role of various social factors including ethnicity. This paper investigates the linguistic and social conditioning of /u/-fronting in Toronto English. A sociophonetic analysis of /u/, extracted from spontaneous speech data of second-generation Filipinos and age-matched Anglos, was conducted to determine whether Filipinos exhibit /u/-fronting and to what extent coarticulatory and social factors affect degree of fronting. Results of a multivariate analysis show that male and female Filipinos produce fronted realizations of /u/ as their Anglo peers. However, Filipinos exhibit greater fronting than Anglos in coronal and palatal contexts, which may be explained by cross-language influence from Tagalog. Taken together, this study suggests that although Filipinos join other Torontonians in /u/-fronting, they nonetheless exhibit finer-grained differences when phonetic conditioning is taken into account.
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An acoustic analysis was made of the speech characteristics of individuals recorded before and during a prolonged stay in Antarctica. A computational model was used to predict the expected changes due to close contact and isolation, which were then compared with the actual recorded productions. The individuals were found to develop the first stages of a common accent in Antarctica whose phonetic characteristics were in some respects predicted by the computational model. These findings suggest that the phonetic attributes of a spoken accent in its initial stages emerge through interactions between individuals causing speech production to be incrementally updated.
Previous research has suggested that a greater degree of social indexing of gender, race, and regional background is produced in linguistic contexts that promote phonetic reduction. The goal of the current study was to explore this hypothesis through an examination of the realization of an ongoing sound change in the American Midwest—/u/ fronting—as a function of four linguistic factors that contribute to phonetic reduction: lexical frequency, phonological neighborhood density, discourse mention, and speaking style. The results revealed minimal effects of the linguistic factors on the degree of /u/ fronting among talkers with greater overall advancement in the /u/ fronting change-in-progress, suggesting that the process of /u/ fronting is nearing completion among some American Midwesterners. However, the results also revealed more /u/ fronting in plain laboratory speech than in clear laboratory speech and in low-frequency, low-density words than in low-frequency, high-density words among talkers with lower overall advancement in the /u/ fronting change-in-progress. The directions of these effects are consistent with the hypothesis that social indexing is greater in reduction-promoting contexts. Further, the relative sizes of these effects suggest that speaking style contributes more to variability in social indexing than lexical properties, such as frequency and neighborhood density.
This study examines acoustic vowel data from a group of 88 Finnish and Italian Americans from Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP), stratified by task, heritage, age, sex, and educational attainment. Results reveals four sociolinguistic patterns in Michigan's UP English regarding lingering substrate and encroaching exogenous norms. First, the presence of a systematic structural difference of the low and back vowels and the presence of the monophthongized /o/ is argued to result from sub-stratal influence. Additionally, the fully realized low-back merger and the conditionally compromised Canadian raising of /AI/ and /AU/ are older features originating from Canadian English. Furthermore, apparent-time evidence in this rural community indicates a developing change in progress in which front lax vowels participate in the Canadian Shift. This change in progress toward Canadian-like norms is led by females of successively younger generations. Finally, the existence of these new local norms in the younger UP speakers' systems for both the reading passage and the word list data indicates that such norms are well established and largely below these speakers' awareness in various speech styles. This study compares subgroups within the larger speech community and reveals much about the impact of ethnic-heritage languages on a rurally spoken American English variety while simultaneously showing the exogenous influences of neighboring regional varieties.