D. Ezra Johnson ezra_50 at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Nov 5 04:03:25 UTC 1999

>From: Nancy Carol Elliott <elliottn at INDIANA.EDU>
>Was the speech of whites of non-Italian ancestry in Philadelphia ever
>variably rhotic or non-rhotic?

I've never read anything to suggest it was. (Then again, I didn't know
Italian ancestry had anything to do with it, either...)

This is from William Van Riper's 1957 dissertation, "The Loss of
Post-Vocalic _R_ in the Eastern United States":

"In Philadelphia, the "r-less" type is not now current. It is significant
that, although Philadelphia was a major colonial port, its connections with
England were largely commercial. It had no royal governor and fewer English
officials to provide contact with London society. Moreover, the Quakers, who
constituted the dominant group in the Philadelphia area, were not received
socially in English society. Class distinctions were well marked in Colonial
times in the present "r-less" areas, but in Philadelphia they probably were
less well-defined. Thus the motivation for the spread of the "r-less" type
was lacking. The "r-less" type was undoubtedly introduced into the present
"r-less" areas with the early settlers, but its spread has evidently been
closely allied to its acceptance as a prestige feature...(p.98)"

I imagine that Kurath would have agreed with his student's explanation.
Wolfram and Schilling-Estes might too; they write:

"Another of the nation's earliest cultural and linguistic centers was
Philadelphia, established in the 1680s by Quakers under the leadership of
William Penn. The Quaker movement was organized in [rhotic] North England
and the northern Midlands, and so [?] Philadelphia was, from the first, far
less like Southern England in its speech habits than New England. (p.98

But what Wolfram and Schilling-Estes say about New York startled me:

"Interestingly, one of the most stereotypically r-less regions in this
country, New York City (as evidenced in phrases like "toity-toid
street"...), began life as an r-ful speech area. In fact, it wasn't until at
least the mid-1800s that r-lessness, which spread into the city from New
England, was fully established there. (p.95)"

I am willing to believe this theory, but on what grounds (and by whom) was
it constructed? Is it perhaps an argument laid out in the chapter
"Rhoticity" in William Downes' _Language and Society_ (1984)?

I am eager to learn what type(s?) of evidence were found to support this
rather exciting claim.

If true, it casts doubt on the theory that New Orleans' "toity-toid" vowel
came from New York through close commercial contact in the early 19th c,
because New York wouldn't have had it to give...


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