endangered phonemes

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Tue Apr 18 06:23:01 UTC 2000

Anne Lambert wrote:
> I always use /hw/ in words spelled "wh-" ; on the other hand, my husband
> doesn't.  I assume that this is a Midwest-East distinction.  However, I
> have heard that the younger generation uses /w/ exclusively.  I wonder if
> this loss of /hw/(and some other traits) began on the Eastern seaboard
> and had not yet spread to the Midwest when I was growing up?

I can't testify as to which parts of the Eastern seaboard lost which
/hw/ when, but I'm pretty sure that Midwestern English as spoken by
schoolkids in the Chicago to Milwaukee corridor was generally /hw/-less
no later than the 1940-1941 school year.

What makes me so sure of my date is a set of strong memories of the
difficulties that beset my fifth grade teacher in a Milwaukee public
school.  (For native Milwaukeeans, the school was the Hartford Avenue
School -- one block north of our home at Kenwood and Maryland.  That
places it in what is now the middle of the campus of the University of
Wisconsin - Milwaukee.  The house we once lived in was the UW-M Lutheran
Student Center the last time I thought to check.)

I wouldn't ordinarily remember distinctive features of a teacher's
speech some 60 years later.  This English teacher, however, really was
something else.  She spent lots of time spreading the false gospel that
the gates to salvation were closed to any barbarian who consciously
freed a single h from bondage in W-land.
On the playground, we told each other we were sure she wanted us to go
to H.

Somewhere along the line, our teacher tried to tell us something about
Moby Dick, but hearing about a Hwite Hwale was too much for us. I hope
that was the only time that the whole class broke into general laughter
over the dialect difference.

First footnote:  This brings up a cross-connection to another ADS-L
On more generous days, we told each other that our English teacher came
from **back** East, and therefore needed time to adjust to living in

Second footnote: A couple of grades later, I had another teacher whose
accent strained the credulity of his students.  We had moved back to
Chicago, where I was taught seventh and eighth grade social science and
world history by a Boston Brahmin emigre. We were convinced that he just
could not have been a native speaker of English. Given the wide
difference between Standard Average Midwestern and High Bostonian, from
our viewpoint we may well have been right.

The subject matter of his classes guaranteed that he'd have trouble with
us. He just could not link the names of the national powers of Europe
without shoving his Bostonian r's in our faces.  Our nickname for him
was "Mister RusheR, PrusheR, and AustriaR". I suppose we can be forgiven
for taking our r's one step too farr.  Our English teachers had taught
us about OED and the unabridged M-W Second International, but just
knowing of their existence wasn't enough to make us phoneticians.

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

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