Dueling dialects

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Fri Aug 20 20:12:50 UTC 2004

On Aug 20, 2004, at 9:43 AM, Ed Keer wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ed Keer <edkeer at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Dueling dialects
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
>> You bring up, I believe, the issue of pre-rhotic
>> front non-high vowel
>> neutralization vs. differentiation, which is
>> certainly not constant
>> across European-American dialects.

Of course it isn't.

>>   As a duellist
>> who happens to hail
>> from NYC, I maintain the classical 3-way
>> distinction:  Mary [e],
>> merry [E], marry [ae].  -arry names like "Barry" or
>> "Harry" (I could
>> never understand those "Harry"/"hairy" puns) have
>> the [ae] vowel of
>> "bat".

This is basically the system used in East Texas. I say "basically"
because you have to factor in the Southern drawl, etc. However, the St.
Louis dialect once again appears to be skewed, compared to others.
E.g., Harry/hairy puns are transparent to anyone from St. Louis, since
they both have the [ae] vowel of "bat." You know, I've had a sudden
flash of insight. I used to know a kid named "Harry Balls." I often
wondered what this guy's parents could have been thinking, that they
would name their child "hairy balls." I'll bet that those parents
simply came from a place where "Harry" and "hairy" don't fall together.
Ever play the book-title game? E.g., "Under The Grandstand" by Seymour
Harryass. There's a variant in which the author's name is "Seymour
Butts." It would be interesting to know whether the variant arose in
some dialect in which "Harry" and "hairy" are distinct. Or maybe not.
BTW, even in St. Louis, people are a bit taken aback by the fact that
"lord" and "lard" have fallen together. Imagine a thousand Catholics in
Saint Louis Cathedral praying, "Hail, Mary full of grace, the Lard is
with thee" and struggling not to snicker.

-Wilson Gray

> No way, the classical 3-way distinction was: Mary [e],
> merry [@], marry [ae]. Any other pronunciation is
> barbaric :)
> Ed (from SE PA/Philly)
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