Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Fri Jan 21 11:20:07 UTC 2005

Is it any surprise that /l/ would behave like /r/ in English? There
is not only the perceptual/articulatory fuzziness which
introduces/deletes a final /l/, there is also a historical
background. In the West of English, centered perhaps on Bristol,
/l/-vocalization is common. The city name itself is pronounced
"Bristow." This /l/ vocalization (or outright loss in some cases) is
also very common in the American South (including the South
Midlands). Where I grew up, the vocalizers (Kin Ah hewp yu) made fun
of the deleters (Kin Ah hep yu); boy was it a wakekup call to us when
we went a little farther North and found out that the vocalizing got
lumped together with the deleting so that we were all classified as

I digress into perception; my bad.

So some teachers and others defenders of the tongue went around in
Bristol telling people that the city had an /l/ in final position,
whuppin chillun somethin awful till they said it. Don't take smart
kids long to figger out that if they start puttin /l/s in after final
vowels, they will risk their butts less.  So, of course, they started
saying "Bristol," but they also started saying "ideal," "sofal,"
"sodal," and lots of other treasures of the tongue.

Now I don't want to claim that hypercorrection is the only source of
"Bristol L" (as this phenomenon is known amongst us dialectologists).
Once an indeterminate pronunciation is in the air as regards the
treatment of these final vowel words, whether a child learns the
lexical item "idea" as "idea" or "ideal" is up for grabs.

Note, for example, how, without teacher supervision, the linking /r/
of "pizzar and beer" has caused some learners to reanalyze the
underlying form of the first word as "pizzar," in spite of general
phonotactic constraints is the local dialect.

The hypercorrection story is similar to one of the accounts of the
Cincinnati, Missouri pronunciations with final schwa. Since some of
us old-timey SKs say "sodi" and "sofi" (for "soda" and "sofa"), we
got whacked just like them little Pistols from Bristol, and started
eschewing all final schwas; oncet you do that, hit's easy to get
Cincinnat@ and Missour at . (I know there's other accounts of this,
specially for the state name.)

Course, it's obvious that little poopers who have made one rather
than another analysis of the phonemic composition of a word during
their growing up years will clearly constitute the class known as the
ignorant in adulthood. We all know that.


>        Original message from Jonathan Lighter, Jan. 20, 2005, 7:09 p.m.:
>         [...] The students I'm thinking of even *said* "ideal" for
>"idea." Anybody else notice this?
>Yes, In past years I was active in two community groups (Rolla, Missouri),
>and the leaders of both groups would sometimes say that they were
>looking for "good ideals" or "new ideals"  (ideas) from the members.
>That and "liberry" (library) stick in my mind.
>Gerald Cohen

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages
A-740 Wells Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Phone: (517) 432-3099
Fax: (517) 432-2736
preston at

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