Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIO.EDU
Fri Jan 21 16:11:31 UTC 2005

When we discussed the Bristol L in my Soclx class a couple years ago, a
student surnamed Bristow lit up with the shock of recognition.  She said
the family knew it came from Bristol but always wondered why they didn't
spell their name with an 'l'.  In my studies of early English contacts with
American Indians, I found great variation between the two spellings
(Bristol was the port of origin for many of the trading and slaving ships).

At 06:20 AM 1/21/2005 -0500, you wrote:
>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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