Damn! Gotta avoid those slips!

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 5 00:42:05 UTC 2008

Sometimes, it seems that speaking a foreign dialect can be as
difficult as speaking a foreign language!

Standard-speaking, black sports commentator:

"Kobe can do *what* he _wont_ [won?] *when* he _wants_ [wOnts]!"

Naturally, he also pronounced "when" as [hwIn], but, in my experience,
the raising of /E/ to [I] before a nasal is quite widespread in all
dialects. Of course, as in all statements about (a) language, there
are plenty of clear counter-examples. There are some Northern, white,
standard-speakers whose [E] before a nasal is so low that it comes
close to being as low as the [E] of colloquial Amsterdam Dutch, which
intrudes upon the space of AmE [ae] (or [&]). Ask a Dutch speaker to
say "bet" and you hear "bat." But, if you ask him to say "bat," you
hear "bet."

IAC (is there a way to distinguish "in any case," as here, from "if
anyone cares"? Use FWIW, I guess), this Northern [E] is so low that it
almost, but not quite, sounds like ash, e.g., "ten" sounds to me
almost, but not quite, like "tan." Apparently, this is the impression
that a lot of black speakers have. Comedians on BET and elsewhere
replace BE [I] with [ae], before nasals, in their parodies of white
(or "Carcasian," hypercorrected from the usual "Cahcasian,") voice.

BET comics are a great passive source of info on present and past BE
pronunciation, for someone like me, who doesn't get around much,
anymore. E.g., one comic opened his bit by announcing:

"I'm from Alabama. We [colored folk] sho' do talk funny down theah,
don't we? Like, we don't 'stab" nobody wif a 'knife.' We 'stob' 'em
wif a 'doik' (dirk)."

Speaking of parodies, the black cast members of MadTV did a bit
showing the reaction of rural-Southern, black good ol' boys to a
visiting, educated relative from the urban North. The Northerner had
to spell out a word containing "r," pronouncing the letter to fall
together with "are," as is the Northern wont, when the locals couldn't
understand his sE pronunciation. After he'd finished, a local
re-spelled the word, pronouncing the "r" as "ah-ruh," in the Southern
manner, to underline how far this biggity son of the South had gotten
from his Down-Home roots, as though his mere pronunciation of a
word-internal /r/ was sufficient to block their comprehension of his

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
 -Sam'l Clemens

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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