Odd rhyme claim

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Thu Dec 17 16:18:25 UTC 2009

I drew the attention of Daniel Ezra Johnson to this thread, and this is his
reply. Please send any replies on this thread to both the list and him! I
will continue to be the conduit for anything else he wants to post on the


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Daniel Ezra Johnson <danielezrajohnson at gmail.com>
Subject: Re: Odd rhyme claim
Date: Thu, 17 Dec 2009 10:59:38 -0500

As far as I know, this could antedate the LOT/THOUGHT merger in
Boston, even if slant rhyme is an alternate possibility given the poem.

The latest Boston-area speaker I've heard still distinguishing LOT and
THOUGHT (and PALM, à l'anglaise) was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana
from Cambridge, born in 1881. As his name suggests, he was a Brahmin.

However, the earliest Boston speakers I observed having merged LOT and
THOUGHT (but not PALM) were born in the 1840's. (These 'Hanley
recordings' are in the ADS collection at  the Library of Congress and

It's hard to find audio of anyone older, like Emerson (born 1803 in
Boston). He lived long enough (1882) that it's just possible he was
recorded, but doesn't seem to have happened. It would be fitting if
his modern intellectual views went along with a (then-)modern vowel

But 1803 does seem early for that. It also may have been a combination
of slant rhyme and an ear Emerson might have had for a newer pattern
than his own.

I wonder if there are other early 19th century Bostonians (or other
New Englanders) who were recorded, or else if the manuals of orthoepy
may have something to say about this.

For more on the history and developments of the low back vowels in New
England, please see (when it's visible) my PADS volume "Stability and
change along a dialect boundary...", forthcoming in 2010.


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

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