Fronted high back vowel /u/

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 21 00:23:40 UTC 2009

"Fronting of /u/ (and /o/) is found pretty much everywhere in the US
except for the Inland North (e.g. the Great Lakes region)."

"*Pretty much everywhere* in the US except for the Inland North"? A
claim hard to support, unless you've been pretty much everywhere.

When I first read of the existence of this sound shift in the intro to
linguistics by the late Fr. Dineen, SJ, of Georgetown, I was totally
shocked, since his statement, like yours, gives the impression that
this is a feature of al dialects of US English. One of D's examples
was "newn" [niun] for "noon." This and pronunciations like "skewl" for
"school" are certainly common, if not standard, among white
Southerners at least as far west as Abilene, TX. But, till I had
occasion to live in the Northeast, I had no idea that this oddity
existed anywhere else. But then, you have in mind only white speakers,
right? And, even among white speakers, such speakers along the Left
Coast are not being included, no doubt.

However, I'm still waiting to hear it used generally from coast to
coast, as, e.g. [nu:] for "new" is. (Not that [nIu] has become
obsolete. *Many* people still use it.)

Of course, I may have run completely off the rails, here, in
attempting to take you to task about this. Sound-change is pretty
unpredictable. In my lost youth, the pronunciation of, e.g. "now" as
"naow" [n&u] and not as [nau] was *absolutely* not used by BE
speakers, except *very* rarely in mockery of SE speakers. (E.g. there
was once a popular version of the song, Temptation, recorded by one
"Cinderella G. Stump," which was done in a mockery of white, mountain
speech. It was also popular 'mongst us cullud chirren, though we had
no idea that it was supposed to be a put-down, Saint Louis being such
a speech-island, back in the day, that we didn't know that there
existed people who really did speak more-or-less that way. Nowadays,
I'd be hard put to find a BE speaker younger than fifty or so who
still uses [nau] and not [n&u]. If it wasn't for being able to listen
to my old blues and R&B records, I might even begin to doubt my own
memory that [nau] was ever used by anyone outside of my own family.

Once upon a time, the glo?al stop was so rare that I knew only a
single individual who used it in his ordinary speech, whether
monitored or unmonitored. I occasionally wondered whether he might
have a speech defect. Nowadays, the glo?al stop is virtually a marker
of hiphop/rap speech, and is slowly creeping into other forms of
speech, based on what I hear on The Judges.


On Sun, Dec 20, 2009 at 12:25 PM, Gordon, Matthew J.
<GordonMJ at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Gordon, Matthew J." <GordonMJ at MISSOURI.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Fronted high back vowel /u/
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> This sounds like pretty classic Southern Shift: back vowel fronting + raising of /E/ and /I/. The only thing odd would be the direction of the glide. When diphthongal, the lax vowels in the SoShift usually have central/schwa offglides if I recall correctly.
> Fronting of /u/ (and /o/) is found pretty much everywhere in the US except for the Inland North (e.g. the Great Lakes region).
> -Matt Gordon
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Randall Gess [randall_gess at CARLETON.CA]
> Sent: Sunday, December 20, 2009 8:38 AM
> Subject: Fronted high back vowel /u/
> Hello,
> I'm new to the list. I've just started doing volunteer work on
> occasion for a victim identification unit of law enforcement. I have a
> recording with a male North American speaker that has a rather
> fronted /u/ sound (F1 395, F2 1816), in the word 'movie'. I've heard
> this kind of fronting before, but does anyone know how widespread it
> is geographically? The /E/  in leg is also a bit raised at F1 550, F2
> 1942 and slightly diphthongized toward /ei/, but this is not as
> pronounced as I've heard in some accents. Does anyone know where these
> features might co-occur?
> Thanks
> Randall
> Language: Defining dreams for millennia.
> Randall Gess
> Professor and Director
> School of Linguistics and Language Studies
> 215 Paterson Hall, Carleton University
> 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa ON K1S 5B6
> Tel: (613) 520-6612  Fax: (613) 520-6641
> Email: randall_gess at
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