[Ads-l] Liberman on, urruh, Saint Louis BE _-urr-

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 24 14:32:30 EST 2017

Mark Liberman writes, in Language Log:

April 01, 2004


This week's New Yorker has an article on by Jake Halpern entitled "Selling
the Beat: St. Louis’s Trackboyz break a new act", which includes a some
discussion of a St. Louis sound change:

One of their first clients was a young rapper named Cornell Haynes, Jr.,
later nicknamed Nelly, whom Williams had met at a talent show in a club.
Nelly ... was the first St. Louis rapper to break nationally, with "Country
Grammar," in 1999. (Nelly also initiated the widespread use of a quirky St.
Louis dialect whereby "here" is pronounced "hurr" -- as in Nelly's "Hot in
Herre" -- "there" becomes "thurr," and "everybody" is "urr'body.")

This description is intriguing, but it's hard to tell what the pattern
really is. In most English dialects, here and there have different vowels
-- in the dialect described,

Do these vowels followed by /r/ merge with one another and also with the
final sequence of e.g. *burr*? In other words, do *here*, *hair,* and *her*
all merge? And Beer  *bear,* and *burr*? That's certainly possible, but
maybe something else is going on.

["Something else _is_ going on": *ear* et sim. and *air* et sim. do not
merge. Rather,they are distinct from one another.

Cf. these songs, "I'm Hurr, I'm Thurr, I'm Errwhur" and "Errbody Get up,"
by Anti-Social:



For those not interested in this genre of music, the songs open with the
relevant three phrases and they are repeated, thereby eliminating the need
to listen to more than a few seconds of the song's opening bars. -WG]

Mark continues:

A merger of the rhymes of here and there might be part of another pattern
of mergers, maybe limited to particular words; or maybe they don't merge at
all, but instead are just each pronounced differently from the way Halpern
This is probably related to the traditional midland American pronunciations
written as "hyar" for here and "whar" for where, as in the lyric
Now what you aimin to do up hyar?
What do ye think you’re gonna find?
Stranger, what did ye say yer name was?
And whar did you say you was gwine?
even though the stereotypical associations in that case are redneck rather
than hiphop.

And the fate of _everybody_ raises some other issues entirely. It's pretty
common for the syllable written with orthographic "y" to vanish in this
word, in versions generally indicated orthographically as _ever'body_, but
to get to _urr'body_ we need to lose another syllable as well. Is this
because ever goes pseudopoetically to _e'er_ and then _e'er_, like _there_,
changes its vowel to what Halpern writes as "urr"? More facts are needed.

[That is precisely what happens, as Anti-Social demonstrates. _Urr_ <
_E'er_ even has the same vowel as _urr_ < _(th)ere_, just as is ordinarily
the case for _e'er_ and _(th)ere_ in standard English. -WG]

I hope that everyone can also start to see, at this point, why the
International Phonetic Alphabet was invented.

I'm not sure whether the "quirky St. Louis dialect" that Halpern mentions
is covered in Chapter 19 of the forthcoming Atlas of North American
English. The online version of Chapter 11 does discuss some vowel mergers
before /r/, just not the same ones:

A second distinctive Midland city is St. Louis... Its most distinctive
traditional feature is a merger of /ahr/ in car, are, far with /ohr/ in
corps, or, for, while /owr/ in core, ore, four remains distinct. Though
this merger is stereotyped and in recession, it is still strong enough to
act as a defining feature of the St. Louis dialect... At the same time, St.
Louis is undergoing a massive shift towards the pattern of the Inland
North, including the Northern Cities Shift. [Ain't that the sad truth? -WG]


In the Facebook S.I.G., You Know You from Saint Louis, If..., someone

"St. Louis, hood 2 hood. If _yo_ hood is not in _hurr_ [a slide-show of the
various 'hoods], then it's a community."

So, at least one person is consciously aware both of general BE _yo_ and
St; Louis-specific _urr_.

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.
-Mark Twain

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

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