I Scream / Ice Cream

D. Ezra Johnson ezra_50 at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 6 23:53:32 UTC 1999

My mother (NYC) taught me the jingle, which always disappointed me because
the pronunciations didn't quite match.

But which accents/dialects DO pronounce "ice cream" and "I scream" alike? If
anyone is willing to raise their hand, please identify where the stress
falls, whether it's

ICE cream = I scream

For me, it's "ICE cream", different from "I scream". The first's vowel is
slightly raised, centralized, or something; the onset isn't [@] but it isn't
[a] either. (Might it be that [upside-down-a]?)

(If I said "ice CREAM", which I don't, it would still be different from "i
SCREAM", for the same reason, although the pair sounds a lot closer.)

The only person I know well who doesn't have a distinct allophone of
/ay/ before voiceless consonants is a good friend from Philadelphia.

And (lo and behold) this feature was described in R. Whitney Tucker's "Notes
on the Philadelphia Dialect" (American Speech 19.1, Feb. 1944):

"Both the [aI]-type diphthong and the [aU]-type diphthong exist in only one
quality, whereas in most American dialects the first element is shortened
and modified in quality before a voiceless consonant -- the precise sounds
vary according to locality. (In my own speech, for example [Tucker 'went to
school near New York'], this short sound, as in NIGHT or OUT, seems to be
identical with the vowel of BUT; contrast with [script-a] in RIDE, LOUD.) No
such distinction is made in the Philadelphia dialect. The same is true of
Southern Piedmont, but not Coastal, dialects. Perhaps we can say that in
this respect the Philadelphia area is merely a northern extension of the
Piedmont dialect, by way of Western Virginia and Baltimore..." (p. 40)

And those of us who followed the link (or tuned in originally) to the "This
American Life" segment about Southern accents heard the contributor's
opinion that most Southerners say, pace Forrest Gump,

LIFE, LIKE, RIGHT, NICE     (basically "normal" from a Northern POV)
[ra:d], [ta:m], [fa:v], [ha:] ("drawl" before voiced cons. or pause)

The radio commentator went on to mention that those who DO say
[la:k] are almost always from Appalachia; [la:k] apparently sounds country
-- if not downright hillbilly -- to urban(e) Southerners. The radio man
didn't use the term "before voiceless consonants", but he is basically
dittoing Tucker's comments about Piedmont vs. Coastal Southern!

Returning to my proposed straw poll, since "ice cream" has the crosscutting
stress variation, we could pose this alternative:

Who says "high school" beginning with "Hi"?


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