"Ballroom brawl"

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Mon Dec 18 13:44:19 UTC 2006

This may not be the full story (and the full story may not be known).

1) In at least most Southern r-less and l-less
dialects, /r/ and /l/ 'deletion' leaves traces -
compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel
and/or dipthongization (to schwa usually in /r/
cases and to a higher and backer and usually
rounded position for /l/).

2) The COT/CAUGHT merger is spreading in the
South but is far from complete, especially among
older generation speakers.

3) Post-vocalic /l/ most always results in a
backing (lower F2) of a preceding vowel. If /l/
is vocalized, is that push still there?

4) In southern speech, post vocalic /r/ imposes a
backing and raising on low vowels, leading to
northerners hearing a southern CAR as high and
back as CORE.

5) Since the southern HOUSE vowel is considerably
fronted in its onset, many southern varieties
diphthongize the CAUGHT vowel (we're always
looking for phonetic space for our phonemes) to
almost the same territory as the HOUSE vowel in a
non-fronted variety.

These are all obviously related facts in Charles'
characterization  of the BALLROOM/BARROOM
confusion (pun?). If BARROOM has its vowel backed
and raised, BARROOM would sound like BAUGHROOM
(sorry John) or even BOREROOM. (Remember, many of
us old-timey guys don't conflate the CAUGHT/COAT
pair before /r/. But I digress.)

But if the usual postvocalic /l/ influence on
BALL is there, the vowel should stay mid and back
(putting aside the COT/CAUGHT conflation problem
for a moment). Does this preclude any fronting
and diphthongizing influence on the CAUGHT vowel?
That is, are there southern BALLS that sound like
BOWELS? (Sorry!)

What about another scenario. Since southern /l/
is vocalized; then BALLROOM has its
first-syllable vocalic elements (however
realized) directly before the onset /r/ of ROOM.
Couldn't that /r/ (almost never deleted or
vocalized) have an influence on the preceding

Luckily, I have other projects today.


>---------------------- Information from the mail
>header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Charles Doyle <cdoyle at UGA.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: "Ballroom brawl"
>In postvocallic "r-less" (and "l-less")
>dialects, as well as in those dialects with
>"cot"/"caught" homophony, the
>"barroom"/"ballroom" distinction would diminish.
>Such a diminution could facilitate (and
>filicitate) the deliberately punning uses of the
>phrase "ballroom brawl" in many of Google's 900
>---- Original message ----
>>Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2006 05:54:20 -0600
>>From: Jim Parish <jparish at SIUE.EDU>
>>Subject: "Ballroom brawl"
>>>From this morning's San Diego Union-Tribune:
>>'Said rookie tackle Marcus McNeill: ’ÄúWe would
>>be the first finesse team with an All-Pro
>>running back. It's a double slap to the
>>offensive line. We already don't get a lot of
>>the credit. You're asking for a ballroom brawl.
>>That's what you saw out there.’Äù'
>>(For what it's worth, the first time I saw
>>"barroom brawl" - in a James Thurber story - I
>>interpreted "barroom" as a sound effect.)
>>Jim Parish
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
15C Morrill Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
preston at msu.edu

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

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