Ash-tensing in *ANAE* (was: The duration of /ae/ and /ai/)

LanDi Liu strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 23 17:05:06 UTC 2008

On Jan 23, 2008 11:38 PM, Damien Hall <halldj at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Damien Hall <halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Ash-tensing in *ANAE* (was: The duration of /ae/ and /ai/)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> A point of clarification:  Randy said:
> 'Labov et al. seem to have ignored that function words
> can be accented or not, affecting the tensing of ash: "I can do it." (not
> tensed because it is reduced) vs. "Yes, I can." (tensed because it is
> accented).'
> No, they didn't ignore that.  As far as I'm aware, none of Labov's work on
> the
> quality of any vowel analyses unstressed tokens, for that very reason.
>  For
> this particular case, I've actually written (under his direction) formal
> tests
> to measure ash-tensing in that very word, and the approved sentences were
> as
> follows:
> - It's very difficult to get a good cheesesteak, but at _________ you can.
> - These days, Coke cans are made of __________.
> So, stressed tokens of *can* (n.) and *can* (v.).

I'm under the impression that the modal verb "can" can only be accented when
it is being deliberately emphasized.  In the first sentence, isn't "can"
really a secondary stress?  The word in the blank would contain the main
clause stress -- in "but at Geno's you can", the first syllable of "Geno's"
would be the main stress.  In a sentence like "I wouldn't, but I can", "can"
has contrastive (which I think is generally primary) stress.

> (Obviously, the idea of the sentences was for the informant to concentrate
> on
> filling in the blank and hopefully not realise that we didn't care in the
> slightest what they filled it in with.  (Well, unless you actually like
> cheesesteaks and wanted to get a Philly native's recommendation, which I
> did.)
> In this way, they would produce a natural token of stressed *can*, and
> wouldn't
> stress it too much because they knew that was what we were looking for.)
> This leaves aside the interesting question of the U-shaped trajectory of
> /ae/
> for some speakers.  I believe it's true for *ANAE* that only one point of
> each
> vowel was measured, but there are two points to make about that:
> - *ANAE* does describe the phenomenon of 'Northern breaking' (and
> Southern, but
> that's not what we're talking about here):  the 'breaking' of a phonemic
> monophthong into a diphthong (or maybe even a triphthong:  I'm not
> familiar
> enough with *ANAE* to say, off the top of my head).

Isn't ash-tensing almost always "breaking" (diphthongizing)?

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China

The American Dialect Society -

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