Heard on The Judges: localisms

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Jan 22 18:36:30 UTC 2009

On Thu, Jan 22, 2009 at 12:35 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
> Twenty-year-old black youth from Houston:
> "Yes, your honor. That's why I come out her (i.e. 'here')."
> ("Local" in the sense that, AFAIK, this shift of -air, -ear, -ere,
> etc. to [-^r] is, so far, peculiar to BE and, again, AFAIK, it began
> in Saint Louis about fifteen years ago and was spread around by such
> Saint Louis hip-hoppers as Nelly, Li'l John, Chingy, et al. One of my
> favorite songs has the eye-dialect title, I'm Hurr, I'm Thurr, I'm
> Errwhurr. I assume that initial err- is influenced by "er(r)," the
> standard spelling of onomatopoetic [^(r)].)

At the ADS annual meeting, Cara Shousterman of NYU presented a paper
on the 'urr' variable, suggesting a historical distribution not
limited to the St. Louis region (though StL has certainly become the
culturally salient "home" to the variable in the hiphop era). Here's
the abstract:

Cara Shousterman (New York University)
Diachrony and AAE: sound change outside of the mainstream
This is a diachronic study of what is known as the 'urr' variable,
whereby in some African American communities front vowels centralize
when followed by /r/. For example, the words here and hair can merge
with her, and are spelled in popular
references as "hurr" or "herre". Results indicate that the 'urr'
variable is a fairly recent innovation in AAE spoken in DC, Maryland,
St. Louis, and Memphis. This shows that not only are there regional
differences in AAE, but also that African Americans are participating
in sound changes separate from those found in "mainstream" European
American dialects.

Shousterman and some fellow NYUers also presented an LSA paper (which
I missed) covering more recent developments in the spread of the
variable to other AAE dialects via Nelly et al.:

Renée Blake (New York University), Sonya Fix (New York University),
Cara Shousterman (New York University): Vowel centralization before
/r/ in two AAE dialects: A case of regional variation

Not sure where Houston fits into this.

--Ben Zimmer

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list