dentalizations and the Howard Gardner mystery

Gordon, Matthew J. GordonMJ at MISSOURI.EDU
Wed May 11 14:07:11 UTC 2011

I don't have an opinion about your hypotheses, but I agree with your assessment of his pronunciation.

I'm not so sure about the assumption that substrate influence should only be seen in contexts where parents are L2 speakers and kids are L1 speakers (of English or whatever). Don't such transfer features often survive as markers of ethnic dialects generations after the switch to English (or whatever)? I'm thinking of cases like Cajuns who are monolingual in English but still have stopping of interdental fricatives at least variably (in S. Dubois's work). I think there are features of "Chicano English" that show a similar pattern.

-Matt Gordon
From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Michael Newman [Michael.newman at QC.CUNY.EDU]
Sent: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 9:53 AM
Subject: dentalizations and the Howard Gardner mystery

Hi all,

I was listening to Howard Gardner on the radio and I noticed some very pronounced dental /t/s and /d/s, as well as released final stops. These are common in NYC English generally and Jewish speakers in particular, but Gardner has no other NYCE features, and a quick search shows he grew up in Scranton. Now the released variants and possibly the dentalizations can be ascribed to Yiddish substrate, but Gardner's parents were refugees from Western Germany, and (I asked him about this) not surprisingly didn't speak Yiddish at all.  He also told me that he grew up in a not particularly Jewish peer environment.

I have three possible hypotheses here.
1) Some regional varieties of German also have dental coronal stops.
2) His parents spoke an ethnically Jewish variety of German that had marked coronal stops and released codas. He picked it up from them and never lost them. (He told me that they spoke to him in German accented English)

Both 1) and 2) would be counter examples or at least exceptions to the pattern that kids avoid their parents L2 pronunciations. He claims to have spoken German accented English until kindergarten.  In any case, the whole notion of substrate entails some transfer from older L2 learners to younger L1 learners, although older peers may be the source. So we shouldn't simply dismiss 1 and 2 on dogmatic grounds.

3) NYCE is not the only regional variety of English with coronal dental stops. Northeastern PA also has them.

On point 3, Hubbell claimed back in the early 60's that NYCE dentalizations were not from Yiddish and Italian, but were regional features from farther back. His evidence was that his informants didn't come from homes where an immigrant language was spoken.

Below is a link to the interview in question:

Michael Newman
Associate Professor of Linguistics
Queens College/CUNY
michael.newman at

The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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