Provenance of /Or/ > [ar] / __@ ?

Gordon, Matthew J. GordonMJ at MISSOURI.EDU
Sat Nov 17 15:46:59 UTC 2012

I've never heard of a shorthand label for this. Actually it's not studied much in the variationist literature.

The similar phenomenon that Wilson mentioned is known as the 'cord/card merger' but that differs from the situation Neil was asking about. It operates on all historical short open-o words before /r/, not just those in which the /r/ is intervocalic. So, you get something like [a] in 'forest' and 'Florida' but also in 'forty' and 'fork' etc. Labov's Atlas of North American English suggests that the vowels are merged at open-o in St. Louis, but Wilson's description fits with what I tend to hear: an unrounded [a]-like vowel. Incidentally, the 'cord/card merger' doesn't operate on historical long open-o words. So, traditional St. Louis speech distinguishes 'for' & 'four', 'or' & 'ore', etc. The pattern that most Americans have, where such pairs are homophones, is called the "NORTH/FORCE merger" based on the lexical sets of Wells (1982).

Matt Gordon

From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Ben Zimmer [bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU]
Sent: Saturday, November 17, 2012 8:38 AM
Subject: Re: Provenance of /Or/ > [ar] / __@ ?

On Sat, Nov 17, 2012 at 1:36 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
> On Nov 16, 2012, at 6:24 PM, Neal Whitman wrote:
>> I'm sure this has been analyzed somewhere at some point, but I don't know where.
>> What is the dialect that has /O/ lowering to [a] in a stressed vowel preceding
>> /r/ and an unstressed vowel? In other words, the dialect that pronounces
>> "forest" as "farrest," "Florida" as "Flarrida", "Oregon" as "Ahregun,"
>> "horrible" etc. as "harrible" etc., "authority" as "autharity", but still has
>> [O] in "fort", "lore," etc.? What is this realization called?
> It's what I grew up with in NYC, although I've shifted over to [O] most of the time for
> these; I suspect I go back and forth (on "Florida", "orange", "forest") even though I
> think of myself as an open-o employer for these (the first group, that is; I've never
> varied on [O] for "fort" or "lore").  I think of "AH-rinj" as the locus classicus, but as I
> recall it was getting mocked for my [a] in "corridor" as a freshman in Rochester that
> led to my abandoning my native vowels in this frame.  I'm sure I never say "flarrist",
> but I probably did before the fall of 1961.

Along with NYC, the use of unrounded [A] for the "tomorrow"/"orange"
class typifies Philadelphia and the Carolinas:

I don't think this has a shorthand label in the phonological
literature, though I'm sure Mr. Gordon or one of the other
variationists on the list can correct me if I'm wrong.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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