Sunday, June 13, 2010

"P[ʌi]sonal files"

This morning, I was passively listening to NPR's On the Media when I heard the person being interviewed say
...p[ʌi]sonal files of inmates and p[ʌi]sonnel...

As I've blogged before, I'm susceptible to noticing [ʌi] showing up in strange places. But, this token was not of the usual type for me. Usually I hear [ʌi] as a raised variant of the phoneme /ay/, as in "bike" or "rice" or "write." But in this case, [ʌi] was a realization of an r-colored schwa, as in "bird", or more commonly "thirty-third."

"[tʌi]ty-[tʌi]d" for "thirty-third" is a known and old variable of New York City speech. As far as I know, it has been receding along with some other socially recognized markers of NYC speech, like r-lessness, although I don't know the most recent scholarship on this particular variable.

So, I thought I was listening to an interview with an old-school New Yorker. But then, I started hearing all of these Southern features, specifically monophthongization of /oy/ in "t[ɔ]let tissue" and of /ay/ in "div[a]d." Mysterious, no?

No! I recalled seeing a paper presented by Thea Strand, Michael Wroblewski & Mark K. Good called "Words, wuds, woids': Variation in BIRD realization in Southern Louisiana at the NWAV 36 conference. In fact, [ʌi] for r-colored schwa is also a feature of African American speech in southern Louisiana. I looked up the show piece, and the biography of the interviewee. Wilbert Rideau (Wikipedia, personal website) was the editor of the first (and only?) uncensored prison publication, and he grew up in in Lake Charles, LA.

Check out the OTM piece. Rideau is a wonderful dialect speaker, and his story is very interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Diffusion at work, dude! Vide the NYC-esque /æ/ system in New Orleans also.


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