October 12, 2018

Site Update 10-12


Another week has come and gone, but that just means we're getting ever closer to the next Dialect Dissection! Remember to check out the Founding Fathers article if you haven't yet. I also wrote up a casual post on Female Internet Communities.

I'm starting to use Twitter some more beyond just letting people know there's been a new post. It's a good format for observations I have that aren't long enough to be a post, but good enough for a Tweet. It's also a good way to let you all know about any cool linguistics developments. Here are some highlights from Tweets I've made recently:

Remember you can follow me on Twitter for Ace Linguist news and observations.

Looking at the Future

Notice how I'm using all these headers now? I'm trying to make the "blog updates" more structured and less "here's a link to articles I wrote, I'm alive, have a nice day!" I used to basically use "blog updates" so that someone who hadn't checked the site in a few weeks might get up to date on recent posts I've written, but there's a lot more you can do with a weekly post like this. Sometimes I will have big, ambitious plans for the future. Sometimes I will have nothing. Sometimes I'll just want to recommend something I read about. So let's go on to the future.

Accessible Linguist: I am looking into ways to make Ace Linguist more accessible to anyone using assistive technologies or who is otherwise disabled. This is kind of a wide scope, but for the first part I'm looking into adding 'alt' descriptions to all non-decorative images on the site. The second part, which is more challenging, would be making the site's markup more semantic. As a real stretch goal for the distant future, I'd like to have a style switcher for people who either need a more high contrast theme or people who need a dark theme for reading at night. I've gotten more comfortable messing around with Blogger's HTML.

Different Formats: As much as I love writing Ace Linguist, I recognize that nowadays the blog market is not quite the biggest one out there. I've had a lot of people ask me why I'm writing a blog in The Year of Our Lord 2018, and I always have to explain that it's not really a blog in the sense of a place where I talk about my daily life but more like the old idea of a "site" where people would write articles/pages on a specialist topic. Nevertheless, both blogs and sites have decreased in prominence, so I am looking into new ways to get the same content out to people. One thing I'm looking into is podcasts - a lot of these articles may actually work better in audio form, since you'll be able to hear every example. I would also love to eventually expand this site into video - making video essays was a very early goal of this site that I put on hold due to the realization that I (a) did not really know how to make videos, (b) had poor quality recording equipment, (c) did not have the expertise to make videos quickly enough to match the content I wanted to put out. I would still like to make videos, but it's really a future goal for Ace Linguist when I have some more time and funding.

Revising Old Articles: If you've looked around the site's old articles for some reason, you may notice that they are... a little strange. I've only seriously been putting out content for a year now, but my style and goals have changed a lot since then. A lot of the old articles are unfocused, or they have an inconsistent outline, or the style is bad, or the citations aren't up to my standards nowadays. I would very much like to revisit some old articles and change them around before immortalizing them in podcast form.

What's Cooking?

Next month is NaNoWriMo! That's National Novel Writing Month for those of you who aren't familiar. It's a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. If it sounds scary, it's not - I've done it multiple times before and reached the goal almost every time. Last year I decided to be a Rebel and write articles instead of a single unified document. It was the first time I did not reach my goal, but I did end up with a lot of articles that I could use for the site. I'm going to try again this year, but I will be doing more research beforehand so that I can spend less time in November researching and more time writing.

See you all next week!

- Karen

October 8, 2018

Female Internet Communities

I've noticed an interesting trend in female-centric internet communities, particularly beauty ones such as fashion and make-up. It is common for users to use the -ie diminutive to make a sort of colloquial version of a word. Some examples I've found are below:

  • lipstick > lippie
  • eyebrow dip > dippie
  • skinny jeans > skinnies
  • sunglasses > sunnies

Some other languages also have a trend of certain diminutives being considered feminine. Off the top of my head, in Russian turning 'spasibo' into 'spasibochki' (both mean thanks) is considered a very cutesy, feminine construction.

Gender differences can be found in all sorts of languages to a greater or lesser extent, but it's interesting to think about the way that gender differences can be found on the internet. For example, women are more likely to use emoji than men are, and men and women have different patterns of emoji usage.

Another female-dominated community is, unsurprisingly, the online mommy community. I've noticed that there is a jargon: LO is short for little one, which is an idiomatic way to refer to a child; DH is short for dear husband. Child and husband are basic familial terms, so it is interesting that these communities have come up with ways to make the terms more opaque to outsiders. The use of acronyms in particular reminds me of business culture, where initialisms are used liberally (mocked in the movie Officespace with "TPS reports").

Have you noticed any trends in how slang and jargon develops in female vs male dominated communities? How would it compare to mixed-gender communities?

October 1, 2018

10-1 Blog Update

Hello all! I hope you enjoyed my big post Dialect Dissection: Founding Fathers. It took nearly 2 years of work and a lot of books purchased on my end, so I was a bit nervous about releasing it into the world. I'm happy that the response has been positive and there has been a lot of interest in the topic!

Remember when, at the beginning of the year, I said it would be a good idea to post more often with smaller content? I ended up revising that in April where it became once a week. And after a few months of updating once a month, I had to admit that I was not feeling the once a week schedule. The idea was that more content was more desirable, but the statistics tell me, rather frankly, very few people are reading the short articles I write. Although I like some of them, they did end up being more rushed. I could not put as much polish into them as I would have liked. I also felt forced to come up with topics for the sake of writing about them. I enjoy working on a big post more than churning out middling linguistic content. However, I don't want to be beholden to a "one big post once a month" thing. Sometimes I want to make small observations without needing to source every single assertion. I've decided to create the casual tag for small articles that are observations as opposed to attempting to be seriously educational. Casual articles will invite more discussion as well. I will also post mini-articles occasionally - sometimes you just don't need a big ol' article to explain something. I will not make any promise more than that I will continue to update this website and will give you a post or failing that, a status update at least once a month.

If you want news or linguistic thoughts, you can find me on Twitter. Facebook will give you just the news if you prefer that as well.

September 19, 2018

Dialect Dissection: Founding Fathers

"What did the Founding Fathers sound like?" Plenty of Americans have Googled this question, and there have been more than a few attempts to explain what they sounded like to a general audience. However, these articles are usually of limited scope, pointing out only a handful of features, such as that Colonial English pronounced all its "r"s and therefore it sounded more like American English than British English. I can't blame them for not going more into detail. After all, Colonial English is more than two-hundred years old, and it's hard to document all of that when you have a strict deadline and word count. Listening to "Hamilton" and "1776," I found myself wondering - what did the Founding Fathers sound like?

Much to my surprise, it's very difficult to find anything on the English of the 18th century! Perhaps it's because all the dramatic changes already happened around two centuries earlier and the modern dialectal changes only really become traceable a century afterward (Beal 2002). Due to my difficulty finding a straightforward explanation of Colonial American English, I conducted some research and gathered it all together here for your reading pleasure. As far as I am aware, this is the only non-paywalled article that discusses Colonial American English in depth and with a general audience in mind.

Sources Used

The way this article is organized is as follows: I will describe a difference between Colonial American English (CE) and Modern General American English (GA). I will then either show you an example (if available) or give you a citation. The examples come from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and (in exactly one instance) John Jay - these men are commonly considered to be "The Founding Fathers" of the United States. An example from the poet Phyllis Wheatley is also used as a supplement. All the citations in parentheses can be found in full at the bottom of the article; links to the texts have been provided where possible.

Benjamin Franklin's phonetic alphabet is one of the most important sources used here. Dissatisfied with the discrepancy between English spelling and pronunciation, he came up with a spelling - or orthography - that purported to represent speech as accurately as possible. There are no silent letters. New symbols were added for sounds. The values of old letters were changed. Some letters were removed altogether! His orthography is thus more predictable compared to our orthography. In his writings, he both described the value of each letter and gave samples of writing in the alphabet; this includes poetry and a letter exchange between him and a pupil of his. There are some minor inconsistencies between the poems and the letter exchange, but for the most part the alphabet is consistent. His alphabet was not used outside of his own writings. When quoting Franklin's writings in the phonetic alphabet, I will put his phonetic alphabet on the left and the modern orthography on the right.

Note that I did not describe every possible difference here. English in the 1700s was very diverse, and I am presenting a simplified picture here when the truth is that there were likely multiple competing forms at a time! Moreover, there are so many differences between Colonial American English and modern General American that this could easily become a fifteen page document if I described each and every one. This is not intended to be the most comprehensive source on Colonial American English - such a project would be beyond the scope of this blog and would require years of research, and this post has already been more than a year in the making! Instead, consider this a sampler, strongly influenced by Benjamin Franklin, of what a speaker of English might have sounded like had they lived in Colonial America from 1700 to 1750.

Table of Contents

Sounds (Phonetics and Phonology)


Colonial English Consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Post-alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop/Plosive p b t d k g
Affricate tʃ dʒ
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ h
Approximant l j ʍ w
Trill r

Let's start with something simple - consonants. One of the remarkable traits about English is that the consonant inventory does not seem to have changed radically over time. Words may change, and vowels certainly will, but the actual list of consonants is not dramatically different between dialects, or even over time. Overall, the consonant inventory of Colonial American English is not too different from the consonant inventory of modern American English. Some of the more notable differences are elaborated on below.

Wine-Whine distinction

Words spelled with used to be pronounced differently in English from words spelled with . For example, "whine" was pronounced with a sort of 'h' sound at the beginning, resulting in /hwaɪn/. This means it was different from "wine," which was just /waɪn/. This distinction has been disappearing over the last hundred years, with only a few English dialects preserving it today. Most English speakers pronounce "wine" and "whine" as /waɪn/. In Colonial English, the distinction was robust, as evidenced by Franklin's spelling:

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
So huen sɥm Endիel, bɥi divիin kcɩmand,
So when some angel, by divine command
Uiⱨ rɥiziŋ tempests իeeks e gilti Land; With rising tempests shakes a guilty land

Notice that Benjamin Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet gives different transcriptions for "when" and "with". "When" is "hwen", which suggests that 'wh' was still preserved.

T-flapping hadn't occurred

T-flapping (pronouncing the "t" in words like "kitty" as a flap sound, [ɾ]), does not appear to have started yet. This one is more proof by absence of evidence, as none of the contemporary sources of the 18th century I found described t-flapping. By the early 20th century we already have t-flapping in American English, so it must have been present during the 19th century, but I have not found any evidence that t-flapping happened in Colonial American English. Wells implies that t-flapping is a post-1750 phenomenon, saying that up until 1750, American and British English were more or less similar, and that after that point began the now-distinctive differences between the two to develop. He lists “Tapping and T Voicing” under “Some American innovations” and after “The Great Divide” (1982).

Value of /r/ sound

The 'r' sound is contentious. Benjamin Franklin describes the 'r' as alveolar and “vibrating”. Unlike New York English and most Southern England varieties, Colonial American English was generally rhotic - 'r's after vowels were pronounced (though see the “Regional Variations” section below to see how non-rhotic varieties existed even then). However, we don't know what this post-vocalic 'r' sounded like. In General American today, 'r' after a vowel is an r-colored vowel, but in Scottish English, it's a flap or a trill. It's possible the sound was in transition so that you would have heard both.

Per Beal, the trilled version of /r/ still existed in the 18th century, but already a weakening had begun to a continuant in the preconsonantal and final positions. (Beal 2002 p163-164)


Words like 'due' (/dju/), 'Tuesday' (/tjuzdeɪ/), and 'new' (/nju/) used to be pronounced with a 'y' sound, or "yod." Most American dialects nowadays pronounce these words without the yod, resulting in "do" /du/, "toosday" /tuzdeɪ/, and "noo" /nu/ (Krapp 155). Curiously, Benjamin Franklin's transcription of 'new' would be pronounced "noo" [nu], showing that the loss of this 'y' sound was already beginning.

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
And e nu hev’n in its feer Bɥzɥm իoz. And a new heaven in its fair bosom shows.


Colonial English Vowels
Front Central Back
Lax Tense Lax Tense
Close ɪ i ʊ u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɛ ʌ ɔ
Open æ ɒ
Diphthongs əɪ əʊ

Now it's getting interesting. Whereas the consonants remained mostly similar, the vowels changed quite a bit compared to General American. Vowels have been prone to mutation throughout the history of the English language, and it's no surprise to see that modern American vowels have gone through a lot of change from their colonial forebears. A lot of the differences between vowels aren't just a matter of substitution - some vowels are simply missing compared to General American, and some words had different vowels in them that Americans don't really distinguish today.

Here are some further comparisons of Colonial English (CE) vowels with British Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA). The word on the left is an example word, and the sounds say the vowel that will be used in the word depending on the dialect.

Full Monophthongs
Lexical Set RP GA CA
BATH ɑː æ æ
LOT ɒ ɒ
CLOTH ɔ,ɑ ɔ? ɒ?
DRESS e ɛ ɛ

Potential Diphthongs
Lexical Set RP GA CA
GOAT əʊ o
FLEECE i: i i
GOOSE u: u u

Full dipthongs
Lexical Set RP GA CA

Pre-R Vowels
Lexical Set RP GA CA
NURSE ɜː(r) ɜr ɜr?
START ɑː(r) ɑr ær
NORTH ɔː(r) ɔr ɔr
NEAR ɪə(r) ɪr ɪr
SQUARE eə(r) ɛr er
CURE ʊə(r),ɔː(r) ʊr,ɔr ʊr

Reduced Vowels
Lexical Set RP GA CA
LETTER ə(r) ər ər

All information here is supplemented by the evolution of English vowels throughout English language history.

/e/ and /o/ monophthongs

The vowels in "day" ([deɪ]) and "doe" ([doʊ]) are diphthongs in General American - they are composed of two sounds, gliding smoothly from the first to the second. This was not so in Colonial English, where these were "pure" vowels, or monophthongs (Beal 2002:97). To get the impression, imagine that the final element of the diphthongs in "day" and "doe" were chopped off. This would give us [de] and [do]. .

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
So ˇⱨi piur limpid striim, huen fcɩul uiⱨ steens So the pure and limpid stream, when foul with stains
[...] Riflekts iitի flcɩur ˇⱨat cɩn its bcɩrdɥr groz, [...] Reflects each flower that on its border grows

Benjamin Franklin places and with the rest of the monophthongs. His description of these vowels does not mention any change in the tongue position while making the vowels, and his diphthongs are made with two different vowel letters. (Note that the use of "long/double vowels" is inconsistent in Franklin's orthography.)

o – the first vowel naturally, and deepest sound; requires only to open the mouth, and breathe through it.
cɩ - the next requiring the mouth opened a little, or hollower
a – the next, a little more.
e – The next requires the Tongue to be a little more elevated.


In modern American English, words like "lot," "cot," "odd," "Ron," "bother," etc. have the same vowel as words like "spa," "palm," and "father:" /ɑ/ . This was not the case in Colonial American English, where words like "lot," "cot," "odd," etc. had a vowel that was made with rounded lips: /ɒ/. To try making it yourself, keep your lips round while saying 'spa'.

Words in the second set, such as "spa," "palm," "father", etc. had a different vowel entirely. This means 'father' and 'bother' wouldn't have rhymed! Most dialects of England still preserve this distinction, while old Boston and very old New York dialects are the only American dialects that pronounce them differently.

Krapp (141:144) suggests that turning /ɒ/ into /ɑ/, a process called LOT-unrounding, had already begun by the 18th century, though it was not common and was prescribed against.

We can see an example of this in Franklin's text. Franklin has his vowels in “short/long” pairs. “John” and “folly” have the “short” version of “awl” and “ball.”

Webster says “a in fall has its short sound in folly."

/ɑ/ sound

So what sound did they use in the second set of words above? The broad 'ah' /ɑ/ sound in words like "spa," "palm," "father", etc. does not appear to have existed yet (Grandgent 1899)! Franklin does not dedicate a sound to it in his alphabet, and uses the same symbol for "arm" that he does for "hat." This suggests that all these words had /æ/. This means "arm" would have sounded like [ærm] or [arm] (Krapp :50). Krapp notes that the broad 'ah' /ɑ/ sound was coming into existence and possibly existed as a variant at the time. This means that 'palm' and 'Pam' would have sounded the same in Colonial American English. By the mid 1700s, the /ɑ/ vowels appears to have finally appeared (Grandgent 1899, Wells 1982).

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
Kalm and siriin hi drɥivs ˇⱨi feuriիs blast; Calm and serene he drives the furious blast.

Notice how Franklin uses same vowel for "calm" and "blast."

Unrounded /wa/

Consonants sometimes influence vowels. For example, in modern English, 'war' sounds like 'wore' [wɔr] . Historically, it wasn't always that way - 'war' used to sound like 'wahr' [war] (Beal 2002:127). Over time, the 'w' before the 'a' made people start to pronounce the 'a' lower and back in the mouth, which turned it into [wɔr]. You can see an example of this in Hamilton's poetry, where he rhymes 'arms' with 'warms'. We know this is supposed to be a rhyme because his poem uses AABB rhyme scheme:

If present love [unlegible] face
Deny you to my fond embrace
No joy unmixed my bosom warms
But when my angel’s in my arms.
- Alexander Hamilton

Similarly, the poet Phyllis Wheatley uses AABB rhyme scheme, rhymes "war" with "air". (More information on the pronunciation of "air" can be seen in the "Regional Differences" section below.)

Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign.
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
- Phillis Wheatley

/əi/ vowel

The "i" /aɪ/ sound as in "kite" had a lower starting vowel; Franklin equates it with the vowel in "about." It likely sounded like [əi]. Krapp suggests that there may have been some variability, so that there were some people saying [ai], some saying [ʌi], and some [ɑi] (p189). The last part of the diphthong was also higher than it is today. The colonial realization of this sound was closer to the sound that Shakespeare would have used.

Benjamin Franklin describes that the sound of “i” is actually a diphthong made of the sound he dedicates to ‘uh’ and ‘ee’, so ‘uh-ee’.

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
So huen sɥm Endիel, bɥi divիin kcɩmand, So when some angel, by divine command
Uiⱨ rɥiziŋ tempests իeeks e gilti Land; With rising tempests shakes a guilty land

Notice the same symbol used for "some" and "rising."

/aʊ/ as /ɔu/

The 'au' /aʊ/ sound in 'bout' was formed further back in the mouth compared to today. Franklin uses the symbol that represents either /ɒ/ or /ɔ/ for it, meaning it may have sounded like /ɔu/. This means that 'bout' would have sounded a lot like General American 'boat'.

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
So ˇⱨi piur limpid striim, huen fcɩul uiⱨ steens So the pure and limpid stream, when foul with stains
[...] Riflekts iitի flcɩur ˇⱨat cɩn its bcɩrdɥr groz, [...] Reflects each flower that on its border grows
[...] fcɩr it cɩluaz cɩkɥrz hwen eni refcɩrmeիɥn iz propozed; [...] for it always occurs when any reformation is proposed

The /ɔ/ vowel is used for "foul," "flour," "border," and "always."

LINE-LOIN merger?

Krapp (p197) suggests that the /ɔɪ/ vowel of "choice" was not yet its own distinct category, and would have sounded the same as the vowel of "price," /əi/ . This means "line" and "loin" would both be something like [ləin]. Franklin does not mention the diphthong that today is /ɔɪ/ in his sounds.

SQUARE vowel

Many of the examples shown above give the impression that colonial English was straightforward, but Eighteenth century English was wildly diverse. This can be seen in the fact that I did not assign a single value for the vowel in words like SQUARE /skwɛr/. What is now the modern SQUARE /ɛr/ vowel seems to have been in quite a bit of flux, and could have had a higher realization as /er/ (Krapp:106-107). Franklin does not describe this vowel, although he does provide a transcription for the word "fair" below.

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
And e nu hev’n in its feer Bɥzɥm իoz. And a new heav'n in its fair bosom shows.

Franklin uses in his phonetic spelling, the same value he uses for the vowel of “stains”. This would suggest [er].

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
So ˇⱨi piur limpid striim, huen fcɩul uiⱨ steens So the pure and limpid stream, when foul with stains

This is backed by Wells’s suggestion that the SQUARE vowel of English in both America and Britain was /er/ in 1750 (1982:212).

Note, however, that we have "air" and "war" rhyming in Phyllis Whealey's poem. "tears" and "cares" can be found rhyming in Thomas Jefferson's poem. More information on this pronunciation of SQUARE set words can be found in "Regional Variations."

Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign.
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war, [wær]
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air [ær].
- Phillis Wheatley
Life's visions are vanished, it's dreams are no more.
Dear friends of my bosom, why bathed in tears? [tærz]
I go to my fathers; I welcome the shore,
which crowns all my hopes, or which buries my cares [kærz]
- Thomas Jefferson


Most dialects of General American pronounce words such as "marry," "carrot," and "carriage" with the same vowel sound as in "merry" and "Kerry" - /ɛr/. In Colonial English, "marry," "carrot," "carriage" etc. would have had a different sound: the 'aa' vowel of 'cat'. Observe how Franklin uses the <a> for "carriages [kærɪdɪʒ].

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
and iven dcɩun az lo az rods and huil karidիiz. And even down as low as roads and wheel carriages

CURE vowels

'ur' words like 'you're' and 'pure' consistently had the short 'u' /ʊr/, as in look, /jʊr/ and /pjʊr/. American English is in a process of pronouncing these words with /ɔr/

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
So ˇⱨi piur limpid striim, huen fcɩul uiⱨ steens So the pure and limpid stream, when foul with stains

"pure" spelled 'ur'. Compare with "perform", spelled differently:

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
And, pliiz’d ˇⱨ’ cɩlmɥitis cɩrdɥrs tu pɥrfcɩrm, And, pleas'd th'almighty's orders to perform

HORSE-HOARSE distinction

Words like 'horse' and 'hoarse' were distinct. 'horse' had a /ɔr/ sound, while 'hoarse' would have had a /or/ sound like in "oh" (Wells 1982:212). Nowadays this distinction is almost extinct in General American.

B. Franklin's Phonetic Alphabet Transcribed to modern English
Uɥrds in ˇⱨi kors cɩv tɥim Words in the course of time
And, pliiz’d ˇⱨ’ cɩlmɥitis cɩrdɥrs tu pɥrfcɩrm, And, pleas'd th'almighty's orders to perform

"course" with the mid-height vowel , "perform" with low height .

Lax HAPPY vowel

Nowadays, the final vowel in words like 'happy', 'baby', 'coffee,' etc. is pronounced with the same vowel as in fleece: [i]. In Colonial English, the final vowel in words like 'happy', 'baby', 'coffee', etc. is pronounced with the same vowel as in kit: [ɪ] (Wells 1982:165). Conservative varieties of Received Pronunciation and Southern American English still use this latter pronunciation. This phenomenon is also discussed in my article Oh Babih, Babay.

Example Audio

When you put all these changes together, the end result sounds a lot like how Shakespearean English does when pronounced! It also bears some resemblance to modern Irish English. As an example, I've prepared the following reading of a quote from the Declaration of Independence in Colonial English.

Text IPA
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

wi hold ðiz truθs tu bi sɛlf ɛvɪdɛnt, ðæt ɔl mɛn ær krietɪd ikwəl, ðæt ðe er ɪndɔud bʌi ðer krietər wɪθ sərten ʌnelienəbl rəits, ðæt əməŋ ðiz er lʌif, libərtɪ, ænd ðə pərsut ɔv hæpɪnɛs.

For a little bit of fun, I've also covered the song "My Shot" from the musical "Hamilton," also done in Colonial English. I had originally also planned to do a Colonial English version of a song from the musical "1776," but I could not settle on a song. Perhaps it can be added in a future revision of the article...

I've also added the explicit version as a lyric video on YouTube. The IPA is included here!

Regional Variations

Although British visitors to the colonies noted its "purity" of speech and "lack of idiom or tone", it seems unlikely that everyone in the colonies spoke the same variety. We know that certain parts of the colonies were settled by certain groups. It makes sense that those groups would bring the features of their particular region of Britain to America. Wells (1982) estimates that British English and American English had shared developments until 1750, when both varieties started to develop apart from one another. It also makes sense that, since travel between the colonies was rather difficult and the distance between them rather large, that they would begin to develop separately from each other.

There is some evidence for dialectal division when you look at runaway slave advertisements, which often described slaves on the basis of their accents. We have instances of slaves being identified as being "from Maryland or Virginia," having a "New England accent," and a "West Indies" accent, which suggests that these were distinct and recognizable varieties. Due to the paucity of information on other Colonial English dialectal regions, we're going to be looking at New England and the South.

New England

New England is the best-documented region of the early colonial period with regards to early dialectal variation. There were a lot of documents written by semi-literate people, and their naive spellings show some divergent features (Bailey 2015:29). Such a tradition was not strong in the Middle or Southern colonies, where documents were written in the standard English of the time, so it's harder to determine dialectal variation there (Krapp 1925).

There's evidence for non-rhoticity. It seemed to have existed alongside rhotic pronunciations, with some variation: "horse" was often written "hoss," and "George" was sometimes written "Geoge" (Bailey 2015:40). Bostonian Benjamin Franklin seemed to have used a rhotic pronunciation; his description of the 'r' sound in English in particular suggests a trilled 'r', and he does not drop the 'r' in his transcriptions.

Franklin's transcription does not include a way to represent the sound we now have in "father"; words like "father" rhymed with "gather" and "rather" for him. However, there were signs of what is called TRAP-BATH split in Boston. This means that words like "trap" were pronounced with /æ/ and words like "bath" were pronounced with /ɑ/. It's possible that the broad 'ah' sound was in circulation, but it had not been established as a separate phoneme in all varieties of English (Krapp 1925).

The South

First of all, Southern American accents as we know them did not exist. Many of the features we associate with the South are actually rather recent. For example, pronouncing 'ride' like 'rad' was not something that happened in the 1700s - it probably began in the mid to late 1800s (Bailey 1997,Source 1,Source 2, Labov, 2016). Some other features, like rhyming "pen" and "pin," may have started in the early twentieth century (Brown, 1991). This means an eighteenth century Southern accent would not sound like a twenty-first century Southern accent.

Don't take this to mean that there weren't nascent difference between the South and the rest of the country, though! Many of these differences have simply disappeared since. For example, a lot of words that are pronounced -eer /ir/ in modern English were historically pronounced /ɛr/ or /ær/ (Primer, 1887:90). For example, Thomas Jefferson seemed to rhyme "tear" (salt water from our eyes) with "care," meaning "tear" was likely pronounced something like [tɛr].

Life's visions are vanished, it's dreams are no more.
Dear friends of my bosom, why bathed in tears? [tærz]
I go to my fathers; I welcome the shore,
which crowns all my hopes, or which buries my cares [kærz]
- Thomas Jefferson

It's possible that this feature was also present in some other regions of the colonies. The poet Phyllis Wheatley was born in Africa in 1753, and sold as a slave to Boston merchants. Although her variety of English was probably influenced by Boston, note how she rhymes "war" and "air" in the poem below. Knowing that "war" would have been /wær/ at the time, this means it's likely she pronounced "air" as /ær/.

Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign.
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war, [wær]
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air [ær].
- Phillis Wheatley

There's another phenomenon that is typical of very conservative Southern speech - palatal stops in words like "garden" and "cart" [kɑrt] so that they sound like "gyarden" and "cyart" [cart]. We may not have direct evidence for it in the 1700s, but it seems to have already existed by the 1800s, and is in decline by the 1900s.

We know at some point, big hub cities (most famously Charleston in South Carolina) in the south tended towards non-rhoticity (Mencken). Bailey (2015) reports that Virginians spoke non-rhotically. This feature later became emblematic of coastal Southern speech, and is moribund nowadays.

Words: Morphology, Lexicon, Spelling

Now let's look at everything other than pronunciation. For the most part the morphology, lexicon, and spelling of Colonial English should still be recognizable to the modern American. However, that doesn't mean that you won't find notable differences here! The differences here are a lot less systematic than the sound ones. Some of these differences are mostly used by a single Founding Father, while others are more varied. This simply reflects the fact that Colonial American English was fluctuating and, moreover, not yet standardized.

Negation without Do-Support

Most verbs in English need a "do" if you want to form a negative: "I do not/don't care," "I do not/don't know," "I did not/didn't need..." etc. Only a handful of verbs can form negatives without "do" such as "to be" ("I am not") and, in some varieties of English, "to have" ("I had not"). Making negatives without "do-support" is much more common in the past. "I know not" is still in common use, though now in variation with "I don't know." Occasionally other verbs are also negated with "not" directly.

“The rival you mentioned I know not whether to think formidable or not as there has been so great an opening for him during my absence.” - Thomas Jefferson
I cared not what I did if I could but get away from school, and confess to my shame that I sometimes play’d truant.” - John Adams
“What will be the consequence, I know not.” - John Adams “Yet I had not the same confidence…” - John Adams
"I think we need not fear geting a good price for his Mules when he arrives." - Alexander Hamilton

Non-standard Verb Forms

Standard verb forms are not set in stone (Krapp 261). You'll see the founding fathers use forms that nowadays would be considered non-standard. This is dialectal variation, not an "incorrect" form.

“The rats that had eat” – Thomas Jefferson
“Who told you that I reported you was courting Miss Dandridge and Miss Dangerfeild?” – Thomas Jefferson
“The language in which he sung” – Thomas Jefferson
"In a little more than a Year Mr. Marsh pronounced me fitted for Colledge"- John Adams
"About 10 the sun brake out." - John Adams
"I receiv’d your favour of Decr. 29.2 about 3 or 4 Days after it was wrote." - John Adams
"We cleaned ourselves (to get Rid of the Game we had catched the Night before)" - George Washington

V2 Word Order

V2 word order is a type of word order where the verb must come after the first constituent in a sentence. Modern English does not have V2 word order and instead has Subject-Verb-Object word order, meaning the verb must come after the subject. However, Old and Middle English had V2 word order, which began to disappear over time. There are remnants of this in Early Modern English and Colonial American English.

"At Colledge, a Clowdy morning, and in the afternoon, Came up a Clowd of thunder and lightning." - John Adams
"Whatever deficiencies there may be in them as to that matter, will I hope be supplied by the extract now enclosed." - John Jay

The Modern English versions would be "In the afternoon, a cloud came up of thunder and lightning" and "Whatever deficiencies there may be in them as to that matter, I hope will be supplied by the extract now enclosed."

Passive Ditransitive

A ditransitive verb is a verb that accepts a direct object and an indirect object. For example, in "She sent me a horse" the direct object is "horse," because that is the thing being sent, and the indirect object is "me," because it is the direction of the thing being sent. If we wanted to turn this into a passive construction, we would have to say "A horse was sent to me." However, this "to" does not seem necessary in 1700s English, as shown by John Adams's quote below.

"About three Weeks after commencement in 1755, when I was not yet twenty Years of Age, a horse was sent me from Worcester and a Man to attend me." - John Adams

Subject-to-Object Raising

In a sentence like "John wanted her to leave," it is interesting to note that "her" is not actually the semantic object of "wanted." What John wanted was not "her." What John wanted was her leaving. "Her" is actually the subject of "to leave." Some verbs in English allow for this sort of construction. Nowadays we don't really see this with the verb "to wish," but it seems to have existed in colonial American times.

He wished me to address the assembly” - Thomas Jefferson


One of the more interesting verb differences is that you can find examples of things like "I am come" instead of "I have come." This is preserving a distinction that used to exist in English - the difference between unergative and unaccusative verbs. Unergative verbs are verbs which describe actions that the speaker voluntarily started, like "I ran," "I jumped." Unaccusative verbs are verbs where the subject did not start the action themselves. These are verbs like "John died," "the vase broke," "Mary arrived." These are more like things that happen to the subject. In 1700s English, unaccusative verbs are marked by using "to be" as an auxiliary verb instead of "to have." This means you have examples like "I am fallen," "I am arrived" in the Founding Fathers' texts. This distinction still exists in French: je suis tombe vs j'ai travaille (I fell vs I worked). Nowadays most English speakers will only encounter this construction in the King James Version of the Bible with "Jesus is risen."

“Walker is just arrived.” - Thomas Jefferson
“I am become desirous” - Thomas Jefferson
are now become numerous” -John Adams


The subjunctive form was used a lot more often, especially by Thomas Jefferson. It's worth noting that the founding fathers were learned men, and their writing likely was not an exact reflection of their speech.

“whether the story we read be truth” - Thomas Jefferson
“if the painting be lively” - Thomas Jefferson
“or whether the whole be not fiction” - Thomas Jefferson

Lexical Items

Some words that aren't in currency anymore are still being used at the time, such as methinks.

"It requiring methinks a steady continued Consideration for some Time to become a Master of your Doctrine in all its Parts." - Benjamin Franklin


Spelling was also in flux. Honor vs honour, college vs colledge, public vs publick. This is clearest in the Constitution, where Pennsylvania is spelled "Pensylvania" (one n at the beginning). This isn't Hamilton making a typo - the spelling had not yet been settled. This is especially bad with commas and punctuation. Thomas Jefferson is fond of using commas where nowadays we would prefer a semi-colon or even just a period.

"Well I will shew you what it is to be a Farmer." - John Adams (pronounced ‘shoo’)
"in my own class at Collidge, there were several others," - John Adams
"His inattention to his Schollars was such as gave me a disgust to Schools, to books and to study and I spent my time as idle Children do in making and sailing boats and Ships upon the Ponds and Brooks, in making and flying Kites, in driving hoops, playing marbles, playing Quoits, Wrestling, Swimming, Skaiting and above all in shooting" - John Adams
"At Colledge, a Clowdy morning, and in the afternoon, Came up a Clowd of thunder and lightning." - John Adams


As was noted in the introduction, Colonial American English and eighteenth century English are woefully understudied. There were further points I was interested in researching, but was unable to find sufficient writings for. One was the extent to which dialectal differences from British English dialects affected the formation of Colonial American English. A paper I am unfortunately no longer able to locate suggested that almost all the settlers must have been from Southern England, since all American dialects have the PUT-STRUT split and most Northern English dialects do not. I wanted to include more comparisons to eighteenth century English English, but had to scrap this due to time concerns. A more in-depth study would mention that there were far too many lexical differences to include, and perhaps go more into detail about aspects beyond phonology. Finally, this article focused on just the first half of the 1700s. However, there is evidence that a distinct Colonial American English was already emerging in the 1600s. In other words, anyone interested in expanding on this field has plenty of room to look in.

Colonial American English represents a fascinating point in between Elizabethan English and our modern varieties of English. Although the primary point of this article is to note how American English has changed from colonial times to modern times, there are also many points of comparison with varieties of British English. Some of the distinctions that no longer exist in American English are still being made in Received Pronunciation, and some of the distinctions made in Colonial American English aren't being made at all anywhere! It's a wonderful example of how language is constantly changing. The change is not always radical, but over centuries it adds up so that we don't have an accurate understanding of what the American Founding Fathers would have sounded like in the popular imagination.

Works Cited

  • Bailey, Guy. 1997. When Did Southern American English Begin? In Englishes around the World: Vol.1: General Studies,British Isles,North America: Studies in Honour of Manfred Görlach, edited by Edgar W. Schneider. Amsterdam:John Benjamins.
  • Bailey, Richard W. 2015. Speaking American: a History of English in the United States. Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Beal, Joan C. English Pronunciation in the Eighteenth Century: Thomas Spences Grand Repository of the English Language. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Brown, Vivian R. 1991. "Evolution of the Merger of /I/ and /ε/ before Nasals in Tennessee" in American Speech Vol. 66, No. 3 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 303-315.
  • Labov, William. 2016. "The Beginnings of the Southern Shift" in Linguistic Variation: Confronting Fact and Theory edited by Rena Torres Cacoullos, Nathalie Dion, André Lapierre.
  • Franklin, Benjamin. 1907. The writings of Benjamin Franklin. New York: The Macmillan company.
  • Grandgent, Charles Hall. 1899. "From Franklin to Lowell. A Century of New England Pronunciation." PMLA. Vol. 14, No. 2 (1899), pp. 207-239
  • Krapp, George Philip. 1925. The English Language in America. Century Co.
  • Mencken, Henry Louis. 1919. The American Language.
  • Primer, Sylvester. 1887. Charleston Provincialisms. Transactions and Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America.
  • Wells, John 1982. Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Founding Fathers Materials and Miscellania

August 15, 2018

I'm Back!

It's been a while, but I'm back! And officially able to dedicate more time to Ace Linguist. One thing I've been thinking about is maybe adding more opinion posts. Most of my posts are basically educational and attempting to be informative, but it may be interesting to talk about things that aren't entirely decided yet, or that are just kind of interesting. I enjoy making informative posts, but it's a constraining format at times.

- Karen

July 18, 2018

Dialect Dissection: Ariana Grande

It's time for another entry in the Dialect Dissection series! For those of you who are new, Dialect Dissection is a series of posts I make where I look at a well-known person with interesting pronunciation and grammar and use linguistics to explain why they sound the way they do. Past posts on the series have covered Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey. Since we've got Ariana's 4th album "Sweetener" coming out this year, now is as good a time as ever to discuss her!

A primer: Ariana Grande is a pop singer who got her start in musical theatre - she made her Broadway debut in the 2008 production of the musical "13." She broke into television as Cat Valentine on the musical Nickelodeon show Victorious in 2010. After a series of false starts and a scrapped musical direction, she established herself as an r&b-influenced pop singer with her debut album in 2013. She has since been a radio staple with hits like "Problem," "One Last Time," and "Side To Side."

Unlike our preview Dialect Dissections where we mostly looked at regional pronunciation, this time around we're going to tackle a different topic: why do many people find Ariana Grande hard to understand?


Has It Always Been This Way?

There is a recurring meme that Ariana Grande does not "enunciate" well. However, this meme is relatively new - having followed her career since 2010, I can find few references to her enunciation during her time as a musical theatre performer or on the songs she sang on for "Victorious." Indeed, up until 2013, few people paid attention to Ariana Grande's pronunciation. Her first single "The Way" faced a lawsuit where one of the similarities was "enunciation speed." A review from the New York Times for her album "Yours Truly" mentions her "gospel-singing enunciation" on one of the ballads. This blogger is the first reference I find to her pronunciation: "a little more enunciation would be nice."

Below are some clips of Ariana Grande songs that were recorded prior to 2013. Because these are just for comparison with her stuff from her officially released albums, I am not going to provide transcriptions for them. Some off-the-cuff observations I will make about these are that her voice is less breathy on these songs compared to almost everything that came afterwards, she is singing in a lower range, and her voice sounds less bright.

  • "Slow down, you crazy child - you're so ambitious for a juvenile" - Vienna
  • "Love makes me crazy, restless, dumb, and paranoid, but I'll take a chance on us and hope you don't destroy my heart." - You're My Only Shawty

One Less Problem Without You

You start seeing an increase in references to Ariana's "poor" enunciation come from after 2014. This was when she released her hit single "Problem" off her second album "My Everything." You'll start seeing a lot of articles referencing how many of her songs - including from "Yours Truly" - are "incomprehensible." This trend continues with her 3rd album Dangerous Woman (source) and 4th album Sweetener (source). It seems that "Problem," which was her biggest hit at the time of its release, brought more attention to her and was considered particularly hard to understand, which was then applied both retroactively to her past material and which hung over her on her future releases.

Rarely do any articles go into detail about what, exactly, makes her "incomprehensible." References to "slurring" are common, but most examples just try to guess whatever she's saying in a humorous way. We're going to go into individual lines and use phonetics to investigate what might be making her harder to understand. The following examples have been selected because they are unusual compared to her spoken English dialect. That is to say, she doesn't use these pronunciations in her spoken speech, so they are specific to her sung speech. They are also not examples of regional pronunciations - although some of these pronunciations exist in some accents, there is no accent that has all of these, nor does it seem likely that Ariana Grande is trying to imitate these accents.

We're going to format the below as such: audio files of Ariana will show her singing the problematic line once at normal speed, and then once slowed down to make it clearer what the unusual pronunciation is. The transcriptions will include both ad hoc spellings (e.g. "budda") and International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions ([bʌɾə]). There may also be a discussion of what is going on.

  • Unexpected flapping. In America English, there are certain situations where you can turn a 't' into a flapped sound (e.g. better). If the 't' is right before an 'r', we do not expect flapping to happen. And yet she seems to be doing it here, probably because she's inserted another 'uh' after the 't'.
    • "Budda [bʌɾə] right here" (but /bʌt/ right here) - Almost Is Never Enough.
    • "The words don't ever come ouddaright [aʊɹə raɪ]" (out right /aʊt raɪt/) - Baby I
    • "Making sweeta [swiɹə] love" (sweet /swit/) - Hands On Me
  • Final consonant deletion/lenition: Ariana Grande often drops the final consonant of a word. If she doesn't straight up drop it, she may replace it with a glottal stop or just not release it.
    • "The words don't ever come out rie [raɪ]" (right /raɪt/) - Baby I
    • "Is it luh [lʌ]" (is it love /lʌv/) - Leave Me Lonely
  • Medial consonant deletion/gemination: This is a complicated one, but she often deletes consonants in the middle of a word. Sometimes she doubles the next consonant. If the consonant is an "n", she's likely to just nasalize the vowel instead, so "finally" becomes "fa-lly".
    • "Now you fa-lly [faɪlɪ] tell me how you feel" (finally /faɪnali/) - You'll Never Know
    • "When I try to explain it, I be sounding issane [ɪs:eɪn]" (insane /ɪnseɪn/) - Baby I
    • "When so easily you say gubbai [gʊb:aɪ]" (goodbye /gʊdbaɪ/) - Leave Me Lonely
  • Epenthesis: Ariana adds a schwa ("uh" sound) in the middle of a consonant cluster.
    • "Head in the c-louds [kəlaʊdz]" (clouds /klaʊdz/) - Problem.
  • L-vocalization: she pronounces syllabic or consonant-final /l/ as /w/.
    • "If it's even possibou [posibow]" (possible /possible/) - Baby I
    • "I've been living with devils and angews /eɪndʒewz/" (angels /eɪndʒelz/) - Why Try
  • Unusual vowel values. She often reduces or changes vowel values to something that you would not expect in General American.
    • "Ain't got no tihs [tɪz] left to cry" (ain't got no tears /tɪəz/ left to cry) - No Tears Left To Cry
    • "When I try to explain it, I be sonding /soʊndɪŋ/ insane" (sounding /saʊndɪŋ/) - Baby I

Any one of these individually wouldn't make her unintelligible, but when you have so many of these alterations in a song, the risk of unintelligibility starts increasing. Song is a special environment - your vocal cords are working harder than they do when you're speaking, you don't have prosody to help you out, lyrics are often subject to poetic license which makes their meaning harder to understand, and context is harder to get. This makes song a volatile environment where the more you encounter unexpected sounds, the likelier it is you will misunderstand what the singer meant to say.

Remember that Ariana Grande's pronunciation is quite different when she's speaking normally, so it's restricted to her singing. Not all singers are equally easy or hard to understand - musical theatre performers are expected to articulate for the audience because songs in musical theatre often advance the plot and understanding them is important. Ariana has a musical theatre background, having performed in 13, so what is going on?

Part of the reason appears to be tongue tension. You will find voice students and teachers mentioning that Ariana's vocal technique involves a lot of tongue tension (1, 2, 3, 4). Tongue tension, among other things, affects phonation: "The powerful musculature of the tongue exerts pressure down on top of the vocal folds, and in turn affects their mobility which will make general phonation, singing or speaking, not only sound strange, but feel strained."

One of the big reasons that Ariana may be pronouncing word is that she is changing their syllable structure. Let's say C stands for consonant and V stands for vowel. The changes seem to be trying to make words fit into a CVCV syllable structure, with as few consonant clusters as possible and eliminating final consonants. This is why she inserts an 'uh' sounds in "butta right" - the consonant cluster resulting from "but right" changes from CVCCVC to CVCVCVC. Adding the 'uh' broke up the series of consonants. The gemination also simplifies a consonant cluster from two different sounds to two of the same sound. L-vocalization and final consonant deletion result in the coda, or last part of a syllable, being a vowel instead of a consonant: CVC becomes CV. Consonant clusters tend to be harder for singers to sing, so Ariana's singing register involves changing and opening up the syllable structure - often resulting in the listener not knowing how to "put it back together," so to speak.

Regional Pronunciation

Image of Ariana Grande with fan Ryan Keelan @ryankeelen at the Florida Panthers game

The following features have nothing to do with her enunciation, but are interesting examples of Ariana using some regional pronunciations. Ariana Grande is from South Florida, which is not a dialectally marked region. The only major dialectal features I notice from her are the cot-caught merger, which is becoming more and more common across the United States and therefore less noteworthy, and a use of 'clear' /l/ at the beginning of syllables.

  • cot-caught merger. Unlike dialects of English like British English and New York English, which use a low vowel in words like "caught," "ball," and "law," Ariana uses the same vowel as "spa" for all of these. This is called the "cot-caught merger" and is spreading all over the United States so that some speakers are unaware that anyone even pronounces "caught" with a different vowel! Notice how she rhymes "doll" with "all," which does not happen in non-merging accents. (And per the main songwriter Jason Robert Brown, she changed "about seven words," so perhaps this was her handiwork!)
    • "I'm no blow-up doll, no free for all [ɑl]" - Jason's Song (Gave It Away)
  • Clear L at the beginning of syllables. It is increasingly common in American English for all instances of the sound 'l' to be pronounced "dark", with the back of the tongue held high. The older pronunciation of this is for "l" at the start of a syllable to be pronounced "clear", with the back of the tongue held low. This is still common in the American South and regions with lots of Spanish speakers. Ariana uses clear "l" frequently - listen to all the "l" sounds in "leave me lonely."
    • "Leave me lonely" - Leave Me Lonely

Ariana loves r&b. To this end, she imitates certain features of African American Vernacular English.

  • ai-monophthongization. We've talked about how this is a Southern feature in the Taylor Swift article, but it's also a feature of African American English. ai-monophthongization is basically standard in the register of pop singing at this point in history.
    • "Be ma, be ma, be ma, be ma, be ma [ma] baby" - Be My Baby
  • lax-happy. This is another standard feature of the pop register. Read this article for a more in-depth look at this pronunciation.
    • "Greedy [gridɪ], ooh!" - Greedy
  • feel-fill merger: she sometimes pronounces 'eel' [il] as 'ill' [ɪl]. This means that "feelings" ends up sounding like "fillings." This merger is common in the South and in AAE.
    • "Our fillings [fɪlɪnz] will show" (feelings /filɪnz/) - Almost Is Never Enough

Now That We've Become Who We Really Are

Ultimately, Ariana's career has been impressive, despite these accusations. From television to radio, she's become a pop music staple and delivered great hits. Some speculate that her pronunciations may even be part of her charm, since they certainly don't seem to be hurting her sales. Whatever the case, her musical career has moved forward. Perhaps what really matters is her remarkable voice - and those Max Martin productions!

July 5, 2018

7-5 Blog Update

I've been doing a lot of work on future articles for the blog, and yet I cannot share them with you because they are not quite ready. Nevertheless, I'm just letting you all know that we've got both big and small articles coming for you all. I'm especially excited about one that I've been working on for a year and a half at this point. Oh yeah, that's how you know it's a big one. It's outside of the regular scope of a Dialect Dissection, but it's also pretty original. At the very least, I can tell you I have had a lot of trouble finding all this information anywhere else, which is why I had to put it together. The other big article is a regular Dialect Dissection that I will probably end up posting first.
I've seen some people linking to Ace Linguist from other websites and it makes me quite happy to see that a lot of people find this content helpful or interesting. Special thanks to the Lana fans that linked to me a week ago!
One thing I've been thinking about is changing the color scheme and layout of the site. I dislike that you cannot see the social media links in the mobile version, and I would like to add a link to be able to see stuff like the About section, and a list of all the articles I've written. The color scheme was fun at first, but it seems a bit too common nowadays, as well as perhaps not the mood I want for the blog. If you see the site layout mutate over the week, don't worry - it's me messing around.
- Karen

UPDATE: What's that?

It's in the mobile, too!

The sidebar has finally made its way to the mobile website! And what's more, now there's some extra navigation in there. About links you to the about page, which you've seen before. All Articles links to, well, all the articles written for the website, with a short description. It's intended to make it easier for you to find an article you've already read, or find a new one you want to read without having to trawl through the archives.

This was all done with no breaking of the desktop or mobile site... I'm quite happy about that. The color update will come another time.

- Karen

June 27, 2018

Classical Pig Latin

Have you ever heard someone say something like "ix-nay on the alking-way"? If so, you've heard some Pig Latin! Pig Latin is an argot or a language game. An argot is a modification of a language made to make it uninterpretable to outsiders. Pig Latin is a simple argot popular among English-speaking children.

The rules of Pig Latin are fairly simple:

  1. If a word starts with one or more consonants, take that consonant cluster and move it to the end of the word. Then add -ay to that consonant cluster. Examples: "pig" has the 'p' removed and moved to the back, then 'ay' is added: "ig-pay." "Strong" becomes "ong-stray."
  2. Otherwise, add "ay" to the end of the word. Example: "animal" does not start with a consonant, so it becomes "animal-ay."

You could actually boil this down to one rule: move any initial consonants to the end, and then add "ay." If there are no consonants, then there is nothing to move.

The simplicity of Pig Latin undoubtedly contributes to its popularity among children and even adults when they want to hide something. If you can't imagine a use by adults, think about a dog that recognizes the word "walk" to mean "we're going for a walk." The dog's owner wants to talk about going for a walk, but without exciting the dog. The dog's owner can say, "I think today's a good time to for an alk-way."

There are more complicated argots. One famous argot is Cockney rhyming slang. This is used among lower class Londoners speaking the Cockney dialect. Unlike Pig Latin, the rules for Cockney rhyming slang are irregular. You can vaguely boil them down to this:

  1. Take the word that you want to obscure and find a phrase that rhymes with it. For example, if you want to say stairs, you could rhyme it with "apples and pears."
  2. For maximum obscurity, remove the rhyming element from the phrase. In our example, we're left with "apples" as the slang for "stairs."

Cryptographically speaking, this is a lot harder to crack! If you hear someone say "take the apples," there's no way to be able to tell that they are referring to stairs unless the context makes it 100% clear. This means that you need to be on the inside from the beginning to understand Cockney rhyming slang.

Now I'm going to be honest - the entire point of this blog post on Pig Latin and argot was actually to show off my Pig Latin "translator". If you enter a sentence, it will translate it into Pig Latin. Check it out over here!

There's an annoyance when it comes to dealing with silent letters. For example, "honor" is pronounced /ɒnər/, no "h", in English. However, in writing, "onor-ay" is not quite as easy to decipher. Could you do "onor-hay" or "honor-ay"? Moreover, in American English the "h" in "herb" is silent, but it is pronounced in British English. The program makes no distinction and will treat initial-h like any other consonant. Perhaps a future iteration of the Pig Latin translator will be able to tell if a word has a silent 'h' in the beginning!

June 20, 2018

Where are the British Accents?

"People lose their accent when singing!" Have you ever heard someone say that? Here's the thing... it's a little bit nonsensical. Country music is an entire genre made by people with regional accents and whose regional accents can be heard. African American English speakers' accents can be heard (note not all Black Americans speak AAVE, so remember the distinction is for Black Americans who speak AAVE). how can someone ignore these?

What people really mean when they say people "lose their accent" is referring to the inability to tell that a singer is English from a song. Song is apparently a magical property that makes accents disappear (though only some accents, since Southern and AAVE accents are apparently unaffected).

The reality is that many British singers purposefully change their accents when singing. Listen to the One Direction boys:

Liam Payne confesses that bosses at record label Syco (owned by Simon Cowell) encourage them to nurture their inner Yank. He says: “I don’t think you can really sing in a British accent. I think it’s a bit hard and sometimes a bit forced. Singing is an imitation at the end of the day, it’s the way you put things across.”
Louis Tomlinson, 19, from Doncaster, “I think in certain music genres you can really tell when people are British, but in pop it’s not as easy to get it across.”
Harry Styles, 19: "I have a theory... I think it’s all on who you grew up listening to and who your parents listened to. So when you sing, you’re singing along with them. I think you just apply that and you have that idea of singing.”
Louis agrees: “It’s what music you sang in the shower and what you listened to when you were young.”
Zayn, 20, “What Makes You Beautiful would sound more indie with a British accent.”

Zayn's comment about "What Makes you Beautiful" sounding "more indie" with a British accent is interesting. There does not appear to be the same restriction on accents in indie music as there is in pop music, which demands either General American or a modified AAVE. You can find punk bands and indie rock bands (The Ting Tings) where the singer clearly has a British accent. Louis Tomlinson's solo material (Miss You) shows his regional English accent clearly. This should be enough to disprove the notion that singing neutralizes a British accent, because we can hear examples of it.

So why do so many British singers try to sound American? Has it always been this way? British rock and roll bands from the 1960s tend to do their best imitation of AAVE. These bands were hugely succesful and influential on future British musicians, who would listen to those same records and try to get the same sound. In this way there is a period of time where mainstream British artists downplayed their accent or copied another one.

In the 80s you had Kate Bush, who sang with her British accent. The Human League had a big hit with "Don't You Want Me."

Nowadays it seems more common - though still not universal - for British singers to keep their accents, or at least *a* British accent. Ellie Goulding sings in an English accent, but she used to have a different accent. Florence Welch keeps many notably English pronunciations (Kiss with a fist). Perhaps this is due to the increasing prominence of indie music. it's no longer bizarre to hear British accents in pop or rock music. British accents can even be found in rap. After decades of being ignored, British accents may yet return to pop music.

June 15, 2018

6-11 recap

The month of June has not been kind to this blog. As you can imagine, being in a full-time program trying to execute a career change takes up quite a bit of time! However, I'm not going to ignore this blog. That's why I'm uploading a short little article on Wednesday. I won't be able to update weekly for the time being, but I do want to remind my audience that I'm here and that this site is still active and being worked on.

On some non-blog news, I've recently gotten into podcasts as a result of a long commute. If you're interested in a linguistics podcast, I recommend checking out Lingthusiasm. It's fun and accessible to anyone. The episode I checked out was about the concept of "untranslatable words," which is an interesting one. If you're stuck in traffic, try it out! I'm also going to read the second book in Ada Palmer's Terra Nova series soon, "The Seven Surrenders." The first one talked a lot about language in society, so I'm expecting the second one to develop that further.

Thank you all for sticking with the blog. The regular schedule will return before long!

- Karen

May 30, 2018

Blog Update

I have some exciting personal news - I am now a full-time student studying programming! I'm very excited to be on this career path, not least because I've spent years messing around with HTML and CSS and being interested in programming but convinced that it was "too late" for me to start. (Note: it is not too late to learn programming; you don't have to be a 12-year-old genius to learn new things.) Part of the course involves HTML and CSS and I am already planning on using that to spruce up the site.

Now the flipside to this new knowledge is that the update schedule is going to be affected. Normally I posted Wednesdays, but recently I've been having some problems being able to post exactly on Wednesdays. Since my schedule is pretty intense now, I will have to be more flexible with the schedule. This means that I might post on Thursdays or Fridays instead of Wednesdays, or may end up taking more than a week to post and end up posting on Monday instead. If it's been too long, I will post an update to let you know that yes, this blog is alive and kicking.

I look forward to continuing with you all into this second half of the year and further developing this blog into a space for linguistics enthusiasts online.

- Karen