February 13, 2019

Got the World on a Shtring - S-retraction

Been a while since I've done a quick little article like this! This one is inspired by an interesting trends I'd noticed in speech. I've had it pointed out to me that 1970s disco singer Andy Gibb pronounces the word "string" as "shtring". Gibb was born in England and lived in both Australia and England as a child.

"Open up that heaven in your heart and let me be the things you are to me, and not some puppet on a shtring." - I Just Want to be Your Everything, Flowing Rivers (1977)

I noticed it again when Todd Motto, a front-end web developer from England, used this pronunciation frequently in his Angular material. He also uses it on the word "string":

"...This creates the base base element. Then we have template inside a shtring - we all love shtrings..." - Todd Motto

It's not s before any particular consonant cluster - it's a consonant cluster with /tr/. I asked the #lingtwitter community on Twitter if anyone had any familiarity with this pronunciation. Thankfully, they pulled through! This phenomenon is called s-retraction. It is called that because before the /tr/ cluster, the tongue is pulling back - retracting, which results in a "sh" sound instead. A similar thing happens in Standard German.

Although I had thought that s-retraction happened mostly in England, it was actually more widespread than I had expected. Several American responders noted it in their own speech. S-retraction does not seem to be a very notable feature for most people; unlike other stigmatized or notable linguistic features like ai-monophthongization, I have never encountered any jokes or prescriptivism regarding "shtring." Perhaps it may become more common in the future, and one day English will have a similar pattern of s-retraction as German does. I myself do not have any s-retraction in my own speech.

If you are interested in further reading regarding s-retraction, here are some papers regarding s-retraction in English. Note that these papers are written in academic English and assume a prior familiarity with the research, so they may be challenging to read if you have never read any linguistics papers before. Thanks to @drswissmiss, @ergodos1, @ajroyerR, and @funalogist for their assistance in finding these articles!

January 1, 2019

Happy New Year, 2019!

Happy New Year, y'all! First of all, obligatory plug for the latest Dialect Dissection - this time on Lady Gaga!

I was looking at everything that's happened in 2018 and I'm truly, honestly floored at the response Ace Linguist has gotten. When I started the whole Dialect Dissection thing, I had no idea if anyone outside of a handful of linguists would be interested in long articles about phonetics in music. I was scared of pigeonholing myself and that it was too narrow a topic for anyone to be into it. I am so happy that you all proved me wrong.

Although I've mostly written about dialectology, phonology, and phonetics, I would like to expand to other fields of linguistics. The idea behind Ace Linguist was originally to just write about any topic that you could apply linguistics to, which is a nice enough idea but (a) has already been done by many other blogs and (b) I did not have the energy to follow. I briefly tried a "clickbait" approach to my titles, too. Hot takes aren't really my strength. Narrowing it to "dialectology applied to musicians with light media criticism" has helped me focus, but I'm hoping to expand the idea. The Founding Fathers article was a first step towards that, dipping into historical linguistics and tackling syntax and lexicology in addition to phonology. It also was not about a pop musician - win-win!

Figuring out the best way to run this site has been a true trial by fire, as anyone who looks at old blog updates will see ("updates two times a week!" "updates weekly!" "updates monthly!"), and 2018 being a transition year in my personal life hasn't really helped (hello, summer). It's definitely easy for me to get carried away with things I can imagine doing and then promise to do them "soon" on the site. One thing I am proud of is that I did post every month, even if it was just a blog update. Having learned my lesson about promising things, I am not going to commit to some strict schedule and instead I am going to say that I'm constantly working on new stuff for the site, even if it doesn't always follow the most convenient schedule.

With all that being said, once again, a big thank you to all the readers of Ace Linguist out there. I appreciate that you used a little bit of your time to read about linguistics, and honored that this site was a part of it. Here's to a great 2019!

- Karen