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December 18, 2019

General Blog Update

I hope you've all enjoyed the HURRY-FURRY post as much as I enjoyed compiling it. It's kind of remarkable how despite being a systematic change that results in a noticeable change between modern General American accents and older American ones (not to mention non-American ones), I've never heard a layman talk about it. I wonder whether dialect coaches for American actors doing English parts teach them this distinction. If not, they could always learn from this page. ;)

I've been wanting to do some 'recommendations' for pages I find interesting. There aren't that many sites about linguistics that are interesting to both laymen and linguists, so it's a real joy to find some. In that spirit, I'd like to share the following blogs which are new to me, and which will hopefully be of interest to you as well.

Geoff Lindsay is a dialect coach who writes about curiosities in English varieties on his website, English Speech Services. I enjoyed this recent post on whether Meghan Markle is acquiring more British-like intonation, and the history of the fall-rise intonation in English English. He has some other very interesting posts, and I encourage you to check them out!

Lisa Loves Linguistics is a site looking at the sociolinguistics of pop music, much like this site! She has a focus on Caribbean Englishes and how they're used to construct identity in a globalized pop context. If you're a fan of Rihanna, she's done some posts about that, too.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to the following two blogs. They are unfortunately defunct, but they have nevertheless been excellent informative sources for me and were quite inspirational in my own journey to start a linguistics blog.

Dialect Blog was run by Ben T. Smith, who became interested in dialects through his work as an actor. The site was briefly down for a month in 2019, which utterly broke my heart! Thankfully, it's back now. For a sample post, check out this one on the origin of pirate English.

John Wells's phonetic blog is the aptly named blog about phonetics run by phonetician John Wells. He wrote 'Accents of English', one of the books I constantly cite. I recommend this post on dark vs light l in English.

There are many more wonderful linguistics blogs to share, but I'd like to make this a semi-recurring post so as not to dump every blog that's ever crossed my fancy on you. There's plenty of time to recommend more linguistics blogs. And if you have one that you'd like to recommend, I would love to hear about it!

- Karen

December 16, 2019

The HURRY-FURRY merger

If you've spent your whole life only speaking one dialect, it can be utterly mind-blowing to know that there are dialects out there that make totally different distinctions that you were not even aware were possible. I speak a mostly uninteresting variety of General American that mostly corresponds to that hegemonic variety you find on television, with a few minor diversions from it. Learning about different mergers and sound changes that happened in English is one of my favorite parts, and I'd like to share some fun accidents of English language history with you all.

Today let's take a look at something that I am sure my American visitors and English visitors will diverge sharply on, and that is whether the words "hurry" and "furry" rhyme. The majority of my American visitors will likely say that they do rhyme, while my English visitors will say there is no way they could rhyme. (I count myself among the former.)

Canadian readers will likely side with the Americans on this one, while Australian and New Zealand readers may side with our English and British readers. If you're from South Africa, Nigeria, India, Singapore, or any other part of the world where English is spoken as a national language in addition to another language, I would like to hear how you treat these two words!

Americans and Canadians may ask, "how can you pronounce these two differently?" And the answer is that "hurry" will be pronounced with an 'uh'[ʌ] vowel instead of an 'er' vowel. Imagine saying 'huh' and then 're' afterwards, and you will approximate how 'hurry' sounds in those dialects: [hʌri]. In broad North American English, they will instead collapse into an 'err' sound.

If you'd like a comparison of how these two sound, listen to these clips. The first one is from a speaker who says 'huh-ry'.

A h[ʌ]rry up affair

The second one is from a speaker who says 'herr-y.'

A h[ɝ]rry up affair

How to tell HURRY and FURRY words apart

'Hurry' is not the only word that has this pronunciation. 'Murray,' 'courage', 'worry', 'turret', 'curry', are just some of the examples of words that have the 'uh' + 'r' sequence in them. You'll notice that these are all multisyllable words. That's in English phonology, 'uh' /ʌ/ is a 'checked vowel' and cannot appear stressed at the end of a word. (Depending on whether you consider the 'uh' in strut and the 'uh' in comma to be the same vowel, the explanation for this varies. Take this as a sort of broad explanation that will work for most cases as opposed to a definitive phonological theory that is valid for every single variety of English.)

Meanwhile, words with 'er' /ɜr/ can be one-syllable words: fur, her, nerd, word. And if you add a suffix to them, the 'er' doesn't change: fur-ry [fɜri], nerd-y, word-y.

So if you're a North American who is distressed to find out that their English accent impersonation is subpar due to missing this essential distinction, how can you learn to distinguish them? English spelling can give us clues. One hint that a word might be an 'uh' /ʌ/ word is that it is spelled with a '(o)ur(r)' and has a vowel after it. If we know our multisyllable rule, we know that a hypothetical word 'lur' cannot be a candidate for being an 'uh' word, but a word 'lurry' might.

You can also remember that 'er' words don't become 'uh' words if you add suffixes to them - if you recognize that a word like 'furry' comes from 'fur', which has an 'er' sound, you'll realize that even though it has the 'urr' spelling, it's not an 'uh' /ʌ/ word.

When it comes to phonological rules, though, English likes to throw exceptions at us. For example, you may expect the word 'furrier' meaning 'a person who sells furs' to be an 'uh' word. But it is actually pronounced 'fuh-rier' [fʌriər], even though it comes from 'fur.' To make it more confusing, the word 'furrier' [fɜriər] which means 'more furry' is actually an 'er' word!

The unfortunate reality is that although looking at spelling helps, in the long run you simply have to memorize the 'uh r' words if you did not grow up hearing them.

Meanwhile, if you're from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, or any other non-North American English speaking area, and you want to imitate a General American accent, your task is simpler. Just replace all 'uhr + vowel' words with 'err' and you're set! Make sure you use a rhotic 'err'.

Not all American dialects have this merger. Older dialects of New York Metropolitan English, Boston English, and Coastal Southern American English may have the distinction. Keep this in mind if you're doing an older American actor or a period piece from earlier in the century. And there are more conservative General American dialects that keep the distinction, too. Just consider the age and period of the character and piece.

Why did this merger happen?

Let's take a look at the dialects that have the HURRY-FURRY distinction:

  • Most (all?) English English dialects
  • Scottish English
  • Irish English
  • Australian English
  • New Zealand English
  • At least some varieties of Indian English
  • Conservative New York English
  • Conservative new England English
  • Conservative Coastal Southern English
  • Conservative General American

And the dialects that have the merger...

  • Most General American
  • Most Canadian English
  • Inland Southern American English
  • Western and California English
  • Midwest English

The dialects that do not have the merger are non-rhotic (majority of English English dialects, Australian/New Zealand English, conservative New York/New England/Coastal American), and the rhotic ones either do not have r-colored vowels (Scottish English and Indian English) or have very lightly r-colored vowels (General American English, Irish English). R-coloring is when a vowel is pronounced seemingly at the same time as an 'r' sound, with the 'r' appearing at the end. Meanwhile, dialects with the merger have noticeable r-coloring on vowels.

R-coloring causes vowels to trend towards sound like 'er' [ɝ]. In dialects that have strong 'r' coloring, there are a lot of mergers that happen before 'r's that do not happen in other dialects (another example marry-merry-mary merger and 'cure' sounding like 'kyer').

The 'r' itself isn't the problem - Scottish and Irish English are rhotic accents that preserve the distinction. The problem is the nature of the 'r', and how that 'r' ends up strongly attached to other vowels. It's also hard to make a lot of fine-grained distinctions when you have strong 'r' coloring - try it yourself, combining vowels with an 'r'. In a sense, r-coloring is contagious!

What are some examples of this sound in the wild?

Because the HURRY-FURRY distinction was still relatively common at the beginning of the century, when sound recording was beginning to take off, we can find some early examples of HURRY-FURRY distinction in Americans.

From 1933, Brooklyn-born singer/actor Mae West gives us one of our earliest examples in her song 'A Guy What Takes His Time':

A h[ʌ]rry up affair

In 1953, South Carolina's Eartha Kitt gives us another 'huhry' example:

So h[ʌ]rry down the chimney tonight

A male ensemble member in the track 'Orphan in the Snow' from the musical Celebration (1969) gives us 'huhry' as well:

So huhry huhry huhry huhry huhry little orphan boy

Finding 21st century examples of American youths saying 'huhry' is more challenging. The closest I've ever found is the way Meghan Trainor, who is from New England, says 'encourage' in her song "No." But she doesn't use this pronunciation on other 'uhr' words like 'worry', and perhaps it's really just an 'eur' instead?

How you let your friends enc[ʌ]rage (?) you

Yeah my mama she told me don't w[ɝ]rry about your size

Finding examples of English English speakers with the distinction is easier. Listen to how Prince Charles says 'encouragement':

Fun fact - there are actually not as many 'ehry' words as I would have expected, and I had a harder time finding examples of 'furry' or other 'er' + vowel words. Thankfully, my search results found that there is a British community of 'furries' on YouTube, which is useful to provide a counter to the 'uhr' above:

'It has come to my attention that the f[ɜ]rry scene in the United States is a hell of a lot different than the f[ɜ]rry scene in the United Kingdom... they list f[ɜ]rry as their occupation ... f[ɜ]rry in name only.'

Some speakers of English English aren't aware that Americans merge 'hurry' and 'furry'. Even if they try to Americanize their accent for whatever reason, they still continue using 'huhry.' Here's an example from the English-Irish band One Direction, with their song 'Back For You' from Take Me Home (2012).

You don't have to w[ʌ]rry

In dialects of Northern English English where all 'uh' words are pronounced with a short 'u' vowel, you can actually see this affect 'hurry' words so that they sound like 'hoory.' Listen to the below football commentator from North England say 'wurrying' for 'worrying.'

They avoided the press quite c[ʊ]mfortably... Is this now the w[ʊ]rrying time for Liverpool fans?

In an unusual twist, I've found an example of an American who uses a short 'oo' in an 'uhr' word. Dinah Washington, who was born 1924 in Alabama but raised in Chicago, Illinois, pronounces 'flurry' as 'floory' in her 1961 recording of 'Mad About The Boy.' Any ideas what's going on here?

Who's in the fl[ʊ]rry of her first affair

What does the merger sound like?

The Andrews Sisters were an American trio. The youngest sister was born in 1918 in Minnesota (the American Midwest), meaning they probably finished acquiring their native language by 1930. If you compare their 'worry' to the 'er' they use in 'cure' and 'hearse,' you can tell that it's not quite the same sound. But it's not a distinct 'uh ri' like Mae West uses in 'A Guy What Takes His Time.' Perhaps this is an example of the merger in progress? The following song was recorded 1952.

if you start to w[ʌ]rry, you can order the h[ɝ]rse... So why w[ɜ]rry? Why w[ɜ]rry? W[ɜ]rry gets you nowhere at all!

A clearer example of a merged 'uhr' vowel can be found in child singer Shirley Temple. Shirley was born in 1928 in Santa Monica, California. Shirley was 7 years old when she starred in The Littlest Rebel (1935) and she's clearly using an 'err' vowel for the song "Polly Wolly Doodle."

If you think you're gonna w[ɝ]rry, you can stop it in a h[ɝ]rry

That someone as young as Shirley was used the merged vowel means it was possibly already done by the time she started acquiring language. California therefore would be very likely to have had the merger at the beginning of the century.

Another Californian example is the Beach Boys. Their song "Don't Worry Baby" (1964) clearly uses an 'er' vowel. (Also, am I crazy or does Brian Wilson, the lead, use a rounded, fronted 'er' in general? He always sounds like he's trying to say a short 'oo' and an 'r' at the same time.)

Don't w[ɝ]rry baby

Halsey is from New Jersey, and uses a 'her' vowel in 'hurricane.

I'm Halsey and this is h[ɝ]rricane... I'm a h[ɝ]rricane

Even new Yorkers have lost this distinction. Cardi B, who is from the Bronx, has reduced 'worry' to 'werr' entirely, showing how the 'r' colored vowel spreads.

Hectic, don't w[ɝ]rr 'bout what's on my left wrist

Modern hip-hop and rap uses the HURRY-FURRY merger clearly. Canadian singer Drake's 2013 hit "Started From The Bottom" shows a clear example of an 'er'y 'worry':

I'mma w[ɝ]rry 'bout me

How do other languages and ESOL speakers deal with English loan words?

The question of which variety of English gets used as the basis for second language instruction is usually related to what region you're in. In North America, you are likely to find American English as the basis due to the United States being the most prominent English speaking power. In Europe, you are more likely to find English English being used as the basis due to the United Kingdom being the most prominent English speaking power nearby. But it's not always as simple as that.

One fun example is ABBA, the Swedish pop band from the 1970s. The Swedish National Agency for Education, or Skolverket, has historically explicitly taught British English as the default (see page 3, background to research). American English was not taught until 1994 (source). This means the members of ABBA almost certainly experienced British-centric English education.

But the variety of English they use in their music has some noticeable American flavor. The way they say 'chance' in 'Take a chance on me', as a dipthongized 'kean', is distinguishably American - among other features. How do they treat the 'uhr' words? Well, inconsistently. In 'Take A Chance On Me', 'worry' and 'hurry' have an 'er'-like sound in them. But in 'If It Wasn't For The Nights,' the word 'courage' has an [a]-like-sound (which is as close as they ever get to the American 'uh', which does not exist in Swedish). And in 'When All Is Said And Done,' 'hurry' is also pronounced with an [a] sound (the same vowel they use in 'done').

I'm no h[ɝ]rry ... you don't have to w[ɝ]rry ... I'd have c[a?]rage left to fight... There's no h[a]ry anymore when all is said and d[a]ne

How about Japanese, which has a number of English loanwords? Both American and British English have historically influenced Japanese. But when using the katakana syllabary to represent the sounds of English words, it bends towards British English, and this is seen in the difference between 'furry' and 'hurry'.

'Furry' is ファーリー (faarii). This matches with how the 'er' sound is usually transliterated into Japanese, with a long 'aa' sound. Meanwhile 'hurry' ハリー (harii) is transliterated with a short 'a' sound, as is used to represent the 'uh' sound. In a hypothetical Japanese English, you could have a length-based HURRY-FURRY distinction! (source)

You can see a similar transliteration distinction in Russian, where the 'uh' word 'curry' becomes карри 'karri', while the 'er' word 'girlfriend' becomes гёрлфренд 'gyorlfrend'.

Let's wrap this section up with an example from a Latin American Spanish speaker. Shakira was born in Colombia. In her song "Timor," you can hear that she uses an American-ish 'er'-like vowel in 'hurry' and 'worry'.

if they forget about us, then h[e]rry, if we forget about 'em, don't w[e]rry, if they forget about us, then h[e]rry


Do you merge HURRY and FURRY, or are they distinct to you? Perhaps you only have a partial merger? If you speak English as a second language, were you taught to pronounce these words differently? As always, I would love to see new examples.


Another example of a strange realization of a HURRY word: Christina Aguilera seems to realize "worry" to rhyme with hoary! She's from Staten Island, New York City, but moved around a lot as a child.

December 9, 2019

General Update

EDIT: Updated clips for HURRY-FURRY Merger article!

I haven't done one of these subject-less update posts in a while and figured I may as well do one, so here we are!

I've been enjoying the more informal, quicker-to-produce posts like 'Stop in the name of affrication' and 'Dialect borrowing and confusion'. Being able to use YouTube clips makes it easier to put out these articles while still having readers know what I'm talking about.

I do usually add my own sound clips afterwards, since YouTube's copyright mechanisms make sharing content across borders unpredictable, but being able to have the initial 'YouTube only' version is great for getting thoughts out. Writing long articles with tons of research is enjoyable but tiring, and these mini-observational ones are a great middle ground.

In that vein, I've been thinking of doing a little series on some phonological changes that are happening in the English language. One of my 'gateway drugs', so to speak, into linguistics was the Wikipedia page on English sound changes. Unfortunately, those tend to not have any audio samples. They also don't really talk about when these sound changes occur. And if you're not already intensely interested in linguistics, the discussion on phonology may seem intimidating.

I've already started preparing some examples for some sound changes in English language history (HURRY-FURRY merger, COT-CAUGHT merger, PIN-PEN merger, MARY-MERRY-MARRY merger). They won't be meticulously researched, but they will have an abundance of examples. I think it'll be quite fun! And it could help future 'long posts' as well, because now when I talk about a certain merger, I can give the quick and dirty definition, but still link to the full version on the site.

Don't take this to mean that there won't be any more Dialect Dissections! I've just felt a bit burned out since there are at least 3 that I've been working on that are absolutely enormous in scope. Having these small pages is a way to keep adding interesting content that can help put the DiDis (as I abbreviate them mentally) in context.

New post very soon!

- Karen

November 19, 2019

Stop-Affrication, or Stop, In The Name of Affricates!

I have spoken about glide affrication before - the process that makes "y" sound like "j" and "w" sound like "v." But did you know there's also affrication of stops in English? It makes "t" sound like "ts" and "d" sound like "dz." It can also make "k" sound like "khhh" and "p" like "pf".

What causes stop affrication? Well, it's a natural result of 'lengthening' a stop. A stop, by definition, is when a bunch of air builds up behind part of your mouth and is then suddenly released, causing a 'pop' sound. How can you lengthen this release of air? You can't, but you can continue pushing air from the lungs through, which causes a friction - hence affriccation. You can think of it like a stop combined with a fricative that's formed at the same part of the mouth.

Wells's Accents of English associates this sort of affrication with Cockney English speakers. But I've found examples of it across different dialectal regions. Like S-retraction, it seems to be a change that has developed multiple times in different places.

From New York City - musicians as distinct as Latin pop singer Ricky Martin and j-pop singer Utada Hikaru have d-affrication. Utada's example is especially song. (I recommend headphones to be able to hear the frication more clearly compared to the music.)

Her lips are dzevil red

The dzaily things

Billy Joel also has t-affrication at the end of a word:

If that's what it's all abouts, mama if that's movin' up, then I'm movin' outs... mmm I'm movin' outs.

Over in California, Disney Channel child actress Emily Osment (from Hannah Montana) has some dramatic d-affrication:

Dzoesn't matter what you say, I'm knockin' you dzown, dzown, dzown

And in Texas, fellow Disney Channel alum and singer Demi Lovato has some d-affrication, though not consistently (audio slowed down):

Are you kidding me? I'm so not a dziva

In the Midwest, the lead singer of the rock band Fallout Boy, Patrick Stump, frequently uses affrication in his music. Sometimes it's from lengthening the consonant. Compare the 'k' in 'mistakhhh' to the simply released 'k' in 'take':

And just one mistakhh is all it will take

Stump also seems to display a curious case of p-affrication where 'proof' sounds like 'pfroof' (at least, the official lyrics are 'proof'). This has led multiple fans and lyrics sites to mistakenly hear the lyric as "frozen fruit."

And here's the frozen pfroof

Some of these examples seem to result from attempting to 'extend' a stop consonant (Stump's "mistakkhe"). Some might result due to being near a front vowel, like Demi Lovato's "dziva." This sort of affrication before front vowels also happens in Canadian French (audio slowed down):

La fondation Celine Dzion

A similar thing happens in Russian. In Russian, oral stops that are palatalized (pronounced with the tongue raised, as if prepared for a 'yuh' [j] sound) also have some frication (source.

Affrication can progress even further to become lenition, so that the 'stop' component disappears completely. In Liverpool English, this can result in 'khh' simple sounding like a sharp 'hhh' [x]. The following clip was originally found via Dialect Blog and shows the [x] appearing in Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard's speech.

Every player is loohing (looking) forward

I have [dz] as an allophone of /d/ in my speech. I especially have it at the beginning of a syllable, not at the end. Do you have any stop-affrication? What about stop-lenition? Are there any other examples you are familiar with, cross-dialectally or cross-linguistically?

October 28, 2019

Dialect Dissection: Britney Spears

It's fair to say that Britney Spears is one of the defining pop icons from the 2000s. From the moment she smashed her way into our hearts with "...Baby One More Time," she's been delivering hits and controversy. Perhaps her most distinguishing feature is her croaky voice, which has been discussed by news outlets and fan pages alike.

Most people aren't aware that her linguistic uniqueness goes beyond the rasp. Britney Spears is a veritable vocal experimenter, playing with vowels and consonants to create a different sound on each album. She's also a Southern American with a knack for switching between radio-perfect Standard English and down-home Southern inflections. Britney's work shows a keen sociolinguistic awareness of speaking a regional dialect - she knows when to let it go and when to hold back.

In this Dialect Dissection, we're going to take a closer look at Britney's work to figure out what makes her sound so distinctive - and why she does it.

Southern Accent

Britney grew up in Kentwood, Louisiana, a rural town with a population of 2205 in the year 2000 (per the US census). Although Britney does not have the most dramatic features of a Southern accent (no 'drawl'), her spoken speech shows that she has some Southern features. Listen to how she says "two," "five," and "ten" in particular.

Tew [tʉ], three, four, fav [fav], six, seven, eight, nan [nan], tin [tɪn], [...] twenty [twɪni]

In her interviews, she often conceals these features - a fact her fans have noticed. But Britney is also able to switch between a General American-sounding accent and a Southern one. Her Southern accent becomes more pronounced when she's with her family, as can be seen in the below clip where she talks to/about her family. It's also very pronounced when she's talking to her assistant, Felicia Culotta (who also appears to be Southern). In other words, her Southern accent most appears around people she trusts.

..."I'm surprased, I'm surprised ... this is my sister, Jamie Leean..."

There's also an exchange between Britney and Felicia, where Britney teases Felicia about using a short "u" sound in "poor" (so it sounds like "poo-er." Most Americans and English English speakers have merged "pour" and "poor" so that they sound like "pore" with an "o" sound, but some Southerners still pronounce them differently. Britney is aware that using a merged vowel is more standard, and also points out the similarity to "poo." This shows that Britney is aware of how Southern English is perceived by non-Southerners and which features may be prone to mockery.

(at 26:07) Felicia: Remember we were poo-r.

Britney: She said poo-er! [laughter] It's pore!

Felicia: I said pore!

Britney: Poo-er!

Felicia: [laughter] We were pore.

Chuck Klosterman, who interviewed her for Esquire magazine, noticed how Britney was marketed on the basis of both her sexuality and her Southern-ness. He writes about the extent he believes her celebrity life has resulted in her being disconnected from a sense of normality, but also notes how Britney flips between accents when annoyed. If she mostly uses her Southern accent in the company of people she trusts, like her family and her personal assistant, perhaps her switching away from it is a revocation of that intimacy in an interview.

After I [interviewed Spears for Esquire], people kept asking me, ‘What is she really like?’ My answer was usually, ‘I don’t know, and I don’t think she does, either.’ […]

Her management team directed so much emphasis toward turning her into an unsophisticated semi-redneck that she now has no idea what is normal what is marketing. [...]

That said, I did notice that her Southern accent always seemed to mysteriously disappear whenever she became annoyed with my questions. Maybe she’s the blond Machiavelli.”

Why might Britney switch so often between varieties, and why does she use General American so often that fans aren't even aware that she has a Southern accent? Southern accents in the United States have a complicated perception. They can be considered 'uneducated' or 'cute', but rarely 'normal.' By mostly staying in a General American accent, Britney can avoid the harsh stereotyping that Southern accents are subject to. From Slade and Narro (2002):

On the other hand, the shocking actions of Britney Spears often put the South in a negative light. From the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana, Spears has portrayed the “white trash” inferiority Portwood-Stacer examines - marketing herself “with a kind of trashy sexuality, enacted in a celebrity culture of high fashion and unfathomable wealth.” In the study, Portwood-Stacer notes in her short and cataclysmic show with Kevin Federline that depicted their lives as a young, famous and married couple, Spears often falls from her “cutesy Southern accent into a twangy Louisiana drawl.” Cute? Twangy? Would successful professionals like their speech labeled as cute or twangy? Even Southerners question their speech as being accepted.

If Britney is particular about who gets to hear her Southern accent, her music has plenty of Southern features. This isn't unusual, since the features of Southern English overlap with African American Vernacular English, and both Southern and AAV English have been heavily imitated in popular music. But Britney likes to exaggerate these features. Combined with her light, sweet tone, her use of Southern features ends up creating a definitive sound for her.

If you would like to skip the in-depth audio samples and go straight to the discussion, click here to get to the good stuff.

  • Pin-pen merger: Most English dialects differentiate the the vowels in 'dress' [ɛ] and 'kit' [ɪ] when they appear before 'n' and 'm'. This means 'pin' /pɪn/ 🔊 and 'pen' /pɛn/ 🔊 sound different. In Southern accents, they sound the same, so 'pen' and 'pin' both sound like 'pin' ([pɪn]), and 'hem' and 'him' both sound like 'him' ([hɪm]) (Source). Britney often uses the merged vowel here, as she does in speech. However, she does not always merge them - she uses both "spind" and "spend" in her song "Thinking About You."
    • “I spind [spɪnd] my days ... and for us there is no ind [ɪnd] in sight ... each day that I spend [spɛnd] around you" - Thinking about you, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • “This letter that I’ve sint [sɪnt] a hundred times” - Email My Heart, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • "Now I hold him at attintion [ətɪnʃən] cuz new Britney's on a mission" - Toy Soldiers, Blackout (2007)
  • GOOSE-fronting. /u/ 🔊 → [ʉ] 🔊 : Normally for the long 'oo' vowel (in goose or true), the tongue is in the back: [u]. Southern accents move the tongue forward in the mouth so it sounds kind of like 'ew' [ʉ] (Source). Britney's fronted 'oo' vowel is one of her most imitated characteristics.
    • "The reason I breathe is yew [jʉ]" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • “I'm a slave for yew [jʉ]” - Slave 4 U, Britney (2003)
    • “If you want me to believe it's trew [trʉ]” - Don’t let me be the last to know, Oops! ... I Did It Again (2000)
    • "But no way I'm never gonna fall for yew [jʉ] ... never yew [jʉ], baby" - Womanizer, Circus (2008)
  • GOAT-centering. The 'oh' vowel in words like 'know' and 'go' is usually pronounced as [oʊ], with the first half of it starting in the back of the mouth. Modern Southern accents pronounce it [əʊ], with the first half starting in the center of the mouth. This is another characteristic Britney feature. One commenter on New Britneyology says "I always found the way she said/sang O very distinctive and Britneyish," and poster Karenannanina comes at it from a singing perspective: "[in her first album] we get early glimpses of sounds she has always had problems with and has never been able to 'sing out'. These are the 'o' sounds in 'supposed' and 'know.'" (Source)
    • "How was I supposed to know [nəʊ]" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • “Move slow [sləʊ]” - Sometimes, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • “Oh, but Cinderella's got to go [gəʊ]” - Cinderella, Britney (2001)
    • "I'm simply sick and tired of theuse [ðəʊz]" - Toy Soldiers, Blackout (2007)
  • COT-CAUGHT distinction - while most young Americans (especially Californians) rhyme "cot" and "caught" [kɑt]. Britney Spears does not. She distinguishes it by having words like CAUGHT with an o-like vowel like in "core," resulting in [kɔt]. (Britney sometimes uses the merger, perhaps to sound more Californian.)
    • “The day we cried, Autumn [ɔɾəm] goodbye” - Autumn Goodbye, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • "Life doesn't al-ways [ɔlweɪz] go my way" - Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman, Britney (2001)
    • "You had caught [kɔt] my eye and I wanted" - (I Got That) Boom Boom, In The Zone (2003)
    • "Even when we're up against the wall [wɔl] - "Gimme More", Blackout (2007)
  • LOT-CLOTH split - In most varieties of English English and American English, "on" and "Don" have the same vowel. In Southern English, however, "on" can have the same vowel as "door" or "dawn," resulting in [ɔn]. Britney uses this o-like vowel in words like "on" and "strong." Fans have also noticed this as a Britney pronunciation, but they have not connected it to Southern accents before.
    • "And the beat goes ohn [ɔn]" - The Beat Goes On, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • "What I like, what I wont [wɔnt] and what I don't" - Overprotected, Britney (2001)
    • "Please forgive me if I'm coming on too strong [strɔŋ] ... they're playin' my favorite song [sɔŋ]" - Hold It Against Me, Femme Fatale (2011)
    • "I got what you wont [wɔnt] - What You Need, Glory (2016)
  • FACE-lowering. In most American accents, words like 'baby' and 'say' are pronounced with a vowel that's high in the front of the mouth, [eɪ]. Southern accents use a vowel that's lower down in the mouth, resulting in [ɛɪ]. No imitation of "oh baby baby" is complete without some FACE-lowering.
    • "Oh baby baby [bɛɪbɪ]" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • "I'm like a fire, bottle busting in your face [fɛɪs]" - Toy Soldier, Blackout (2008)
    • "Oh bayby bayby bayby [bɛɪbɪ]" - If U Seek Amy, Circus (2009)
  • Light l/dark l contrast - many varieties of American English use a dark l [ɫ] in all positions, with the back of the tongue raised towards the back of the mouth. A light l [l], in contrast, is made by gently tapping the tip of the tongue against the front of the mouth without raising the back of the tongue. Southern American English uses a light [l] at the beginning of syllables and a dark [ɫ] at the end of syllables.
    • "I still believe [bɪliv]" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • "She's so lucky [laki]" - Lucky, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
    • "Not this time because I realize [riəlaɪz]" - Lonely, Britney (2001)
  • STRUT-fronting. /ʌ/ 🔊 → [ɜ] 🔊 : The 'uh' vowel as in bug, luck, strut, etc., sounds like [ɜ] or [ə], a sound similar to British 'er'. It is higher in the mouth (Source).
    • "Before we rurn [rɜn]" - One Kiss From You, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
    • "I lurv [lɜv] rock and roll" - I Love Rock and Roll, Britney (2001)
    • "I’ve had enurf [ɪnɜf]” - Cinderella, Britney (2001)
  • FEEL-FILL merger. This results in the sound 'eel' /il/ being pronounced as 'ill' [ɪl], so that "feel" [fil] 🔊 ends up sounding exactly like "fill" [fɪl] 🔊. Britney pronounces "feel" not with the vowel "ee", but as "fill," with the vowel sound "ih".
    • "Fillins [fɪlɪns]" - When Your Eyes Say It, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
    • "Why am I so rill [rɪl]" - My Prerogative, Greatest Hits: My Prerogative (2004)
    • “My heart, it feels [fɪlz] so safe, You are my melody” - That's Where You Take Me, Britney (2001)
  • MARRY-MERRY distinction. Britney pronounces words like "paradise" with the vowel of "mat" [mæt], resulting in something like "maarry" [mæri] 🔊. Meanwhile words like "merry" and "fairy" are pronounced with the vowel of "met" [mɛt], resulting in "meh-ri" [mɛri] 🔊. Most Americans do not distinguish between -arry/-erry words and pronounce them the same, as -erry. Meanwhile, British English speakers have a three way distinction between MARRY, MERRY, and MARY - one more distinction than Britney.
    • “From the ashes rise a glimpse of paradise [pærədaɪs]" - When I found you, Britney (2001)
    • “I don't believe in fairy [fɛri] tales” - Cinderella, Britney (2001)
    • “From the first kisses to the very [vɛri] last rose” - From the Bottom of my Broken Heart, ...Baby One More Time (1999)

Britney's Dialectal Awareness

Britney Spears would not be the first singer to use a more Southern/African-American Vernacular influenced dialect in her sung speech while using a different accent when speaking. What is interesting is that it seems Britney was not always so comfortable using Southern American English in her music. As an example, let's look at aɪ-monophthongization, which is where vowels like "I" start sounding more like "ah." It is one of the most distinctive parts of Southern English. Britney's first album, ...Baby One More Time, has a remarkably low usage of aɪ-monophthongization. The blogger Karenannanina notices as such:

In fact, contrary to many assumptions – and I have been as guilty as anybody – at the start of her career her singing was rather mannered, with self-consciously “correct” pronunciation. On the BOMT album, the “i” sounds as in “time” and “sign”, are sung open-mouthed and open-throated and not rendered as “tahm” and “sahn”. The way she delivers “time” and “find” in From the bottom of my broken heart is quite startling.

You can hear the exaggerated "ai" diphthong in the following clip. There is barely any focus on the "a" part and instead a lot of stress on the "i" part. It sounds almost purposefully constructed to be the opposite of the Southern "ah."

Britney seems to be able to switch between a Southern and a General American accent, so she is bi-accent-al. Moreover, she seems aware of the stigmatization of Southern accents. Her decision to not use aɪ-monophthongization on her first album could be to avoid sounding "uneducated" or "low class."

Note that this doesn't really apply to the rest of the Southern features that she uses. As an anecdote, most people I've spoken to associate a Southern accent with a 'drawl' or with aɪ-monopthongization. Features like the FEEL-FILL merger, the DON-DAWN distinction, and GOAT centering tend to go unnoticed. A lot of Britney fans don't even relate GOAT centering to Southernness but as a "Britneyish" mode of singing." See the following quotes from "New Britneyology", which relates GOAT-centering and the DON-DAWN distinction to a failure to "sing out." A fan, Sucker Pnch, also considers the GOAT-centering to be a Britney feature:

On the other hand, we get early glimpses of sounds she has always had problems with and has never been able to “sing out”. These are the “o” sounds in “supposed” and “know”, and even more so in “born”, “on”, “wrong” and “along”, which have always been Britney’s biggest weakness. - Karen Annanina

I always found the way she said/sang O very distinctive and Britneyish - Sucker Pnch

Britney therefore shows interesting dialectal awareness on her album where she uses plenty of common Southern features, except for the most well known one. Once her status as a star was assured, she seemed comfortable using aɪ-monophthongization freely on her songs. She abandons her efforts to sound "neutral" on Oops! ...I Did It Again and beyond.

The media reaction to her Southern-ness

That a Southerner might feel self conscious using aɪ-monophthongization is curious when you consider the number of singers who use aɪ-monophthongization freely such as the Beatles, Grand Funk Railroad, and Iggy Azalea. They can imitate speakers of aɪ-monophthongizing dialects (in other words, African Americans who speak AAVE and working class White Southerners) and reap the benefits of sounding "soulful" and "authentic." Meanwhile, AAVE speakers and speakers of Southern English are aware of how stigmatized this feature is.

Plenty of African-Americans and white Southerners use the feature in their music anyway, as can be seen in genres like the blues, country music, r&b, Southern rock, and hip-hop. But those wanting to seem more 'neutral' may suppress it because, unlike Northern American and English speakers, they are scrutinized more harshly and subject to class and race-based attacks. Detractors of Britney often mock her by using slurs and stereotypes against working class whites:

"I'm convinced she's an inbred hick," writes one Britney-hater on an Internet chat site, while another declares, "Well, what can you expect from her parents? (in a southern Hick accent) 'Gosh golly, ma dawters so a purrrty (Isa bees fangkin' cousin Henry for the inbred genes) . . . HYuk Hyuk! *snort*!'" "Britney Spears," writes one who intends to succinctly dismiss the whole matter, "herself is from Louisiana, she is a hillbilly." (Campbell 2001)

Cambell's 2001 paper "I'm Just a Louisiana Girl: The Southern World of Britney Spears" deals at length with Britney's Southern identity and how both her marketing team and the press used it to different ends. At the beginning of her career, when she was marketed as a sweet, young girl (who was frequently asked about her virginity), she was able to portray herself as a "Southern belle." But as her image became raunchier and more sexualized in an adult way, she was no longer able to maintain that image and she was instead increasingly castigated for being "white trash." Is it a coincidence that her more sexualized image in "Oops! ...I Did It Again" and "Britney" coincided with her increasing usage of Southern features? (It's also worth noting that this is the portion of her career when Britney began working with more African-American producers and music, a predecessor to singers like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift using AAVE for their 'edgy' periods.)

The tabloids had a field day with this. Certain parodies of Britney Spears honed in on the "Southern" part. Mad TV liked drawing on the "stupid Southerner" stereotype. The "I'm-a wiser" skit employed an exaggerated Southern accent (as seen below) while the "My Predicament" skit simply had the lyric "I'm gonna flash with all this cash - I cannot hide, that I was born white trash."

"Look I'm naked in the sauna! And I still can't really sing, bay-by ... a happy end for this white trash cinderella ... my hair's red now, y'all! ...And leave my bray-n and bay-bies at the door... look at y'all just pretend that I'm the girl from 'oops, I did it agin!' ... Hey y'all, did you like my sawng? I'm nay-kid!

Ballads remain neutral

Another curious aspect of Britney's dialectal awareness is how she treats ballads or otherwise 'sentimental' songs. She uses a lot of exaggerated features on fun songs, be they upbeat or slinky. But she tones the features down on her ballads, where she strives to sound more General American. Think about how the ballad "From The Bottom of my Broken Heart" had an exaggerated "ai" diphthong, sounding almost like a parody of General American.

I'll mention my subjective experience here - singers are more likely to use an accent perceived as neutral on ballads than on other types of songs. Perhaps it's the same way there's a distinction between how the use of accents in motion picture is associated with comedy, while supposedly 'serious' actors in dramas don't do accents. The idea is that the use of regional accents would detract from the emotional weight of the work (or that accents are too high risk to imitate and can easily end up sounding silly or offensively bad). A similar logic seems to be at work in music, where singers strive to sound more 'neutral' on ballads. Despite this, Britney still uses creaky voice on ballads, which shows that she considers it to be a vocal technique as opposed to part of an accent or dialect.

Creaky voice

Britney did not invent creaky voice. Even clear-voiced clean-cut singers like Karen Carpenter from the 70s have been using creaky voice selectively. Karen Carpenter likes using creaky voice to suggest a sort of emotional intimacy with the listener. (We'll use a tilde ~ to mark creaky voice in this section.)

"~Or am I really lying here..." - I Just Fall In Love Again, Carpenters

Britney took creaky voice to a new level, using it liberally throughout songs. When used on her ballads, the creaky voice suggested the same kind of vulnerability that Karen Carpenter used decades before. But her creaky voice also made helped her with a more sensual sound - Rami Yacoub, co-producer of the album ...Baby, One More Time, said "With N' Sync and the Backstreet Boys, we had to push for that mid-nasal voice. When Britney did that, she got this kind of raspy, sexy voice." While creaky voice is often maligned nowadays, Britney's singing style was clearly enormously successful considering the amount of records she sold and imitators she spawned.

Britney's use of creaky voice is neither random nor formulaic - it is intentional and situationally-dependent. She tends to use creaky voice either to lead into a word (as in "E-Mail My Heart" and "Oops! I Did It Again"), or to finish a word on a lighter note (as in "Gimme More"). The creaky voice works both on ballady songs like "E-Mail My Heart" and contemporary pop like "Oops! I Did It Again." Her use of creaky voice on "Oops! I Did It Again" is especially nuanced as she goes from creaky voice to modal voice on the phrase "oh baby," back into creaky voice to finish it off, and then fades back into the last "oh." Try it out for yourself - slipping in and out of creaky voice smoothly is tougher than it seems.

  • "~Oh baby baby, ~I shouldn't have let you go" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
  • “~I can see you ~in my mind” - E-Mail My Heart, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
  • "But to lose ~all my senses, ~that~ is just so typically me, ~oh, Baby~, ~oh” - Oops! ...I Did It Again, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
  • "Cameras are flashing while we’re~ dirty dancing" - Gimme More, Blackout (2007)
  • She can also use creaky voice for an entire phrase, as in "Me Against the Music," to add sonic texture to a phrase - note that the example on "Me Against the Music" is layered under a melodic phrase.

  • "All the people in this crowd grab a partner take it down" - Me Against the Music, In the Zone (2003)
  • Britney-isms and other Miscellanea

    I mentioned in the "Creaky Voice" section around three sentences ago that Britney's use of creaky voice is "neither random nor formulaic - it is intentional and situationally-dependent." The same applies generally to her approach to each track. She noticeably likes experimenting with different voices. She may start using a feature on one track and then use its opposite on the next one. Some are found just on one album, while others seem to be favorites she likes using often ("babay").

    These features aren't necessarily from copying an accent. They're more like an actor trying different approaches to the same character. The result is that listening to a Britney performance on one album may sound different from a Britney performance on another, despite her ultimately staying in a relatively conservative vocal range and using pitch-correction software in later albums.

    One of the fun things about listening to the discography for this project was hearing Britney use all sorts of creative features. From the point of view of a researcher, I would be frustrated that she only used a feature a handful of times. But from the point of view of a listener, I found her playfulness and creativity delightful. It goes to show that you don't have to have a five-octave vocal range to be an engaging vocalist. Experimenting and having fun can be just as effective in connecting with listeners.

    • HAPPY-breaking. The 'ee' sound at the end of a word becomes 'ey'. Although Britney is not the first singer to use this, she has become one of the codifiers of this accent trope by using it heavily in the 90s and 2000s.
      • "You can't take your pretty eyes away from may [meɪ]" - Sometimes, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • "Finallay [faɪnəleɪ] ... what we had is historay [hɪstoreɪ]" - Don't Go Knocking On My Door, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
      • "You want a piece of may [meɪ]" - Piece of Me, Blackout (2007)
      • "I might be a little hazay [hæɪzæɪ]" - Hold It Against Me, Femme Fatale (2011)
    • NURSE/SQUARE lowering. Britney often uses a variable vowel in words with an r-colored vowel.
      • "I will be thar [ðær] " - I Will be There, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • "Early marnin' [manɪn] she wakes up" - Lucky, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
      • "Like them city boys from New Yark [jɑk] ‘ - Toy Soldier, Blackout (2007)
    • L-vocalization. This is when the 'l' at the end of a word sounds more like a 'w', so "well" sounds like "wew.'
      • "I kiw [kiw] the lights" - Kill The Lights, Circus (2008)
      • "I used to be your girlfriend and I know I did it wew [wæw]" - Cinderella, Britney (2001)
    • [a] diphthongs becomes centered. This is another one that sounds similar to a technique pop singers use because it is easier to 'sing on' the schwa vowel. She uses this one mostly on her first album "...Baby One More Time." To my ear, it sounds like she's trying to make her voice sound deeper and more "adult."
      • "And say our love will never duh-ee [dəi] and I, I know you're uh-ut [əʊt] there" - Email My Heart, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • “A clever way to get ba-uh-ee [baəi]” - Soda Pop, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • “Taking time is what love's all aba-uh-ut [əbaəʊt]” - From the bottom of my broken heart, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • “Hold you ta-uh-it [taəit]” 3:09 - From the bottom of my broken heart, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
    • KIT and FLEECE changing places. On Blackout, Britney pronounces 'eek' as 'ick' on words like 'freak' and 'sneak.' I haven't encountered this pronunciation on other Britney albums, so it seems like she was playing with language on this album. Meanwhile on Circus, you have the opposite: she pronounces 'ill' with a long 'ee' vowel.
      • "Frick show, frick show [frɪk]" - Freakshow, Blackout (2007)
      • "Or snick [snɪk] away to the Philippines" - Piece of Me, Blackout (2007)
      • "Are you steal [stil] in my bed?" - Shattered Glass, Circus (2008)
      • "I kiw [kiw] the lights" - Kill The Lights, Circus (2008)
    • DRESS-raising. Words like 'dress' are pronounced with a higher vowel. Although this is also a feature of Southern English, I have included it here because it subjectively sounds similar to a technique singers use where they raise mid-low vowels to mid-high vowels to 'sound better.'
      • "My loneline-ss [loʊnlines] is killing me" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • “You used to say that I was spe-cial [speʃəl]” - What u see (is what u get), Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
      • "But to lose all my se-nse-s [sensez]" - Oops! ... I Did It Again, Oops! ...I Did It Again (2000)
      • "I want it more than e-ver [evə] now" - Toy Soldier, Blackout (2007)
    • Monophthongs. These might be copped from Caribbean English, and there are many Caribbean English speakers in r&b and hip-hop. Britney has been influenced by r&b and hip-hop before, so this is likely the source.
      • "Don’t you kno [no] that you’re toxic" - Toxic, In The Zone (2003)
      • "o [o] you’re a womanizer, baby" - Womanizer, Circus (2007)
      • "But you kno [no] i’m just your type" - Hold It Against Me, Femme Fatale (2011)
    • Opposite to the above, Britney sometimes pronounces DRESS vowels lower than normal so that they approach the TRAP vowel. This sounds similar to the California Shift. Britney has imitated a 'bratty' Valley Girl in her music before, which illustrates her comfort with borrowing from this dialect.
      • "I used to be your girlfriend and I know I did it wæl [wæw]" - Cinderella, Britney (2001)
      • "It's not the way I planned et [ɛt]" - ...Baby One More Time, ...Baby One More Time (1999)
      • "Sink or swem [swɛm]" - When I Found You, Britney (2001)


    The rise and fall of one of the twenty-first century's musical icons had everyone saying "gimme more." Every aspect of Britney's life was scrutinized. When she uses a British accent, it's noted. Fans were shocked to find out that a number of vocals on Britney Jean seemed to come from her backup singer. Her use of creaky voice and otherwise non-standard vowel space made her the subject of derision and imitation.

    We can also see the consequences of failing to stay inside an approved box. Because Britney wanted to expand beyond the 'sweet little girl' angle and explore more sexual themes, both the media and the general public felt free to rip her apart and mock her origins. It does not matter how neutral she sounded on her first album - they were more than happy to call her a hick all the same. Britney may have been rich, but the attacks themselves were classist. As we've discussed in other articles, nobody should have to be mocked for the way they speak or where they are from. Britney may have had problematic behaviors, but mocking her origins does nothing but reinforced prejudiced attitudes towards Southerners.

    Despite the controversy, she still put out some great pop records. Britney has never truly been duplicated, though many a record label has tried. Her influence is still felt throughout the industry as the archetype of the young pop star gone awry. But even in her dark moments, her records remained full of a playful approach to language and music. Britney cultivated a recognizable style not by slavishly following the Standard, but by playing at the margins of it. She had no qualms about using a pronunciation for one album and abandoning it the next - while her imitators were still copying her creaky voice and "oh" vowels, she was experimenting with "snicking" to the Philippines.

    This article only scratches the surface of Britney's unique musico-lect. If you like Britney Spears and know just a little linguistics, you can expand on some of the phenomena discussed above. The New Britneyology post shows how valuable laymen approaches to music and linguistics can be. There's still a lot to cover that I just can't squeeze into this article without it becoming (even) longer. I hope there will be some more writing on this in the future from fans.

    Works Cited

    October 17, 2019

    What is the singing equivalent of "speech"?

    The word 'speech' can mean 'manner of speaking.' This is useful when talking about "analyzing's someone speech." However, there is no equivalent single word for 'manner of singing.' I suppose you could use 'song,' as in "analyzing someone's song," but that doesn't sound right. I've used roundabout descriptions before like "vocal style" and "singing style," but these have a connotation of analyzing the musical qualities of song as opposed to the linguistic qualities.

    I have thought about simply coining a new term, such as "songspeech." This would make it easy to say "John uses this pronunciation in his speech, but a different one in his songspeech." But "songspeech" appears (rarely) as a translation of the operatic term "sprechstimme" and refers to a style half between singing and speaking, which is not what I'm talking about at all. (1, 2, 3). There is also "SongSpeech," used in 1970 to refer to "the singing of old and new political songs." Although these terms are rare enough that I could attempt to co-opt them, I would rather not risk confusion.

    There's the classic "borrow from another language." Or perhaps just borrow one word. "Songsprache" came to mind, but apparently it means "song language" as in, "a language that is suited for singing." Not what I was looking for either. The one that really works is "canto," from Spanish meaning "singing." But alas, canto has a different meaning in English. What about 'chant'? That one, much like 'cant', also refers to speaking. I suppose cantus is free, but must we go to the Latin straight away? It always sounds a little pretentious to dig up Latin words and use them willy-nilly in English.

    Perhaps there is no one word-alternative to "speech." No simple or elegant way to say "in his speech as in his [songspeech/cantus], John likes rounded vowels." And even if you try using the more unwieldy "in his speech as in his song/manner of singing," it doesn't seem to point at what I want to point. "His song," by force of habit, seems to point to a single work, to an actual song, as opposed to a pattern of singing. If I, the person writing this, find it ambiguous, I can't imagine it would be any clearer for those reading it.

    Luckily, a kind Redditor introduced me to the contrasting terms spoken speech versus sung speech. They are a little strange at first blush, since "spoken speech" seems redundant. But if you encounter both in quick succession, I think it clears up instantly, and one gets used to it right away. I have taken to using spoken and sung speech as descriptors in my articles since being introduced to the term.

    Even better, there is precedence for the terms sung and spoken speech in academic journals. Some examples:

    Allophonic variation in spoken and sung speech
    Music and Speech Perception in Children Using Sung Speech
    The effect of sung speech on socio-communicative responsiveness in children with autism spectrum disorders

    It seems more popular in speech pathology than in traditional linguistics; perhaps because most phoneticians and phonologists study spoken speech almost exclusively, while use of sung speech for therapeutic reasons is currently being investigated by speech pathologists and other therapists. Nevertheless, it is exciting to know that this term is already in currency and that you can use it to look up other articles.

    Do you have any particular feelings about "sung speech" and "spoken speech" as distinctive terms? Have you come across them before? Are you familiar with any other alternatives?

    October 14, 2019


    The [ʒ] sound has long been complicated to indicate in English. Found in words like 'leisure' and 'genre,' it has no commonly agreed upon spelling representation. 'Zh' (perhaps by analogy with 'sh'?) is common (and, to my eyes, sensical), being found in romanizations of Russian and Mandarin, as well as the name 'Quenvanzhane.'

    Unfortunately, 'zh' does not have the best recognition. I remember being confused when the character 'Zhao' in Avatar: The Last Airbender was pronounced 'Zao.'

    When it comes to casual shortenings of words like 'cas(ual)' and 'us(ual)', the spellings can become even more erratic. And the spelling of 'zhuzh' [ʒʊʒ], a word meaning to make fabulous, isn't agreed upon yet - you can find 'zhoozh', 'zhuj,' 'jooj,' and other variants.

    All that being said, the following spelling(s) of 'zh' have truly caught my eye for total lack of consistency:

    While TOMS has “tszujed” its designs up since its initial introduction, innovative style and design has never been a brand hallmark.

    The 'j' for final [ʒ] isn't uncommon in laymen descriptions (see 'caj' for 'cazh'). The 'z' doesn't even surprise me, as 's', 'z', 'j', and 'h' are often bundled together in a haphazard attempt to capture the sound. But 'tsz' truly leaves me speechless. Is 'tsz' a representation of [ʒ] in some language I'm not aware of? Why the 't'? And much to my surprise, it's not all that new either. There's an Urban Dictionary entry from 2005 with the helpful tidbit:

    "It is very hard to pronounce, and even harder to spell, many times often misspelled 'jujj' or 'jooj'. Pronounced "zhuj", by the way."

    October 9, 2019

    The deed is done

    Some good news first - Ace Linguist has been approved for ads, which will hopefully help offset some of the hosting costs! And perhaps in the future, it could even help expand the scope of the site a little.

    The bad news - I am still figuring out some aspects of how to run the ads. Currently they appear after every single post, which is not quite what I wanted. I would prefer them as a footer. I will have to experiment with ad placement and such to see what Google does and does not allow. I want to make the ad experience simple and non-intrusive to you all.

    I have written up a sort of mission statement regarding ads, monetization, and the goal of the site. If I am going to be adding ads, after all, I think you should know what the ads are funding! (Currently they're not funding anything since they've just been added, but I think you get the idea). Dropbox is the number one priority to fund. After that, there a number of "nice-to-haves" that I have listed in the statement. The goal of the ads is to make the site better, not to rake in the dollars. Trust me, this sort of content isn't exaaactly the most lucrative sort.

    I shall continue to keep you updated regarding any changes to the site. I would expect a new Dialect Dissection to come some time this month. I wish I could say it were Halloween-related or otherwise spooky, but it isn't, except perhaps in some cosmic way of 'the horror of the situation.'

    I am also experimenting with the idea of "Dialect Mini-Dissections," for when there's a particular clip or album that I want to talk about but don't have enough material to justify making a full length Dialect Dissection. Some singers only have one album out, but still have linguistically interesting features. Likewise, perhaps an episode of a television show may merit a Mini article. I don't love the name "Mini-Dissection" (frankly I'm not as enthralled about 'Dialect Dissection' as I used to be, though I don't plan on changing it) so I will continue to brainstorm a more sensible name.

    Thanks as always to all my readers!

    - Karen