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USAGE: Western Usonian /a/

From:dirk elzinga <dirk.elzinga@...>
Date:Wednesday, February 7, 2001, 16:01

The messages about the low back vowels of Usonian English come
at an interesting time for me. As it happens, I've been doing a
little work with the Deseret Alphabet (a phonemic writing scheme
devised at Brigham Young's request to assist English literacy
among foreign Mormon immigrants to the Salt Lake Valley) and Lo!
and Behold! the Deseret Alphabet distinguishes no fewer than
*three* low back vowels, which implies that the promoters of the
Deseret Alphabet also distinguished three low back vowels. Here
are some words which show the distinction:

     I         II       III

    are       Lord      not
    father    Mormon    prophesy
              fault     spotless
              all       upon
              for       what

Now I don't know exactly what the phonetic values of the vowels
in question were--hence the absence of IPA symbols. Vowel III
has been called the "New England short-o"; interesting in that
many of the original Mormon immigrants were from New England
(Church founder Joseph Smith was from Vermont, as was Brigham
Young). What is most interesting to me is that the erstwhile
3-way distinction has disappeared and become a 2-way distinction
in Utah English (merging I and III) and no distinction at all in
other areas of the (Mid)West (vowel II merged variously with /o/
and with I in addition to the II/III merger).

The retention of a 2-way distinction in Utah English (UE) is a
fairly controversial notion. Our dept chair, Marianna DiPaolo,
has written several articles on the "near-merger" of /A/ and /C/
in UE. Basically what it comes down to is that UE speakers
correct to a merged "Midwestern" norm in monitored speech, but
in unmonitored speech a subtle but measurable distinction is
present. Being a UE speaker, I suppose I do it, too. Of course,
as soon as you draw attention to this feature in someone's
speech, they begin to monitor it and the feature disappears.

All of which has nothing to do with conlanging in general.


Dirk Elzinga                

"The strong craving for a simple formula
has been the undoing of linguists."               - Edward Sapir