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YAEPT: Pin/pen merger (Was: Re: You might be a conlanger if...)

From:Caleb Hines <cph9fa@...>
Date:Friday, November 12, 2004, 17:56
Actually, I did some research, and discovered that this is the
famous "pin/pen merger" which is a common feature of Southern USA dialects
(, and My hypothesis
about it being pre-nasal was even correct. What seems really odd to me is
that in general I don't have a Southern Accent (AFAICT), and also the fact
that its not a complete merger for me. I can easily distinguish the two
sounds, and can decide which to use on the fly. I'm not even consistent.

Contrast this to the other vowel merger I have, which is the
famous "cot/caught merger". I had no idea there even was more than one low
vowel until I started learning phonology. Even now, I can only barely
distinguish the two when I say them (if I'm even saying them right), and I
have no clue which words are supposed to have one pronounciation over the
other. 'cot', 'caught', 'taught', 'bother', 'father', and 'pasta' all have
the same vowel sound to me. If I'm reading CXS right, this is a merger
between /a/, /A/ (into /a/). And maybe throw /O/ and /Q/ in there too? I
don't know. I'm pretty sure that the only case where I have a distinct /O/
is in the combination /Or/.

I did some experiments on two of my younger sisters (asking them to
pronounce various words, without telling them what I was listening for),
and they also pronounced /E/ both ways (even between repetitions of the
same word). Once they had an idea of what I was listening for, they would
carefully tend towards /E/. One of them even said something to the effect
of "I prefer to say /pEn/, because it's the right way to say it, but I
probably say /pIn/ more often. I'm a sloppy speaker." Later that night, I
asked my Dad to say 'engine', (I deliberately used /E/ in the question, and
didn't tell him what I was listening for) and he responded with an /I/,
later adding that it sounded like 'Injun' (slang for 'Indian').

I live in St. Louis, (for about 14 years) and I've spent much of my
childhood in southern rural Missouri. So I guess it makes sense that I
would have at least one asspect of a Southern Accent. But I think I picked
it up from my parents, since I was homeschooled, and had very little
interaction with peers as a child. But that's even wierder, since my
parents grew up in Northern Illinois (just south of Chicago). The
cot/caught merger is also kinda wierd. St. Louis is supposed to not have
that merge (its more North and West or East), but I've never noticed anyone
make a distinction (which could be due to my lack of ability to hear the
difference at all). Finally, St. Louis supposedly has a unique accent
where /Or/ becomes /Ar/ so Highway 44 becomes 'farty far'. But I don't
recall ever hearing _anyone_ do this. I certainly don't, and I think I
would notice if someone else did.

Bottom-line: with two vowel mergers, arriving at a detailed conlang vowel-
system can sometimes be frustrating! :-)