Can Midwesterners distinguish the NW accent?

Jasper   Tue May 29, 2007 8:48 pm GMT
From my admittedly limited field studies, older speakers in the Northwest have some--but not all- NCVS features. For the layman, NCVS's most prominent feature is vowel raising. In words like "backpack", the vowel is raised (by closing the mouth more during pronunciation) to the point that it sounds almost nasal.

The feature is very strong in Minnesota (particularly in Northern Minnesota), much muted in Northwesterners. To non-NCVS speakers, the variation is very obvious. Oddly enough, Midwesterners themselves most often cannot hear the variation.

Younger speakers in the Northwest have adopted quite a bit of California in their speech; vowels are dropped, i.e. the mouth is opened MORE in pronunciation of short vowels, producing a clearer, more pleasant (in my opinion) effect.

Some of my forummates will disagree at this statement, but I have found more NCVS features--even in younger speakers--in the Northwest than in California. I could be wrong; my sample size was too small to be scientific. I'm still a student with a passion for this stuff and a very good ear.

There are more specific variations in the Northwestern "accent" that perhaps other forummates can explain.
Kendra   Tue May 29, 2007 10:14 pm GMT
''What is interesting is that many Northwesterners, especially the older ones, are hesitant to comment on my own accent, but transplants from California find it incredibly odd and very non-western. Just the other day, when I used the word "all" in a sentence when speaking to an ex-Californian, he admitted that he had never heard it pronounced with the [O] vowel, and it took him several attempts to understand what I was trying to say.''

What do you mean by [O]?

a) [A] or
b) [Q]

[A] is the original cot caught merged vowel: hawk [hAk], dawn [dAn], all/doll [(d)Al]

all [Ql] can be heard in the West as a result of either
1) velarization (puls [pVls.--> pQls], all/doll [(d)Al---> (d)Ql]
2) Californian vowel shift

but I think all [Al] is still the most preferred form...
Eastern accents have [Q] in all, but [A] in doll; Western accents can have both...
Shatnerian   Wed May 30, 2007 7:34 pm GMT
<<I've never heard Rural British Columbia; what are some of its features?>>

Even though Canadian Raising seems to be light to almost non-existent in parts of southern British Columbia (especially Vancouver), you can still hear it very clearly in more rural areas, where accents tend to be a bit more Conservative. This feature is also found in some of the accents of Northern Washington, but it may or may not be quite as strong as the version found directly across the border.

The vowel in words such as know, soda, code, tone, etc. are generally a bit more rounded and rarely, if ever fronted in both areas. However, I have noticed a split in Seattle speech, as older generations generally have a more rounded vowel, whereas the younger generation will often front the O.

Native Northern Washingtonians and Native British Columbians generally have the same pronunciation for the word "tomorrow", which is "tomOHrrow". The Southwestern/Northeastern version of "tomAHrrow", however seems to be a bit more common in the Seattle area, and in most areas further south. However, "tomOHrrow" can also be heard in pockets of the state that are not right on the border.
Shatnerian   Wed May 30, 2007 7:40 pm GMT
<<What do you mean by [O]?>>

I do believe that it is closer to [Q], as I seem to only have [A] in my cot/caught merger. Of course, it may sound a little different in casual speech as opposed to how it sounds when I am reading.
Sarcastic Northwesterner   Thu May 31, 2007 2:30 am GMT
>> Some of my forummates will disagree at this statement, but I have found more NCVS features--even in younger speakers--in the Northwest than in California. <<

The NCVS does not exist in the Northwest. There isn't a trace of the NCVS in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming. People from the very easternmost tip of Montana speak like people from North Dakota, but even they don't have the Northern cities vowel shift. I've never heard a native Northwesterner with the NCVS. You were either speaking to people orginally from the North who moved here, or you are simply mistaking the lack of the CVS for the NCVS. We do not pronounce "stack" as /ste@k/. Some people pronounce // like that before /n/ or /m/, like in "ban" or "bam", but actually from what I've noticed that's much less widespread here than anywhere else. I don't do it for example. We do not have the other features of the NCVS either.
Jasper   Thu May 31, 2007 3:35 am GMT
Sarcastic,

There are those--even some from the Northwest--who would disagree with you.

It will perhaps have been noticed that the original statement was,"older speakers in the Northwest have some--but not all- NCVS features." In this limited framework, I would respectfully disagree with you.
Sarcastic Northwesterner   Thu May 31, 2007 4:08 am GMT
>> It will perhaps have been noticed that the original statement was,"older speakers in the Northwest have some--but not all- NCVS features." In this limited framework, I would respectfully disagree with you. <<

No, the Northern cities vowel shift is a relatively recent phenomenon that occurs in the Inland North. Older speakers in the West do not have the shift. According to Wikipedia: "It is called northern cities because it is taking place mostly in a broad swath of the United States around the Great Lakes, beginning some 50 miles west of Albany and extending west through Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Madison, and north to Green Bay (Labov et al. 187208)."

The trigger of the shift is: "the diphthongization of // into /ɪə/ (-tensing), a change identified as early as the 1960s."

Older speakers from the West would not have this, because this change does not occur in the West.

Of course there are speakers that have the NCVS living in the Northwest, but they are not from the Northwest. You'll also find southern accents in the NW as well, by people who are from the South. That does not mean that any *native* Northwesterners have either the NCVS or the Southern shift.

Are you sure that you are interviewing people that are 1) born and raised in the NW, and have not lived anywhere else for more than a few months and 2) that what you hear is actually the Northern cities vowel shift? And what features of the NCVS have you found in the NW?
Travis   Thu May 31, 2007 6:04 am GMT
>>No, the Northern cities vowel shift is a relatively recent phenomenon that occurs in the Inland North. Older speakers in the West do not have the shift. According to Wikipedia: "It is called northern cities because it is taking place mostly in a broad swath of the United States around the Great Lakes, beginning some 50 miles west of Albany and extending west through Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Madison, and north to Green Bay (Labov et al. 187208)."<<

It seems like the NCVS today has spread further west from the range mentioned by Labov, as it is now found, to varying degrees, in Minnesota as well.
Sarcastic Northwesterner   Thu May 31, 2007 2:47 pm GMT
>> It seems like the NCVS today has spread further west from the range mentioned by Labov, as it is now found, to varying degrees, in Minnesota as well. <<

That's true. /ʌ/ is more retracted than /ɑ/ as far west as the NE part of South Dakota, and the extreme SE part of North Dakota. But it certainly doesn't extend any further West than the eastern 1/3 of South Dakota. So it definitely does not extend into the Pacific Northwest. So, I'm still wondering how Jasper came to the conclusion that we have it here? The minute that I hear someone with even a trace of the Northern cities vowel shift, I ask: "Where are you from?" And the answer is invariably that they are from the Midwest. Anyone cot-caught unmerged is not a native of here either--and this can include *really* old people--even octogenarians and nonagenarians. People that live in other places for a while and come back to the NW can pick up a c-c distinction, or at least a transitional distinction, in which they produce c and c different, but perceive them to be the same. They can also pick up the Northern cities vowel shift as well. So, I think it's important to interview people born and raised here, who have not ventured much outside of this neck of the woods, to get an accurate impression of the dialect here.
Travis   Thu May 31, 2007 3:08 pm GMT
>>The trigger of the shift is: "the diphthongization of // into /ɪə/ (-tensing), a change identified as early as the 1960s."<<

One note is that the actual diphthongization varies in reality, and does not necessarily take the form of the classic [I@]. For instance, around here I normally have a diphthong ending in [{] rather than [@], such as [E{], [e{], or sometimes [I{], except in very unstressed informal speech, where I may have something more along the lines of [E@] or just plain [E]. In careful speech I generally have a very narrow diphthong [E{_r], but in informal speech I can have far wider diphthongs, especially in stressed syllables where there is an onset (where I not infrequently have [e{] or even [I{]).
Sarcastic Northwesterner   Thu May 31, 2007 3:26 pm GMT
>> One note is that the actual diphthongization varies in reality, and does not necessarily take the form of the classic [I@]. For instance, around here I normally have a diphthong ending in [{] rather than [@], such as [E{], [e{], or sometimes [I{], except in very unstressed informal speech, where I may have something more along the lines of [E@] or just plain [E]. In careful speech I generally have a very narrow diphthong [E{_r], but in informal speech I can have far wider diphthongs, especially in stressed syllables where there is an onset (where I not infrequently have [e{] or even [I{]). <<

We don't have any of that in the Northwest. It's either // or sometimes [a].
Kess   Thu May 31, 2007 4:06 pm GMT
''We don't have any of that in the Northwest. It's either // or sometimes [a].''

lost /lɑst/
last /last/

:)
Travis   Thu May 31, 2007 4:14 pm GMT
To me, I associate [a] with historical /A:/ rather than with historical /{/ - heh.
Jasper   Thu May 31, 2007 5:14 pm GMT
<<Are you sure that you are interviewing people that are 1) born and raised in the NW, and have not lived anywhere else for more than a few months and>>

You are quite right. Quite right!

I only had a single older female speaker who was from Portland. She definitely had NCVS features; she told me she was born and raised in Portland, but I don't know where her parents were from; or even her siblings; or where she had lived in her long life.

This is one reason why studies like this aren't scientific; as every scientist knows, the larger the sample, the more accurate the results. Within that framework, it is probably an inaccurate generalization to say that older speakers in the NW have NCVS-features.

I plead guilty, your honor, and retract my statement. :-)

To be fair, however, one or two other posters have said the same thing, although one poster believed that Californians have more NCVS-type features than Seattle-ites...

Please note that it's "NCVS-type features", not "NCVS"!
Jasper   Thu May 31, 2007 5:30 pm GMT
Travis, I'm going to ask my coworkers from Michigan if they can hear a difference between their own speech and Western speech. Because they are laymen--not experts--I think it will give at least an indication of the answer to the thread question...