Pen and Pin

Shatnerian   Wed Mar 14, 2007 4:41 am GMT
It seems that in most parts of North America, these two words have a distinct difference in pronunciation. Many people in the Southeastern United States and in some parts of the West merge the two, which is generally to the "pIn" pronunciation. However, what about those of us who merge it to the "pEn" pronunciation. Is this merger specific to a certain area of North America? If I think hard enough about the two words, I can pronounce them as distinct sounds, but in casual speech, they both come out as "pEn". The same goes for the words "milk" and "pillow", which I pronounce as mElk and pEllow. Forgive me if I screwed up the X-Sampa translation.
Guest   Wed Mar 14, 2007 6:36 am GMT
Go shove a pin in your penor!!!!!!!
Sarcastic Northwesterner   Wed Mar 14, 2007 2:31 pm GMT
Well, I think that pronouncing "milk" as melk is nothing special. It's certainly prevalent here in the Northwest, as well in California, and most of the Midwest. It seems to be more of an idiolectal feature, rather than a regional thing. I certainly have always pronounced it as /mElk/ (so does most of my family, as well as many native Northwesterners, however /mIlk/ is also used by some.). I don't however pronounce "pillow" as "pellow", and "silk" is /sIlk/. I've never heard of pen-pin merging to to [p_hEn] though. But I guess it makes sense. Some people merge "cot" and "caught" to "caught". It could also be the Canadian vowel shift, or the California vowel shift, if you're from Canada or California, and sometimes other areas in the West. Those two vowel shifts make /I/ -> [E], so it would make sense that even though they merge to [I], the vowel is shifted to [E]. Are you from Canada or the Western US?
Skipp   Wed Mar 14, 2007 8:21 pm GMT
It's called the pen/pin merger... It happens most noticeably in Southern American English, which is the largest dialect group in the United States, so it is quite widespread (about a quarter of the population here in Southern California does it).

I do say "milk" with an "I" but "pillow" with an "E."

Also, here in So Cal, many people say "egg" and "leg" with the same vowel as in "day." Weird, eh?
Shatnerian   Thu Mar 15, 2007 1:19 am GMT
Sarcastic Northwesterner: I live in the Northwest, but I grew up primarily in the upper Midwest. A lot of my pronunciations seem to have a Canadian influence, because I was partially raised by a Canadian. When I say "silk" it sounds more like "sElk" than "sIlk".

Skipp: The pen/pin merger is quite different in Southern American English. They merge both words to "pIn", whereas I generally say "pEn". Southerners also have a distinct pronunciation of "I", which to me, sounds like "ah". If I try and imitate this sound, it makes me sound as though I have been shot.
Guest   Thu Mar 15, 2007 1:37 am GMT
<<Southerners also have a distinct pronunciation of "I", which to me, sounds like "ah".>>

I assume you mean the long "i", not the short "i".
Shatnerian   Thu Mar 15, 2007 1:43 am GMT
Yes, the long "i". When I said "I", I meant how they pronounce the letter I. However, the way they pronounce the short "i" sound is quite different as well.
Guest   Fri Mar 16, 2007 12:23 am GMT
The merged prounciation of pen and pin is also found in parts in the state of QLD among the older generations in the North of the state.
Guest   Fri Mar 16, 2007 2:18 am GMT
How would those Queenslanders say it?

In NSW it's /pin/ for pin and /pEn/ for pen.