R-dropping in North America

Guest   Tue Mar 11, 2008 1:26 am GMT
Ted Kennedy is a good example of something?
Dave   Tue Mar 11, 2008 6:39 am GMT
Here in South Carolina, women (generally those over 50, who grew up in the "Old South") of the so-called "upper-class" or who have a desire to be perceived as such, are non-rhotic speakers. This is particular true in the Charleston area, where the remains of the "South of Broad" high society (meaning the 4-5 blocks south of Broad St., at tip of the peninsula) are nearing extinction. Nowadays celebrities are buying up the $1 million + real estate in that area, but until the 60's they maintained a rigid society with the same surnames going back to the 18th century.

Everyone who envied them, particularly women, and couldn't be one of them, emulated them. My grandmother still is non-rhotic. She was born in "The Upstate" of South Carolina (the Northwestern 1/3 of the state - much more hilly and barren, most people worked in cotton mills or as sharecroppers, and were mostly poor African-American or Scot-Irish background). They were better-off than most, but I don't remember either my great-grandmother or my great aunts having the accent she does. She never lived in Charleston, nor did she receive anything but a standard public school education. Neither my mom nor my aunt (who were both born during WWII) "inherited" it. So I think she took on that accent intentionally.

Crazy as it sounds - maybe it was influenced by Hollywood, particularly "Gone With The Wind"? That movie didn't just romanticize the Old South, it created a world of its own, and many "Southern belles" since have admired Scarlett...
Uriel   Wed Mar 12, 2008 4:27 am GMT
My grandmother does the same thing. She has that genteel Southern accent, while her sister had that backwoods, "country" southern accent. My mother has always referred to it as an affectation, implying that it's not really how she "should" talk, but how she chooses to talk. My grandfather is also pretty non-rhotic, although sometimes he exaggerates it further for effect. Both are from northern Louisiana. However, some of my other relatives from that area are very rhotic Southern and sound entirely different, even though they live only a short distance away. It's an interesting contrast at family gatherings.

My father was originally non-rhotic (from Massachusetts), but he has since lost the NE accent. Except that every now and then he drops an R. This sounds very odd in conjunction with an otherwise "normal" American accent!
Jasper   Wed Mar 12, 2008 4:52 pm GMT
Reading these posts, do you see a common thread? Non-rhoticism--at least in the South--is associated with the upper class; I wonder why?
Lazar   Wed Mar 12, 2008 11:56 pm GMT
Here in New England, though, non-rhoticism is associated with working-class urban people, and to a lesser extent old-fashioned rural people. (In the past there was the non-rhotic Boston Brahmin prestige accent, but that's largely extinct now.) Likewise in New York, non-rhoticism is considered more working class, as demonstrated by Labov's study in the 60s.
Uriel   Thu Mar 13, 2008 2:13 am GMT
I thought non-rhoticism in the south was just a function of region, not status.
Guest   Thu Mar 13, 2008 1:48 pm GMT
Upon analyzing my own speech, I can be rhotic and non-rhotic in the same sentence. I'm from upstate New York, originally, but have lived most ofmy life in the metro NY area. By the way, upstate New York has a lot of different accents. It's not as if it's a singular entity north of westchester. People in Roch/ Buf almost sound midwestern.
David   Fri Mar 14, 2008 2:16 am GMT
Are you guys making sure you don't mistake code-switching for rhoticity? I have what I'd call a typical New York accent (ie fully non-rhotic) and I can go from Sunday to Sunday in Manhattan without ever hearing an R. Maybe when you walk up to that hotdog vendor he hears your rhotic accent and switches into Newscastese figuring you for a tourist.
Lazar   Fri Mar 14, 2008 12:37 pm GMT
Josh, did you say at some point that velarization is common in AAVE speakers who adopt coda [r\]? I ask because I think I've noticed velarization in some (natively non-rhotic) Eastern New England speakers when they exhibit variable rhoticism. It seems like some velarization, along with a more central [a:], are the indicators of a basically non-rhotic speaker who's adopted some rhoticism.
Gabriel   Thu Mar 20, 2008 9:55 pm GMT
I was reading a cartoon (Non Sequitur by Wiley) in which the characters speak in a non-rhotic accent (I think they're supposed to be from Maine). In the cartoon the effect is achieved by means of eye-dialect. Thus, "lobster", "figured" and "turns" were spelt "lobstah", "figyahd" and "tahns". That surprised me, in a way, because I would have expected the quality of the vowel to be more accurately represented by "uh" (as in "lobstuh", "figyuhd" and "tuhns"). Does this represent any actual dialectal realization (as in a very open realization of /@/)?
Lazar   Thu Mar 20, 2008 11:09 pm GMT
In the case of "lobstah" and "figyahd", the post-tonic syllable is reduced no matter what representation you use, so "lobstah", "lobstuh" and "lobsta" would all sound identical. (Think of a name like "Jinnah", where post-tonic "ah" is pronounced as a schwa.) And in the case of the vowel sound that can be found in non-rhotic "turn", there is no way to accurately represent it in eye dialect. The vowel sound isn't "uh" [V] and it isn't "ah" [A], so the choice of spelling is arbitrary.
Lazar   Fri Mar 21, 2008 12:05 am GMT
No, I disagree: it's often found in eye-dialect here, in signage and slogans and things, and I don't think it's intended to represent any special openness: I think it just represents a schwa, as in "Sarah, Hannah, Jeremiah, Jinnah".
David   Fri Mar 21, 2008 1:54 am GMT
Here in New Orleans, non-rhoticity is very strong, and it is present in basically everyone's speech.
Levee   Fri Mar 21, 2008 7:11 pm GMT
Yeah, New Orleans is one of the last bastions of Southern non-rhoticity.