My version was something like /sæl/ or /sæɪl/, whereas everyone else said /seɪl/. The others were from Seattle, (Southern?) California, Toronto, Miami, and Detroit. I was especially surprised at the Detroiter, because I thought Detroit and Chicago (where I'm from) had similar vowels.
Upon further investigation, I learned that everyone there distinguished
I asked around and found somebody from Pennsylvania and someone from Buffalo, NY with the same pronunciation as me. Is this a Northern Cities shift? According to Wikipedia, these dialects tend to shift low vowels front and forward, but then why would their /eɪ/ be my /æ/ in these cases, and not the other way around?
It might just be lexical; I only use /æ/, not /eɪ/, before liquids, but I use either elsewhere (as in cat/Kate).
Anybody have any ideas?
Edit: Sorry, the only person who actually distinguished 'sale' from 'sail' is from the suburbs of Chicago (which is another weird one that I'd expect would have vowels like mine).