A Constant Velocity (vnaughtdeltat) wrote in linguaphiles,
A Constant Velocity

Northern Cities Shift?

Last week I was hanging out in the lab and, for some reason, used the word 'sale'. Everyone immediately jumped on me (this is what I get for hanging out with linguists, I guess) because I pronounced it differently than they would.

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 'sale' from 'sail' and 'shale' from 'shall' (the former using /eɪ/ and the latter something lower, closer to /æ/ or /a/). I don't distinguish these.

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).

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