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pit, spit, tip
voiceless bilabial stop
bat, rabbit, rib
voiced bilabial stop
tip, stop, put
voiceless alveolar stop
doom, under, bud
voiced alveolar stop
voiced alveolar flap
cap, skate, bake
voiceless velar stop
go, buggy, bag
voiced velar stop
voiceless glottal stop
(in some dialects)
fee, after, laugh
voiceless labiodental fricative
vote, over, love
voiced labiodental fricative
thought, ether, both
voiceless interdental fricative
the, mother, smooth
voiced interdental fricative
so, fasten, bus
voiceless alveolar sibilant
zoo, lazy, fuzz
voiced alveolar sibilant
shoe, nation, bush
voiceless palatal sibilant
voiced palatal sibilant
voiceless glottal fricative
chew, pitcher, church
voiceless palatal affricate
judge, ranger, dodge
voiced palatal affricate
my, mommy, bum
no, funny, run
look, bully, call
run, bury, car
retroflex (bunched tongue) liquid
Wells key words
high front tense
high front lax
mid front tense
mid front lax
low front tense
mid central tense
mid central lax
high back tense
high back lax
mid back tense
low back tense
low central back gliding diphthong
low central front gliding diphthong
low back front gliding diphthong
mid central retroflex
Appendix of Features
Final cluster reduction
Word-final consonant clusters ending in a stop can be reduced when both members of the cluster are either voiced (e.g. find, cold) or voiceless (act, test). This process affects both clusters that are a part of the base word (e.g. find, act) and those clusters formed through the addition of an -ed suffix (e.g. guessed, liked). In general American English, this pattern may operate when the following word begins with a consonant (e.g. bes’ kind), but in vernacular dialects, it is extended to include following words beginning with a vowel as well (e.g. bes’ apple). This pattern is quite prominent in AAE and English-based creoles; it is also common in dialects of English that retain influence from other languages, such as Latino English, Vietnamese English, Hmong English, and so forth. It is not particularly noticeable in other American English dialects.
Plurals following clusters
Words ending in -sp (e.g. wasp), -sk (e.g. desk), and -st (e.g. test) may take the “long plural” -es (phonetically [ɪz]) plural in many vernacular varieties, following the reduction of their final clusters to -s. Thus, items such as tes’ for test and des’ for desk will be pluralized as tesses and desses, respectively, just as words ending in -s or other s-like sounds in general American English (e.g., bus, buzz) are pluralized with an -es ending (buses, buzzes).
In some rural varieties of English such as Appalachian and Southeastern coastal varieties, the -es plural may occur even without the reduction of the final cluster to -s, yielding plural forms such as postes and deskes. Such forms are considerably rarer in AAE and seem to be a function of hypercorrection, in which speakers who formerly produced desses for desks simply add the k while retaining the long plural -es, resulting in forms like deskes.
A small set of items, usually ending in -s and -f in the standard variety, may be produced with a final t. This results in a final consonant cluster. Typical items affected by this process are oncet [wʌnst], twicet [twaɪst], clifft, and acrosst. Intrusive t is primarily found in Appalachian varieties and other rural varieties characterized by the retention of older forms.
A quite different kind of intrusive t involves the “doubling” of an -ed form. In this instance, speakers add the “long past form” -ed (phonetically [ɪd]) to verbs that are already marked with an -ed ending pronounced as t (e.g. [lʊkt] “looked”). This process yields forms such as lookted for looked and attackted for attacked. In effect, the speaker treats the verb as if its base form ends in a t so that it is eligible for the long past form that regularly is attached to verbs ending in t or d.
There are a number of different processes that affect th sounds. The phonetic production of th is sensitive to the position of th in the word and the sounds adjacent to it. At the beginning of the word, th tends to be produced as a corresponding stop, as in dey for they ([d] for [ð]) and ting for thing ([t] for [θ]). These productions are fairly typical of a wide range of vernaculars, although there are some differences in the distribution of stopped variants for voiced vs. voiceless th ([ð] vs. [θ]). The use of t in thing (voiceless th) tends to be most characteristic of selected European American and second-language-influenced varieties, whereas the use of d in they (voiced th) is spread across the full spectrum of vernacular varieties.
Before nasals (m, n, ng), th participates in a process in which a range of fricatives, including z, th, and v, may also become stops. This results in forms such as aritmetic for arithmetic or headn for heathen, as well as wadn’t for wasn’t, idn’t for isn’t, and sebm for seven. This pattern is typically found in Southern-based vernacular varieties, including Southern European American and African American vernacular varieties.
In word-final position and between vowels within a word (that is, in intervocalic position), th may be produced as f or v, as in efer for ether, toof for tooth, brover for brother, and smoov for smooth. This production is typical of vernacular varieties of AAE, with the v for voiced th [ð] production more typical of Eastern vernacular varieties. Some Southern-based European American dialects, as well as some varieties influenced by other languages in the recent past, also have the f production in tooth.
Some restricted varieties use a stop d for intervocalic voiced th as in oder for other or broder for brother, but this pattern is much less common than the use of a stop for th in word-initial position.
r and l
There are a number of different linguistic contexts in which r and l may be lost or reduced to a vowel-like quality. After a vowel, as in sister or steal, the r and l may be reduced or lost. This feature is quite typical of traditional Southern speech and Eastern New England speech. It is a receding feature of Southern European American English, especially in metropolitan areas.
Between vowels, r also may be lost, as in Ca’ol for Carol or du’ing for during. Intervocalic r loss is more socially stigmatized than postvocalic r loss and is found in rural, Southern-based vernaculars.
Following a consonant, the r may be lost if it precedes a rounded vowel such as u or o, resulting in pronunciations such as thu for through and tho for throw. Postconsonantal r loss may also be found if r occurs in an unstressed syllable, as in p’ofessor for professor or sec’etary for secretary. This type of r-lessness is found primarily in Southern-based varieties. Before a bilabial sound such as p, l may be lost completely, giving pronunciations like woof for wolf or hep for help. Again, this is characteristic only of Southern-based varieties. Other regional dialects (e.g. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia) sometimes vocalize l after a vowel to the point where it is almost indistinguishable from a vowel, thus making the words vow and Val sound the same.
Sometimes r-lessness causes one lexical item to converge with another. Thus, the use of they for their as in theyself or they book apparently derives from the loss of r on their, even though speakers who currently use they in such constructions may no longer associate it with r-less their.
There are also occasional instances in which an intrusive r may occur, so that items such as wash may be pronounced as warsh and idea as idear. Certain instances of intrusive r are the result of a generalized pronunciation process, whereby r can be added on to the ends of vowel-final words (e.g. idear), particularly when these words precede vowel-initial words (the idear of it). Other cases (e.g. warsh) seem to be restricted to particular lexical items and are highly regionally restricted as well.
Initial w reduction
In unstressed positions within a phrase, an initial w may be lost in items such as was and one. This results in items such as She’s [ʃiz] here yesterday for She was here yesterday and young ’uns for young ones. This appears to be an extension of the process affecting the initial w of the modals will and would in standard varieties of English (as in he’ll for he will, or she’d for she would). This process is found in Southern-based vernaculars.
Unstressed initial syllable loss
The general process of deleting unstressed initial syllables in informal speech styles of general American English (e.g.’cause for because; ’round for around) is extended in vernacular varieties so that a wider range of word classes, for example, verbs such as ’member for remember or nouns such as ’taters for potatoes, and a wider range of initial syllable types (e.g. re- as in ’member for remember, su- as in ’spect for suspect) are affected by this process.
Initial h retention
The retention of h on the pronoun it [hɪt] and the auxiliary ain’t [heɪnt] is still found in vernacular varieties retaining some older English forms, such as Appalachian English and Outer Banks English. This form is more prominent in stressed positions within a sentence. The pronunciation is fading out among younger speakers.
There are a number of processes that affect nasal sounds; there are also items that are influenced by the presence of nasals in the surrounding linguistic environment.
One widespread process in vernacular varieties is so-called “g-dropping,” in which the nasal [ŋ], represented as ng in spelling, is pronounced as [n]. This process takes place when the ng occurs in an unstressed syllable, as in swimmin’ for swimming or buyin’ for buying. Linguists refer to this process as “velar fronting” since it involves the fronting of the velar nasal [ŋ], produced toward the back of the mouth, to [n], a more fronted nasal sound.
A less widespread phenomenon affecting nasals is the deletion of the word-final nasal segment in items such as man, beam, and ring, particularly when the item is in a relatively unstressed position within the sentence. Even though the nasal is deleted, the words still retain their final nasal character, because the vowel preceding the n has been nasalized, through an assimilation process common to all varieties of English. Thus, man, beam, and ring may be pronounced as ma’ [mæ̃], bea’ [bĩ], and ri’ [rɪ̃], respectively, with the vowel carrying a nasal quality. Most frequently, this process affects the segment n, although all final nasal segments may be affected to some extent. This process is typical of AAE.
The phonetic quality of vowels may be affected before nasal consonants, as in the well-known merger of the contrast between [ɪ] and [ε] before nasals as in pin and pen. Some Southern dialects restrict this merger to a following n, whereas others extend it to following m (e.g. Kim and chem) and [ŋ] as well.
Consonant devoicing entails the phonetic change of voiced sounds to their voiceless counterparts, as in [d] to [t], or [z] to [s]. This pattern is quite prominent in dialects of English that retain influence from other languages, such as varieties like Pennsylvania German English, Wisconsin English, and Jewish English, so that words like lose sound like loose. It is especially common in Pennsylvania German English and Jewish English to devoice word-final voiced stops (e.g., -b, -d, -g), so that a word like bad sounds more like bat. Word-final [d] devoicing is also common in AAE (although many times the final stop becomes glottalized, so that wood is pronounced more like [wʊʔ]).
There are a number of other consonantal patterns that affect limited sets of items or single words. For example, speakers have used aks for ask for over a thousand years and still continue to use it in several vernacular varieties, including vernacular AAE. The form chimley or chimbley for chimney is also found in a number of Southern-based vernaculars. The use of k in initial (s)tr clusters as in skreet for street or skring for string is found in vernacular AAE, particularly rural Southern varieties. Such items are usually very noticeable and tend to be socially stigmatized, but they occur with such limited sets of words that they are best considered on an item-by-item basis.
There are many vowel patterns that differentiate the dialects of English, but the majority of these are more regionally than socially significant. The back vowel THOUGHT and the front vowel TRAP are particularly sensitive to regional variation, as are many vowels before r (e.g. compare pronunciations of merry, marry, Mary, Murray) and l (compare wheel, will, well, whale, etc.). Although it is not possible here to indicate all the nuances of phonetic difference reflected in the vowels of American English, several major patterns of pronunciation may be identified.
There are several shifts in the phonetic values of vowels that are currently taking place in American English. The important aspect of these shifts is the fact that the vowels are not shifting their phonetic values in isolation but as rotating systems of vowels. As noted in the text, one major rotation is the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. In this rotation, the phonetic values of two series of vowels are affected; the low long back vowels are moving forward and upward, and the short front vowels are moving downward and backward. For example, the THOUGHT vowel, as in coffee, is moving forward toward the LOT vowel of lock. The LOT vowel, in turn, moves towards the TRAP vowel, so that outsiders sometimes confuse lock with lack. The TRAP vowel, in turn, moves upward toward the DRESS vowel. At the same time, another rotation moves the KIT vowel toward the DRESS vowel. The DRESS vowel, in turn, moves backward toward the STRUT vowel, which is then pushed back. Short vowels and long vowels tend to rotate as different subsystems within the overall vowel system. Diagrammatically, the shift may be represented as shown in figure A.1. In this chart, front vowels appear to the left of the chart and high vowels towards the top. For convenience, “key words” in terms of idealized standard American English phonemes are given. The arrows point in the direction of the phonetic rotations taking place in the shift.
Regionally, the pattern of vowel rotation represented in figure A.1 starts in Western New England and proceeds westward into the northern tier of Pennsylvania; the extreme northern portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; Michigan; and Wisconsin. It is concentrated in the larger metropolitan areas. More advanced stages of this change can be found in younger speakers in the largest metropolitan areas in this Northern region, such as Buffalo, Albany, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. Minority groups in these metropolitan areas tend not to participate in this phonetic shift.
The Southern Vowel Shift is quite different from the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. In this rotation pattern, the short front vowels (DRESS and KIT) are moving upward and taking on the gliding character of long vowels. In general American English, a vowel like FACE actually consists of a vowel nucleus and glide, where the nucleus is like the DRESS vowel and the glide is like the FLEECE vowel, whereas a vowel like DRESS vowel does not have this gliding character, at least not in the idealized standard variety. In the Southern Vowel Shift, DRESS vowel takes on a glide, becoming more like beyd [bεɪd]. Meanwhile, the long front vowels (FLEECE and FACE) are moving somewhat backward and downward, and the back vowels (GOOSE and GOAT ) are moving forward. This phonetic rotation is illustrated in figure A.2.
A third, more recent vowel shift is the Northern California Vowel Shift. Like the Southern Vowel Shift, the back vowels are moving forward, so the GOOSE vowel becomes more like giws and the GOAT vowel more like gewt. But the front vowels are shifting in quite different directions. The KIT vowel is rising towards the FLEECE vowel before ng and lowering towards the DRESS vowel before other consonants. Meanwhile, the DRESS vowel is lowering towards the trap vowel, which in turn, is shifting in two directions. The TRAP vowel becomes a diphthong like stee-and for stand before nasals, while it shifts towards the LOT vowel elsewhere, so that hat sounds closer to hot. This shift is illustrated in figure A.3.
Low back vowel merger
One of the major regional pronunciation processes affecting vowels is the merger of the low back vowel, THOUGHT, and the low back/central vowel, LOT. This merger means that word pairs like caught and cot or Dawn and Don are pronounced the same. This regional merger radiates from several areas, one in Eastern New England, centered near the Boston area, one centered in Western Pennsylvania in the Ohio Valley, and one covering a large portion of the American West, excluding major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Other vowel mergers
There are a number of vowel mergers or “near mergers” that take place when vowels occur before certain kinds of consonants. The following mergers may occur before r, l, and the nasal segments (m, n, ng).
l THOUGHT and LOT, as in Dawn and Don (Western Pennsylvania, Eastern New England, much of the Western US)
l KIT and FLEECE before /l/, as in field and filled (South; sporadically elsewhere)
l FACE and DRESS before /l/, as in sale and sell (South; sporadically elsewhere)
l GOOSE and FOOT before /l/, as in pool and pull (South; sporadically elsewhere)
l FACE, DRESS, TRAP before /r/, as in Mary, merry, marry (many areas of the US, including the South)
l KIT and DRESS before nasals, as in pin and pen (South)
Different dialects naturally may be distinguished by the kinds of mergers in which they participate. Thus, some varieties in the South and some other areas of the United States merge the vowels of Mary, merry, and marry, while the regional dialect of Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey that encompasses Philadelphia merges merry and Murray at the same time that it keeps these items distinct from Mary and marry.
Other dialects may be characterized by vowel shifts in which a vowel moves so close to another vowel that speakers from other dialect areas may think the two sounds have merged. In reality, a subtle distinction between the two sounds is maintained. For example, the backed and raised PRICE vowel of the Outer Banks of North Carolina in words like tide may seem quite similar to the CHOICE vowel, but it is maintained as distinct. Similarly, the KIT vowel may be raised so that it sounds almost like FLEECE, particularly before palatals such as sh and tch, so that people may hear feesh for fish and reach for rich. Just as with PRICE and CHOICE, though, a distinction between KIT and FLEECE is preserved. This near merger is also found in some mainland Southern varieties, including the Upper Southern variety of Appalachian English. Isolated varieties may also retain a lower vowel production of TRAP before r so that there may sound like thar and bear like bar.
TRAP (æ) raising
The vowel of words such as back or bag may be raised from its typical phonetic position so that it is produced closer to the DRESS vowel. The feature is found in a number of Northern areas and is an integral part of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.
Variants of MOUTH (au)
The vowel nucleus of words like out, loud, and do wn may be produced in a number of different ways. In one pronunciation, which is sometimes referred to as Canadian Raising because of its prominence in certain areas of Canada, the nucleus of MOUTH is pronounced as a mid central (COMMA) rather than low vowel (LOT), so that a phrase such as out and about sounds like oat and aboat [əʊt n əbəʊt]. This pronunciation is found in coastal Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, as well as some scattered dialect regions in Northern areas. Other dialect areas (e.g. Philadelphia) pronounce MOUTH with a fronted nucleus [æ], as in [dæʊn] for down; and there is at least one dialect area (Pittsburgh) where /au/ may be produced with little or no glide as well, as in dahntahn for downtown.
In a somewhat different production, the glide of MOUTH may be fronted as well as the nucleus, so that brown [bræɪn] may actually be confused with brain and house [hæɪs] may be confused with highest. This production is concentrated in the coastal dialects of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern US, such as those of Smith Island and Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay and the North Carolina Outer Banks.
Variants of ai
Several different processes may affect the diphthong PRICE in words such as time, tide, and tight. The FLEECE glide which forms the second half of this PRICE diphthong (made up of [a] + [ɪ]) may be lost, yielding pronunciations such as [tam] for time and [tad] for tide. This glide loss, or ungliding, is characteristic of practically all Southern-based vernaculars and is not particularly socially significant in the South. The absence of the glide is more frequent when the following segment is a voiced sound (e.g. side, time) than when it is a voiceless one (e.g. sight, rice), and only certain European American Southern varieties exhibit extensive ungliding of the PRICE vowel before voiceless sounds.
Another process affecting some varieties of American English involves the pronunciation of the nucleus of the PRICE/ai/ vowel as a mid central (COMMA) rather than low vowel (LOT), so that tide and tight may be produced as [təɪd] and [təɪt]. This process often parallels the raising of the nucleus of the MOUTHMOUTH vowel and is also referred to as Canadian Raising because of its widespread presence in Canada. In the US, this type of PRICE raising is found in the Tidewater Virginia area and other Eastern coastal communities. It is especially common before voiceless sounds (e.g. [təɪt] “tight”).
The nucleus of PRICE may also be backed and/or raised (that is, [aɪ] is pronounced as something like [ʌ>ɪ]) so that it sounds quite close to the CHOICE vowel. This backing and raising is associated with the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where speakers are referred to as “hoi toiders” for high tiders. A few other dialects of American English use a backed nucleus for the PRICE vowel, including New York City English and some mainland Southern varieties. For other differences in vowel nuclei and glides, see chapter 3.
Final unstressed BOAT (ou)
In word-final position, general American English ow, as in hollow or yellow, may become r, giving holler or yeller, respectively. This “intrusive r” also occurs when suffixes are attached, as in fellers for fellows or narrers for narrows. This production is characteristic of Southern mountain varieties such as those found in Appalachia or the Ozarks, although it is found to some extent in rural varieties in the lowland South as well.
Final unstressed COMMA (ə) raising
Final unstressed a (or the COMMA vowel), as in soda or extra, may be raised to a high vowel (FLEECE/ HAPPY) giving productions such as sody (phonetically [sodi]) and extry [εkstri ]). Again, this production is found in rural Southern vernaculars.
Other variations of schwa
In most varieties of English, the vowel in unstressed syllables is reduced to a schwa-like quality, so that, for example, because sounds like buhcause [bǝkͻz] and today like tuhday [tǝdei]. However, speakers of Chicano English are more likely to produce a non-reduced vowel closer to the fleece vowel or the goose vowel, as in beecause [bikͻz] or tooday [tudei].
The sequence spelled ire, usually produced in general American English as a two-syllable sequence which includes the PRICE diphthong (i.e. [taɪ.ɚ] “tire”; [faɪ.ɚ] “fire”), can be collapsed into a one-syllable sequence when the PRICE vowel is unglided to the LOT vowel. This process yields pronunciations such as far for fire and tar for tire. It affects not only root words like fire but also the PRICE vowel+ er sequences formed by the addition of an -er suffix, as in buyer [bar]. A similar process affects -our/-ower sequences which phonetically consist of a two-syllable sequence involving the MOUTH diphthong and r, as in flower [flaʊ.ɚ] or hour [aʊ.ɚ]. These sequences may be reduced to a single syllable, so that flower sounds like fla’r [flar] and hour like a’r [ar].
The verb phrase
Many of the socially significant grammatical structures in American English varieties involve aspects of the verb phrase. Some of this variation is due to the principles of readjustment discussed in chapter 2, but there are also some items that have their roots in the historical origins of different dialect varieties.
There are five ways in which irregular verbs pattern differently in standard and vernacular dialects of English. For the most part, these different patterns are the result of analogy, but there are also some retentions of patterns that have become obsolete in standard varieties. These differences are as follows:
1 past as participle form
I had went down there.
He may have took the wagon.
2 participle as past form
He seen something out there.
She done her work.
3 bare root as past form
She come to my house yesterday.
She give him a nice present last year.
Everybody knowed he was late.
They throwed out the old food.
5 different irregular form
I hearn [heard] something shut the church house door.
Something just riz [rose] up right in front of me.
Dialects vary according to which of the above patterns they exhibit. The majority of vernaculars in the North and South indicate patterns 1, 2, and 3. Some rural vernaculars in the South may exhibit pattern 5 in addition to the first three. Varieties subject to the influence of second-language-learning strategies will often reveal a higher incidence of regularization pattern 4 than other varieties.
Co-occurrence relations and meaning changes
There are a number of different types of constructions that can vary from dialect to dialect based on the types of structures that can co-occur with certain verbs. There are also meaning changes that affect particular verbs. These constructions and meaning changes include the following types:
1 shifts in the transitive status of verbs (i.e. whether or not the verb must take an object)
If we beat, we’ll be champs.
2 types of complement structures co-occurring with particular verbs
The kitchen needs remodeled.
The students started to messing around.
I’ll have him to do it.
The dog wanted out.
Walt calls himself dancing.
3 verb plus verb particle formations
He happened in on the party.
The coach blessed out [swore at, yelled at] his players.
4 use of progressive with stative verbs
He was liking the new house.
She was wanting to get out.
5 verbs derived from other parts of speech (e.g. verbs derived from nouns)
Our dog treed a coon.
We doctored the sickness ourselves.
6 broadened, narrowed, or shifted semantic reference for particular verb forms
He carried her to the movies.
My kids took the chicken pox when they were young.
I been aimin’ to [intending] go there.
For the most part, differences related to meaning changes and co-occurrence relations have to be dealt with on an item-by-item basis. All vernaculars, and many regional varieties, indicate meaning shifts and co-occurrence relations not found in standard English to any great extent.
Special auxiliary forms
There are a number of special uses of auxiliary forms that set apart vernacular dialects of English from their standard counterparts. Many of these auxiliaries indicate subtle but significant meanings related to the duration or type of activity indicated by verbs, or “verb aspect.”
The form done when used with a past tense verb may mark a completed action or event in a way somewhat different from a simple past tense form, as in a sentence such as There was one in there that done rotted away or I done forgot what you wanted. In this use, the emphasis is on the “completive” aspect or the fact that the action has been fully completed. The done form may also add intensification to the activity, as in I done told you not to mess up. This form is typically found in Southern European American and African American vernaculars.
The form be in sentences such as Sometimes my ears be itching or She usually be home in the evening may signify an event or activity distributed intermittently over time or space. Habitual be is most often used in be + verb -ing constructions, as in My ears be itching. The unique aspectual meaning of be is typically associated with AAE, although isolated and restricted constructions with habitual be have been found in some rural European American varieties. In recent stylized uses often associated with hip-hop culture, the form has been extended to refer to intensified stativity or super-real status, as in I be the truth.
Be + s
In some restricted parts of the South (e.g. areas of the Carolinas where the historic influence of Highland Scots and Scots-Irish is evident), be may occur with an -s third-person suffix as in Sometimes it bes like that or I hope it bes a girl. However, bes is not restricted to contexts of habitual activity and thus is different from habitual be in AAE. Bes is also distinguished from be in contemporary AAE by the inflectional -s; further, bes is a receding form, while be in AAE is quite robust and escalating.
Remote time béen
When stressed, béen can serve to mark a special aspectual function, indicating that the event or activity took place in the “distant past” but is still relevant. In structures such as I béen had it there for years or I béen known her, the reference is to an event that took place, literally or figuratively, in some distant time frame. This use, which is associated with vernacular AAE, is dying out in some varieties of this dialect.
The use of fixin’ to (also pronounced as fixta, fista, finsta, and finna) may occur with a verb with the meaning of “about to” or “planning to”. Thus, in a sentence such as It’s fixin’ to rain, the occurrence of rain is imminent. In a construction such as I was fixin’ to come but I got held up, the speaker is indicating that he or she had intended to come. This special use of fixin’ to is found only in the South, particularly in the South Atlantic and Gulf states.
The use of the form come as an auxiliary in sentences such as She come acting like she was real mad or He come telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about may convey a special sense of speaker indignation. It is a camouflaged form, in the sense that it appears to be much like a comparable general American English use of come with movement verbs (e.g. She came running home), but it does not function in the same way as its standard counterpart. It is found in AAE.
An a- prefix may occur on -ing forms functioning as verbs or as complements of verbs as in She was a-comin’ home or He made money a-fishin’. This form cannot occur on -ing forms that function as nouns or adjectives. Thus, it cannot occur in sentences such as *He likes a-sailin’ or *The movie was a-charmin’. The a- is also restricted phonologically, in that it occurs only on forms whose first syllable is accented; thus, it may occur on a-fóllowin’ but not usually on *a-discóverin’. As currently used by some speakers, the a- prefix may be used to indicate intensity, but it does not appear to have any unique aspectual marking analogous to habitual be or completive done. It is associated with vernacular Southern mountain speech but is found in many other rural varieties as well. To a lesser degree, an a- prefix also can be attached to other verb forms, such as participles in She’s a-worked there or even to simple past forms as in She a-wondered what happened.
Double modals are combinations of two modal verbs, or verbs expressing certain “moods” such as certainty, possibility, obligation, or permission. Possible combinations include might could, useta could, might should, might oughta, and so forth. Sentences such as I might could go there or You might oughta take it are typically Southern vernacular structures; in Northern varieties, modal clustering occurs only with useta, as in He useta couldn’t do it. Double modals tend to lessen the force of the attitude or obligation conveyed by single modals, so that She might could do it is less forceful than either She might do it or She could do it. In some Southern regions, double modals are quite widespread and not particularly stigmatized.
Liketa and (su)poseta
The forms liketa and (su)poseta may be used as special verb modifiers to mark the speaker’s perceptions that a significant event was on the verge of happening. Liketa is an avertive, in that it is used to indicate an impending event that was narrowly avoided. It is often used in a figurative rather than literal sense; for example, in a sentence such as It was so cold, I liketa froze to death, the speaker may never have been in any real danger of freezing, but the use of liketa underscores the intensity of the condition. (Su)poseta, in sentences such as You (su)poseta went there, parallels the general American English construction supposed to have.
Quotative be like and go
Over the past few decades, the use of be like and go to introduce a quote (e.g. So she’s like, “Where are you going?” and I go, “Where do you think?”) has shown phenomenal growth. Once associated with Valley Girl talk in California, it is now used throughout North America, as well as the British Isles, Australia, and New Zealand. It is also now used in a wide variety of vernacular varieties, even some situated in comparative cultural or regional isolation. Because of its relatively recent expansion, it is much more common among speakers born after the 1960s than those born earlier, though it is now even being adopted by some older speakers. Some speakers of AAE may still use say to introduce a quote, as in I told him, say, “Where you going?” but its use is rapidly receding. In fact, quotative be like is taking over in AAE as it is in other dialects. Quotative be like can also be used in a somewhat more figurative sense, to introduce an imagined quote, or what the speaker was thinking rather than literally saying at the time, as in I was like “What is wrong with you?” A related form is quotative be all, as in a sentence such as I was all, “What’s going on?”
Absence of be forms
Where contracted forms of is or are may occur in general American English, these same forms may be absent in some vernacular varieties. Thus, we get structures such as You ugly or She taking the dog out corresponding to the general American English structures You’re ugly and She’s taking the dog out, respectively. It is important to note that this absence takes place only on “contractible” forms; thus, it does not affect they are in a construction such as That’s where they are, since they are cannot be contracted to they’re in this instance. Furthermore, the absence of be does not usually apply to am, so that sentences such as I ugly do not occur. The deletion of are is typical of both Southern European American and African American varieties, although the absence of is is not very extensive in most European American vernaculars. A more general version of be absence – that includes am and past tense – is sometimes found in varieties developed in the process of learning English as a second language.
There are a number of different subject–verb agreement patterns that enter into the social and regional differentiation of dialects. These include the following:
1 agreement with existential there
There was five people there.
There’s two women in the lobby.
2 leveling to was for past tense forms of be
The cars was out on the street.
Most of the kids was younger up there.
3 leveling to were with negative past tense be
It weren’t me that was there last night.
She weren’t at the creek.
4 leveling to is for present tense forms of be
The dogs is in the house.
We is doing it right now.
5 agreement with the form don’t
She don’t like the cat in the house.
It don’t seem like a holiday.
6 agreement with have
My nerves has been on edge.
My children hasn’t been there much.
7 -s suffix on verbs occurring with third-person plural noun phrase subjects
Some people likes to talk a lot.
Me and my brother gets in fights.
8 -s absence on third-person singular forms
The dog stay_ outside in the afternoon.
She usually like_ the evening news.
Different vernacular varieties exhibit different patterns in terms of the above list. Virtually all vernacular varieties show patterns 1, 2, and 5 above (in fact, MAE varieties are moving towards the pattern found in 1), but in different degrees. The patterns illustrated in 6 and 7 above are most characteristic of rural varieties in the South, and that in 8 is most typical of vernacular AAE. The leveling of past be to weren’t in 3 appears to be regionally restricted to some coastal dialect areas of the Southeast such as the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Past tense absence
Many cases of past tense -ed absence on verbs (e.g. Yesterday he mess up) can be accounted for by the phonological process of consonant cluster reduction found in the discussion of phonology. However, there are some instances in which the use of unmarked past tense forms represents a genuine grammatical difference. Such cases are particularly likely to be found in varieties influenced by other languages in their recent past. Thus, structures such as He bring the food yesterday or He play a new song last night may be the result of a grammatical process rather than a phonological one. Grammatically based tense unmarking tends to be more frequent on regular verbs than irregular ones, so that a structure such as Yesterday he play a new song is more likely than Yesterday he is in a new store, although both may occur. In some cases, both phonological and grammatical processes operate in a convergent way.
Tense unmarking has been found to be prominent in varieties such as Vietnamese English and Native American Indian English in the Southwest. In the latter case, unmarking is favored in habitual contexts (e.g. In those days, we play a different kind of game) as opposed to simple past time (e.g. Yesterday, we play at a friend’s house).
In the dramatic recounting of past time events, speakers may use present tense verb forms rather than past tense forms, as in I go down there and this guy comes up to me. . . . In some cases an -s suffix may be added to non-third-person forms, particularly with the first person form of say (e.g. so I says to him . . . ). This structure is more prominent in European American vernaculars than in AAE.
Some isolated varieties of American English may use forms of be rather than have in present perfect constructions, as in I’m been there before for “I’ve been there before” or You’re taken the best medicine for “You have taken the best medicine”. This construction occurs most frequently in first-person singular contexts (e.g. I’m forgot) but can also occur in the first-person plural and in second-person contexts as well (e.g. we’re forgot, you’re been there). Occasionally, the perfect tense can even be formed with invariant be, as in We be come here for nothing or I’ll be went to the post office. Perfective be derives from the earlier English formation of the perfect with be rather than have for certain verbs (e.g. He is risen vs. “He has risen”). In most cases, it is a retention of the older pattern.
There are several different kinds of patterns affecting adverbs. These involve differences in the placement of adverbs within the sentence, differences in the formation of adverbs, and differences in the use or meaning of particular adverbial forms.
There are several differences in terms of the position of the adverb within the sentence, including the placement of certain time adverbs within the verb phrase, as in We were all the time talking or We watched all the time the news on TV. These cases do not hold great social significance and are not particularly socially stigmatized. More socially marked is the change in order with various forms of ever, as in everwhat, everwho, or everwhich (e.g. Everwho wanted to go could go). These are remnants of older English patterns and are mostly dying out.
Comparatives and superlatives
Most vernacular varieties of English indicate some comparative and superlative adjective and adverb forms that are not found in standard varieties. Some forms involve the regularization of irregular forms, as in badder or mostest, while others involve the use of -er and -est on adjectives of two or more syllables (e.g. beautifulest, awfulest), where the standard variety uses more and most. In some instances, comparatives and superlatives are doubly marked, as in most awfulest or more nicer. As we discuss in chapter 2, both regularization and double marking are highly natural language processes.
In present-day American English, some adverbs that formerly ended in an -ly suffix no longer take -ly. Thus, in informal contexts, most general American English speakers say They answered wrong instead of They answered wrongly. The range of items affected by -ly absence can be extended in different vernacular dialects. These items may be relatively unobtrusive (e.g. She enjoyed life awful well) or quite obtrusive (e.g. I come from Virginia original). The more stigmatized forms are associated with Southern-based vernacular varieties, particularly Southern mountain varieties such as Appalachian and Ozark English.
In some Southern-based vernaculars, certain adverbs can be used to intensify particular attributes or activities. In general American English, the adverb right is currently limited to contexts involving location or time (e.g. He lives right around the corner). However, in Southern-based vernaculars, right may be used to intensify the degree of other types of attributes, as in She is right nice. Other adverbs, such as plumb, serve to indicate intensity to the point of totality, as in The students fell plumb asleep. In some parts of the South, slam is used to indicate “totality” rather than plumb, as in The students fell slam asleep; clean may be used in a similar way in other areas, including some Northern dialects (e.g. The hole went clean through the wall). The use of big in big old dog, little in little old dog, and right in It hurts right much also function as intensifiers in these varieties.
A special function of the adverb steady has been described for AAE. In this variety, steady may be used in constructions such as They be steady messing with you to refer to an intense, ongoing activity.
Other adverbial forms
There are a number of other cases in which the adverbial forms of vernacular varieties differ from their standard counterparts. Some of these involve word class changes, as in the use of but as an adverb meaning “only,” as in He ain’t but thirteen years old, or the item all in The corn got all (“The corn is all gone/finished”). In many Midland dialects of American English, anymore may be used in positive constructions with a meaning of “nowadays,” as in She watches a lot of videos anymore.
Some vernacular dialects contain adverbial lexical items not found at all in standard varieties, for example, adverbs of location such as yonder, thisaway, thataway, and so forth (e.g. It’s up yonder; It’s thisaway, not thataway). Other adverbial differences come from the phonological fusion of items, as in t’all from at all (e.g. It’s not coming up t’all), pert’ near (e.g. She’s pert’ near seventy), or druther (e.g. Druther than lose the farm, he fought). In parts of the South historically influenced by Scots-Irish, the adverb whenever may be used to indicate a one-time event (e.g. Whenever he died, we were young) rather than habitually occurring events (e.g. Whenever we dance, he’s my partner), as it does in most general American varieties. Again, such differences must be considered on an item-by-item basis.
The two major vernacular negation features of American English are the use of so-called “double negatives,” or the marking of negative meaning at more than one point in a sentence, and the use of the lexical item ain’t. Other forms, resulting directly from the acquisition of English as a second language (e.g. He no like the man), are found in the speech of people learning English as a second language, but these do not seem to be perpetuated as a continuing part of the vernacular English variety of such speakers once they have completed their transition to English. An exception may be the negative tag no as found in some Hispanic English varieties, as in They’re going to the store, no?
There are four different patterns of multiple negative marking found in the vernacular varieties of English:
1 marking of the negative on the auxiliary verb and the indefinite(s) following the verb
The man wasn’t saying nothing.
He didn’t say nothing about no people bothering him or nothing like that.
2 negative marking of an indefinite before the verb phrase and of the auxiliary verb
Nobody didn’t like the mess.
Nothing can’t stop him from failing the course.
3 inversion of the negativized auxiliary verb and the pre-verbal indefinite
Didn’t nobody like the mess. (“Nobody liked the mess”)
Can’t nothing stop him from failing the course.
4 multiple negative marking across different clauses
There wasn’t much that I couldn’t do (meaning “There wasn’t much I could do”).
I wasn’t sure that nothing wasn’t going to come up (meaning “I wasn’t sure that anything was going to come up”).
Virtually all vernacular varieties of English participate in multiple negation of type 1; restricted Northern and most Southern vernaculars participate in 2; most Southern vernaculars participate in 3; and restricted Southern and African American vernacular varieties participate in 4.
The item ain’t may be used as a variant for certain standard American English forms, including the following:
1 forms of be + not
She ain’t here now.
I ain’t gonna do it.
2 forms of have + not
I ain’t seen her in a long time.
She ain’t gone to the movies in a long time.
3 did + not
He ain’t tell him he was sorry.
I ain’t go to school yesterday.
The first two types are found in most vernacular varieties, but the third type, in which ain’t corresponds with standard didn’t, has only been found in AAE.
Past tense wont
The form wont, pronounced much like the negative modal won’t, may occur as a generalized form for past tense negative be – that is, wasn’t and weren’t. Thus, we may find sentences such as It wont me and My friends wont the ones who ate the food. Although the form probably arose through the application of phonological processes to forms of wasn’t and weren’t, wont now seems to serve as a past tense analogue of ain’t, since both ain’t and wont have a single form for use with all persons and numbers (as opposed to standard forms of be + not, which vary quite a bit by person and number). Its use is restricted to rural Southern varieties, particularly those found in the South Atlantic region.
Nouns and pronouns
Constructions involving nouns and pronouns are often subject to socially significant dialect variation. The major types of differences involve the attachment of various suffixes and the use of particular case markings – that is, inflectional forms that indicate the role which nouns and pronouns play in the particular sentences in which they occur.
There are several different ways in which plurals may be formed which differentiate them from plurals found in general American English. These include the following:
1 general absence of plural suffix
Lots of boy_ go to the school.
All the girl_ liked the movie.
2 restricted absence of plural suffix with measurement nouns
The station is four mile_ down the road.
They hauled in a lotta bushel_ of corn.
3 regularization of various irregular plural noun forms
They saw the deers running across the field.
The firemans liked the convention.
Plural absence of type 1 is found only among varieties where another language was spoken in the recent past and, to a limited degree, in AAE. In category 2, plural suffix absence is limited to nouns of weights (e.g. four pound, three ton) and measures (e.g. two foot, twenty mile) that occur with a “quantifying” word such as a number (e.g. four) or plural modifier (e.g. a lot of, some), including some temporal nouns (e.g. two year, five month); this pattern is found in Southern-based rural vernaculars. Category 3 includes regularization of plurals that are not overtly marked in general American English (e.g. deers, sheeps), forms marked with irregular suffixes in the standard (e.g. oxes), and forms marked by vowel changes (e.g. firemans, snowmans). In the last case, plurals may be double-marked, as in mens or childrens. Some kinds of plurals in category 3 are quite widespread among the vernacular varieties of English (e.g. regularizing non-marked plurals such as deers), whereas others (e.g. double marking in mens) are more limited.
There are several patterns involving possessive nouns and pronouns, including the following:
1 the absence of the possessive suffix
The man_ hat is on the chair.
John_ coat is here.
2 regularization of the possessive pronoun mines, by analogy with yours, his, hers, etc.
Mines is here.
3 the use of possessive forms ending in -n, as in hisn, ourn, or yourn. Such forms can only be found in phrase- or sentence-final position (called absolute position), as in It is hisn or It was yourn that I was talking about; -n forms do not usually occur in structures such as It is hern book.
Is it yourn?
I think it’s hisn.
The first two types of possessives are typical of vernacular varieties of AAE, and the third type is found in vernacular Appalachian English and other rural varieties characterized by the retention of relic forms, although it is now restricted to older speakers in these varieties.
Pronoun differences typically involve regularization by analogy and rule extension. The categories of difference include the following:
1 regularization of reflexive forms by analogy with other possessive pronouns such as myself, yourself, ourselves, etc.)
He hit hisself on the head.
They shaved theirselves with the new razor.
2 extension of object forms with coordinate subjects
Me and him will do it.
John and them will be home soon.
3 adoption of a second-person plural form to “fill out” the person–number paradigm (I, you, he/she/it, we, you, they)
a Y’all won the game.
I’m going to leave y’all now.
b Youse won the game.
I’m going to leave youse now.
c You’uns won the game.
I’m going to leave you’uns now.
4 extension of object forms to demonstratives
Them books are on the shelf.
She didn’t like them there boys.
5 a special personal dative use of the object pronoun form
I got me a new car.
We had us a little old dog.
The first four types of pronominal difference are well represented in most vernacular dialects of English. The particular form used for the second-person plural pronoun (type 3) varies by region: 3a is the Southern form, 3b is the Northern form, and 3c is the form used in an area extending from Southern Appalachia to Pittsburgh. The so-called personal dative illustrated in 5 is a Southern feature that indicates that the subject of the sentence (e.g. we) benefited in some way from the object (e.g. little old dog).
Other pronoun forms, such as the use of an object form with a non-coordinate subject (e.g. Her in the house) and the use of subject or object forms in possessive structures (e.g. It is she book; It is he book), are quite rare in most current vernaculars, except for those still closely related to a prior creole. The use of possessive me, as in It’s me cap, is occasionally found in historically isolated varieties which have some Scots-Irish influence.
Differences affecting relative pronouns (e.g. who in She’s the one who gave me the present) include the use of certain relative pronoun forms in contexts where they would not be used in general American English and the absence of relative pronouns under certain conditions. Differences in relative pronoun forms may range from the relatively socially insignificant use of that for human subjects (e.g. The person that I was telling you about is here) to the quite stigmatized use of what, as in The person what I was telling you about is here. One form that is becoming more common, and spreading into informal varieties of general American English, is the use of the relative pronoun which as a coordinating conjunction (i.e. and), as in They gave me this cigar, which they know I don’t smoke cigars.
In general American English, relative pronouns may be deleted if they are the object in the relative clause. For example, That’s the dog that I bought may alternately be produced as That’s the dog I bought. In most cases where the relative pronoun is the subject, however, the pronoun must be retained, as in That’s the dog that bit me. However, a number of Southern-based varieties may sometimes delete relative pronouns in subject position, as in That’s the dog bit me or The man come in here is my father. The absence of the relative pronoun is more common in existential constructions such as There’s a dog bit me than in other constructions.
As used in sentences such as There are four people in school and There’s a picture on TV, the American English form there is called an existential, since it indicates the mere existence of something rather than specific location (as in Put the book over there). Vernacular varieties may use it or they for there in existential constructions, as in It’s a dog in the yard or They’s a good show on TV. They for there seems to be found only in Southern-based vernaculars; it is more general in vernacular varieties.
Other grammatical structures
There are a number of additional structures not included in this overview of vernacular grammatical constructions. Some of the excluded forms include those that were once thought to be confined to vernacular varieties but have been shown to be quite common in informal standard varieties. For example, we did not include the structure known as “pronominal apposition,” in which a pronoun is used in addition to a noun in subject position, as in My father, he made my breakfast, because this feature is found in practically all social groups of American English speakers, even though it is often considered to be a vernacular dialect feature. Furthermore, it is not particularly obtrusive in spoken language. It has also been found that the use of inverted word order in indirect questions, as in She asked could she go to the movies, is becoming just as much a part of informal spoken general American English as indirect questions without inverted word order, as in She asked if she could go to the movies. Other differences, such as those affecting prepositions, have to be treated on an item-by-item basis and really qualify as lexical rather than grammatical differences. Thus, forms such as of a evening/of the evening (“in the evening”), upside the head (“on the side of the head”), leave out of there (“leave from there”), the matter of him (“the matter with him”), to for at (e.g. She’s to the store right now), and so forth have to be treated individually. Infinitive constructions such as for to, as in I’d like for you to go vs. I’d like you to go, or even I’d like for to go also constitute a case of a restricted lexical difference. Similarly, cases of article use or non-use, such as the use of articles with certain illnesses and diseases (e.g. She has the colic, He had the earache) affect only certain lexical items in particular dialects. Traditional Linguistic Atlas surveys and the Dictionary of American Regional English give much more adequate detail about these forms than can be given in this overview.
Glossary of Terms
absolute position The position at the end of a clause or sentence; for example, his is in absolute position in The book is his, but not in His book is here.
accent (1) A popular label for dialect, with particular reference to pronunciation. (2) Speech influenced by another language (e.g. “She speaks with a French accent”). (3) See stress.
acronym A word formed by combining the initial sounds or letters of words, for example NATO or UN.
additive dialect See bidialectalism.
address form The name used in speaking to or referring to a person; for example, Ms Jones, Chris, Professor Smith.
addressee A person to whom speech is directed.
advocacy research Research that includes work to benefit one’s subjects in some way. See empowering research and ethical research.
affix A morpheme that attaches to the base or root word; in retells, re- and -s are affixes.
African American English (AAE) The variety of American English spoken by some people of African descent in the US. Often abbreviated AAE.
African diaspora The dispersal of people from Sub-Saharan Africa, usually as a result of the slave trade, into other parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and North America.
age-grading The association of certain linguistic usages with a particular stage in the life cycle (for example, teenagers make heavy use of slang). See apparent time hypothesis.
agreement A co-occurrence relationship between grammatical forms, such as that between the subject and verb of a sentence; in the following sentence, the third-person singular subject agrees with the verb because it is marked with the morpheme -s: She likes dialectology.
alveolar (Of a sound) produced by touching the blade of the tongue to the small ridge just in back of the upper teeth.
analogy The application of a pattern to forms not previously included in a set, as in the regularization of the plural ox to oxes or the formation of the past tense of bring as brang on the basis of sing and sang and ring and rang.
four-part analogy; also proportional analogy The changing of irregular forms for words on the basis of regular patterns (e.g. cow : cows :: ox : oxes).
leveling (as a subtype of analogy) The reduction of distinct forms within a grammatical paradigm, as in the use of was with all subject persons and numbers for past tense be (e.g. I/you/(s)he/we/you/they was). See also dialect leveling.
minority pattern analogy The changing of a form on the basis of an irregular pattern; for example, the formation of the past tense of bring as brang on the basis of sing/sang rather than the regular -ed past tense pattern.
Anglicist hypothesis The contention that African American English is derived historically from dialects transplanted to America from the British Isles. The Neo-Anglicist hypothesis also holds that African Americans derived their basic language from British dialects, but contends that it has since diverged considerably from European American varieties.
apex An arching dialect area, or the restricted extension of one dialect area into an adjacent one; for example, the Hoosier apex is an extension of Southern speech in Southern Indiana and Illinois.
apparent time hypothesis The assumption that one’s speech reflects the state of the language at the time one learned one’s language as a child. For example, a speaker born in 1950 would reflect the dialect of their community spoken as they were growing up, whereas a speaker born in 1980 would reflect the state of the language thirty years later. Based on the apparent time hypothesis, researchers often infer patterns of language change by looking at the speech of different generations of speakers at a single moment in time.
argot A deliberately secretive vocabulary or jargon; often used with reference to criminal activity.
aspect A grammatical category pertaining to verbs which indicates type or duration of activity; for example has written (perfect aspect) vs. has been writing (imperfect aspect). Compare tense and mood.
aspiration A puff of air after the production of a stop, as in the pronunciation of p in pie [phaI]; usually indicated by a raised [h] after the sound.
assimilation The modification of sounds so that they become more like neighboring sounds; for example, the negative prefix in- assimilates to il- when preceding an l (e.g. illogical).
attention to speech The approach to style shifting which maintains that style shifting is conditioned primarily by the amount of attention given to speech: The more attention paid to speech, the more formal the style will become.
audience design The approach to style shifting that maintains that speakers adjust their speech based primarily upon the attributes of people in their audience of listeners.
auditor A person in a speech situation who is considered to be a legitimate participant in the conversational interaction but is not directly addressed.
auxiliary A form occurring with a main verb, traditionally referred to as a “helping verb”; for example, has in has made, done in done tried.
avertive A grammatical form that denotes an action or event narrowly avoided, figuratively or literally. The form liketa in a sentence such as It was so cold I liketa froze to death functions as an avertive.
back formation The creation of a shorter word from a longer word based on the removal of what appears to be an affix but is in reality part of the original word; for example, burgle from burglar, conversate from conversation.
back vowel A vowel produced with the tongue toward the back of the mouth; for example, the goose vowel [u] of Luke, or the goat vowel [o] of boat.
backchanneling The linguistic and extralinguistic strategies used by a listener to indicate that the speaker may continue with an extended conversational turn; for example, uhmm and right may serve as backchanneling devices.
bare root The root form of a verb. With certain verbs, it may be used to indicate past tense in vernacular dialects; for example, give may be used as a past tense form in sentences such as Yesterday they give me a present.
bidialectalism The position in teaching standard English that maintains that the standard should co-exist with a vernacular variety rather than replace it.
bilabial See labial.
blending The creation of a new word by combining portions of different words; for example, words such as smog (smoke + fog) or twirl (twist + whirl) were formed through blending.
borrowing A language item that is taken from another language; for example, arroyo “gully” from Spanish.
bound morpheme A morpheme that cannot stand alone as a separate word but must be attached to another item; for example, the -s in boys. Compare free morpheme.
breaking See vowel breaking.
broad a A non-technical label for the vowel found in the trap vowel of words such as bat and back.
broadening See semantic broadening.
bundle of isoglosses A set of isoglosses that cluster together and serve to set apart dialect areas on a map.
California Vowel Shift A vowel shift associated with North California, in which the back vowels are moving forward (the goose vowel becomes more like giws and the goat vowel more like gewt). The front kit vowel is raising towards the fleece vowel before ng (as in something like “theeng” for thing) but lowering towards the dress vowel before other consonants (as in something like dead for did), while the dress vowel is lowering towards the trap vowel. The Trap vowel becomes a diphthong like stee-and for stand before nasals while shifting towards the lot vowel elsewhere, as in “bock pock” for backpack.
camouflaged form A form in a vernacular variety that looks like a standard usage but is used in a structurally or functionally different way; for example, constructions such as They come here talking that nonsense in AAE appear to be like standard structures such as They come running but actually carry a unique meaning of speaker indignation.
Canadian Raising The production of the nucleus of the price vowel /ai/ and mouth vowel /au/ diphthongs become the comma vowel--a mid central vowel rather than low vowel ([rǝIt] for right or [ǝUt] for out).
cascade diffusion The spread of language features from areas of denser population to areas of sparser population. Also called hierarchical diffusion. See gravity model. Compare contagious diffusion, contrahierarchical diffusion.
case A form that indicates the role of a noun or pronoun in a sentence. For example, I is the subject of the sentence in I hate cheaters and therefore is in subjective case; me is the object of the verb in Dogs hate me and thus is in objective case.
careful Style of speech in which a high level of attention is paid to speech, such as in a minimal pairs list. Compare casual speech.
casual Style of speech in which a low level of attention is paid to speech, such as in a sociolinguistic interview or casual conversation. Compare careful speech.
chain shifting The shifting of a series of vowels in phonetic space in order to preserve phonetic distinctiveness among the vowel sounds. See vowel rotation.
change from above A change in a language form of which speakers are consciously aware.
change from below A change in a language form of which speakers are not aware on a conscious level.
change from outside A language change that takes place due to borrowing from other languages or dialects.
change from within A change that is initiated from within the language itself, due to the internal dynamics of the linguistic system.
channel cues Features accompanying speech that may help determine which speech style is being used; for example, laughter or increased tempo may be a channel cue for a more casual speech style. Also called paralinguistic channel cues.
clipping The formation of a new word through the removal of syllables, such as dorm for dormitory.
code-meshing a strategy for using both local varieties with standard varieties in conversation or presentation (including standard written languages). See metaphorical code-switching.
code-switching Switching between two different languages; compare style shifting.
coining The creation of a new word not based on any previous form; for example, meehonkey for “hide and seek” on the island of Ocracoke, North Carolina.
colloquial Informal. Compare slang.
Communication Accommodation Theory An updated version of Speech Accommodation Theory. Among the updates is increasing emphasis on ways of achieving psychological convergence with one’s addressees other than linguistic convergence – for example, talking more rather than less to encourage a speaker who talks very little.
communication network A group of people who are linked together via lines of communication.
community of practice A group of people who come together through some shared social enterprise, for example, an aerobics group, a group of graduate students, etc.
complement A word, phrase, or clause that completes a predicate; structures co-occurring with particular verbs (e.g. painting in The house needed painting, the clause the house was dirty in I told him that the house was dirty).
completion task A format used to elicit an item in which the interviewee completes an incomplete sentence (e.g. “The hard inside of a peach is called a______.”). Also known as “fill-in-the-blank.”
completive A form signaling that an action has been completed at a previous time, with emphasis upon the completion; for example, “completive” done in He done took out the garbage or You done messed up this time.
compound A word created by combining two or more words, as in lighthouse from light + house.
concord See agreement.
conflict model A model of social class in which differences are interpreted as the consequences of divisions and conflicts within the society.
consensus model An approach to social class in which it is assumed that all groups in a society agree on the norms of prestige and social ranking.
consonant A sound produced by momentarily blocking airflow in the mouth or throat; for example, [b] and [t] in bat.
consonant cluster The sequencing of two or more consecutive consonants without an intervening vowel; for example, [st] in stop or [ld] in wild.
consonant cluster reduction The elimination of a consonant in a cluster; for example, the [st] in mist [mIst] may become [s], as in mis’ [mIs].
constraint (on variability) A linguistic or social factor that increases or decreases the likelihood that a given variant in a fluctuating set of items will occur. For example, the voicing of the following consonant is a constraint on the variability of the price vowel /ai/ in Southern speech, since /ai/ is more likely to be pronounced like the lot vowel [a] when the following sound is voiced than when it is voiceless.
contagious diffusion The spread of language features from a central point outward in geographic space. See wave model.
content validity The extent to which a test measures the content area it claims to measure.
content word A word having referential meaning, such as the noun dog or the adjective blue. Compare function word.
contraction The shortening of words by omitting sounds, often resulting in the attachment of the contracted word to another word; for example, is + not contracts to isn’t, she will contracts to she’ll.
contrahierarchical diffusion The spread of language features from sparsely populated areas to those of denser population. Compare cascade diffusion, contagious diffusion.
contrastive linguistics The study of different languages or dialects by comparing structures in each of the varieties to determine points of similarity and difference between the varieties.
convergence (1) In Speech Accommodation Theory, the notion that speakers will adjust their speech to become more like that of their addressees. Compare divergence. (2) The adjustment of a language variety over time to become more like another dialect or other dialects. Compare divergence hypothesis.
conversion The creation of a new word by using an existing word as a different part of speech; for example, the verb run may be used as a noun in They scored a run.
copula The form used to “link” a subject with a predicate; in English, a form of be when used as a linking verb, as in She is nice, Tanya is the boss.
copula deletion, copula absence The absence of the copula, as in You ugly for You’re ugly; the term usually is extended to auxiliary uses of be forms as well, as in He writing a book for He’s writing a book.
covert prestige Positive value ascribed to language forms which is based on the local social value of the forms rather than their value in larger society. See overt prestige.
creole exceptionalism The consideration of creole languages to be an unusual or “exceptional” process rather than the normal and natural process of language contact routinely exhibited by all languages in their development.
creole See creole language.
creole language A contact-based language in which the primary vocabulary of one language is superimposed upon a specially adapted grammatical structure composed primarily of the structures common in language contact situations. See pidgin language.
creaky voice A phenomenon in speech production or phonation in which the vocal cords are configured so that there is very slow vibration at one end of the vocal cords.
creolist hypothesis The contention that African American English developed historically from an ancestral creole language.
critical age hypothesis The hypothesis that true language mastery can only occur during a given age period, namely, during the prepubescent period.
crossing The use of a non-native dialect or dialect features.
cultural difference approach An approach to the study of language and gender that views differences in men’s and women’s speech as a function of their different sociocultural experiences. Compare deficit approach, dominance approach.
dative The grammatical case in which forms occur when they function as the indirect object of a sentence; for example, Terry in Todd gave the ball to Terry, Howard in They made a glossary for Howard. See personal dative.
debt incurred See principle of debt incurred.
decoding The process of breaking down the written word letter by letter and relating the letters to the sound units or phonemes of spoken language.
decreolization The process whereby a historical creole language loses the distinguishing features of its creole predecessor, usually through contact with a standard variety of the language.
deficit approach With reference to language and gender studies, the approach that considers women’s language traits as deficient versions of men’s language. Compare dominance approach, cultural difference approach, diversity approach.
deficit–difference controversy A controversy which took place in the 1960s and 1970s in which linguists argued with educators that vernacular varieties of English should be considered as different dialects of English rather than deficient versions of standard English.
definition by ostentation The indication of knowledge about a language feature by demonstrating its use.
deliberate linguistic distinctiveness The purposeful use of marked linguistic features in order to show cultural (e.g. religious) separateness.
density The extent to which members of a social network all interact with one another; if there is a high degree of interaction (i.e. if “everyone knows everyone else”), the network has high density; if not, it has low density. See social network.
derivational morpheme A prefix or suffix that changes the basic meaning and/or word class of an item; for example, the -er in buyer changes the form from a verb to a noun.
Descriptivism, Descriptivist Approach The description of a language variety based on the observation of language structures and based on the natural use by speakers, How language is structured and used are studied apart from the social value placed on particular patterns.
devoicing The phonetic change of voiced sounds to their voiceless counterparts, as in [d] to [t] (e.g. bad to bat) or [z] to [s] (buzz to bus).
dialect A variety of a language associated with a particular regional or social group.
dialect awareness programs Activities conducted by linguists and community members that are intended to promote an understanding of and appreciation for language variation.
dialect density measure A composite inventory of vernacular dialect features, in which the use of canonical vernacular features is divided by the number of utterances or words.
dialect discrimination In testing, penalizing speakers of vernacular varieties on the basis of dialect differences; for example, in language-acquisition testing, treating the use of a dialect form as evidence that the standard form has not been acquired. See linguistic profiling.
dialect endangerment See endangered dialect.
dialect geography The study of the geographical distribution of dialect groups or linguistic forms.
dialect leveling The reduction of dialectal distinctiveness through mixing with other dialects.
dialect rights A position advocating that students should not be asked to give up their dialect, either by replacing it or by adding a standard variety.
dialectally diagnostic With reference to language features, serving to differentiate social and regional groups from one another.
difference approach See cultural difference approach.
differentiation The development of internal dialects in a country whose dominant language originated in another country.
diffusion The spread of language features; typically used with reference to regional spread but may also be used with reference to spread across social groups. See cascade diffusion, contagious diffusion, contrahierarchical diffusion.
diphthong A “two-part” vowel consisting of a main vowel, or nucleus, followed by a secondary vowel, or glide; for example, the price vowel [aI] of bite and the choice vowel [ɔI] of boy are diphthongs.
diphthongization See vowel breaking.
direct transfer model A model accounting for dialect influence in writing on the basis of direct carryover from spoken to written language.
directive A speech act in which the speaker directs the listener to do something; for example, Take the garbage out.
dissimilation Changing similar sounds so that they become more distinctive from one another; for example, the first l of colonel has been changed to [r] to make it less like the final l.
divergence (1) In Speech Accommodation Theory, the notion that speakers may adjust their language to distance themselves from addressees. Compare convergence. (2) The development of a language variety or language structure so that it becomes more dissimilar from other varieties or structures.
divergence hypothesis The contention that contemporary vernacular African American English is becoming increasingly dissimilar from corresponding vernacular European American varieties.
diversity approach An approach to language and gender that is underscores a continuum of gender rather than a simple dichotomy between binary categories of male and female.
dominance approach With respect to language and gender, the interpretation of female–male language differences as the result of power differences between women and men. Compare deficit approach, cultural difference approach, diversity approach.
double modal The co-occurrence of two or even three modal forms within a single verb phrase, as in They might could do it or They might oughta should do it.
double negation See multiple negation.
dropped r See r-lessness.
early adopters The first people in tightly knit groups to adopt incoming changes; they typically are central figures in these groups but adventuresome enough to adopt changes.
eavesdropper A person who is not known to be part of a speaker’s audience but who may be listening in on a conversational exchange.
Ebonics See African American English.
elicitation frame A question designed to lead an interviewee to produce a word or structural item (e.g. What is the hard inside part of a peach called?).
empowering research Research that seeks to address the community’s desires and goals and is undertaken with the community. See advocacy research and ethical research.
endangered dialect A dialect that is in danger of dying via (1) the recession of distinguishing dialect features in the face of the encroachment of features from other varieties, or (2) the loss of speakers of the dialect.
endonormative stabilization The adoption of local, indigenous norms as opposed to those from the outside. See exnormative stabilization.
enregisterment The process by which a language feature become more strongly and overtly associated with groups and stances, for example the association of negative concord with working class status.
environment See linguistic environment.
eradicationism The position on teaching standard English that maintains that the standard dialect should be taught in place of a vernacular one – that is, used as a replacive dialect – thus “eradicating” the vernacular variety.
error analysis An analytical procedure which starts with the set of actual non-normative responses produced by a speaker rather than non-normative responses which are predicted on the basis of a structural comparison of the varieties.
error correction See principle of error correction.
ethical research Research that poses minimal risks to participants and maximum acknowledgement for participant contribution. See advocacy research and empowering research.
ethnic dialect A language variety associated with an ethnic group, regardless of its language history. Compare to ethnolect, socioethnic dialect.
ethnolect A variety of language which is strongly associated with a particular ethnic population, for example African American English, Cajun English, or Latino English.
ethnolinguistic repertoire a fluid set of linguistic resources that can be used to index linguistic identity of members of an ethnic group, offering an alternative to defining a unitary system that characterizes a community of vernacular speakers.
European American An American of British or Continental European (especially Northern European) descent, popularly labeled “White” in American society. Often used as a “catch-all” to refer to anyone who does not consider themselves, or is not considered by others, to have a marked “ethnic” identity, due in large part to the longstanding societal dominance of Northern European American culture in the United States.
existential A form used to indicate existence but having no referential meaning of its own; for example, the form there in There are four students taking the course. Also called expletive.
exonormative stabilization The establishment of language or dialect norms based on an external model. See endonormative stabilization.
expletive (1) An interjection, often used with reference to profane words (e.g. Damn!). (2) See existential.
extension See rule extension.
eye dialect The use of spelling to suggest dialect difference; the spelling does not reflect an actual dialect difference; for example, wuz for was.
fading isogloss A type of isogloss where regional features diminish as one moves from a dialect center to outlying areas.
figurative extension The extension of the meaning of a word to refer to items which are quite different from its original referents but which share a meaning feature with the original set of referents. For example, submarine has been figuratively extended to apply to a type of sandwich which is similar in shape to the seafaring vessel.
fine stratification See gradient stratification.
first order constraint The factor that has the greatest systematic effect on the variability of an item; the second most important factor is referred to as the second order constraint.
flap A sound made by rapidly tapping the tip of the tongue to the alveolar ridge, as in the usual American English pronunciation of t in Betty [bɛDi] or d in ladder [læDɚ].
floor The right to speak, as in holding the floor.
focal area A regional area at the center of dialect innovation and change; changes radiate from this area outward.
focusing The selection of only a few dialect features to mark an entire language variety.
folk dialectology See perceptual dialectology.
folk etymology Altering words so that they are transparent in terms of known meanings and forms, as in cold slaw for cole slaw or old timer’s disease for Alzheimer’s disease.
Formal Standard English The variety of English prescribed as the standard by language authorities; found primarily in written language and the most formal spoken language (e.g. spoken language which is based on a written form of the language).
formant A vocal harmonic, which in a spectrograph will show as a dense and dark band, and roughly corresponds to tongue position in the mouth; these resonancy peaks are what distinguish vowels.
fossilized form A form that occurs during the learning of a second language and persists while other forms continue their development toward the second-language norm.
foundation stage The first stage in the spread of a language into a region where it was not previously spoken; typically characterized by heterogeneous usage patterns by speakers from different dialect areas.
founder effect The enduring effect of language structures brought to an area by the earliest group of speakers of that language settling in the region.
four-part analogy See analogy.
free morpheme A morpheme that can occur alone as a word; for example, boy in boys. Compare bound morpheme.
fricative A sound produced with a continuous flow of air through a narrow opening in the mouth so that there is “friction” at the point of articulation (e.g. [f], [s]).
front vowel A vowel produced toward the front of the mouth, as in the fleece vowel [i] of beet or the trap vowel [æ] of bat.
function word A word used to indicate grammatical relations between elements of a sentence rather than referential meaning; for example, articles such as the/a, prepositions such as to/at. Compare content word.
fundamental frequency The lowest frequency of a periodic waveform, or the Zero Formant, or the “basic pitch.”
g-dropping The production of ng in unstressed syllables as n’ (e.g. swimmin’ for swimming); in spelling, this is usually indicated by n’, but the actual phonetic shift involves the change from the back nasal [ŋ] to a front nasal [n].
Geechee See Gullah.
gender The complex of social, cultural, and psychological factors that surround sex; contrasted with sex as biological attribute.
general social significance The social evaluation of a form that holds regardless of the geographical area in which it is found.
generic he The use of the masculine pronoun he for referents which can be either male or female; for example, If a student wants to pass the course, he should study. The noun man historically has also been used as a generic, as in Man shall not live by bread alone.
genre A language style associated with a well-defined situation of use; often formulaic and performative. Compare register.
glide The secondary vowel of a diphthong (e.g. [I] in bite [baIt]). So called because speakers glide from the main vowel or nucleus to the secondary vowel in the production of the diphthong.
glottal stop A rapid opening and closing of the vocal cords that creates a kind of “popping”
sound. In most dialects, a glottal stop occurs instead of a [t] in words like kitten [kɪʔn̩] and button [bʌʔn̩]; in some dialects, it may occur instead of a [d] or [t] in bottle [baʔl].
gradient stratification The distribution of socially significant linguistic structures among members of different social groups along a continuous scale rather than on the basis of discrete breaks between adjacent social groups. Also referred to as fine stratification.
grammar The formation of words and sentences out of their constituent parts.
grammatical (1) (With reference to sentences and forms) that which conforms to the unconscious rules of a language or dialect; linguistically “well-formed” as opposed to “ill-formed.” (2) In popular usage, referring to language forms and constructions that conform to norms of social acceptability; in this usage, “grammatical” constructions may or may not be linguistically well formed; conversely, linguistically well-formed constructions may or may not be socially acceptable. Compare ungrammatical.
grammaticalization The encoding of a unique meaning onto a form; for example, in AAE, the invariant form of be has become uniquely associated with habituality in sentences such as You always be acting weird.
gravity model A model of dialect diffusion which holds that linguistic features spread via cascade or hierarchical diffusion.
group-exclusive With reference to language forms or patterns, confined to one particular group of speakers.
group-preferential With reference to language forms or patterns, concentrated in a certain group of speakers but found to an extent among other speakers.
group reference Identification with a particular group in terms of sociopsychological self-definition.
Gullah A creole language spoken primarily by African Americans in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Also called Geechee.
habitual (With reference to an ongoing activity or activities) taking place at intermittent intervals over time (e.g. as signaled by the use of be in the AAE structure When I come home, I usually be taking a nap).
heat map A cartographical representation of data where different values are indicated as different colors, and differing proportions/probabilities as differing degrees of shading
hierarchical diffusion See cascade diffusion, gravity model.
high density See density.
high vowel A vowel made with the tongue in high position in the mouth, as in the fleece vowel [i] of beet or the goose vowel [u] of boot.
historical present A present tense form used in the recounting of a past time event, as in Yesterday, I go down there and this guy comes up to me . . . ; generally used for dramatic vividness.
homophones/homophonous words Different words that are pronounced the same, as in dear and deer; in some Southern dialects of English pin and pen are homophones.
Hoosier apex See apex.
hypercorrection The extension of a language form beyond its regular linguistic boundaries when a speaker feels a need to use extremely standard or “correct” forms. See statistical and structural hypercorrection.
Hyperstandard English Forms of English that are too formal or standard for everyday conversation; speech that is marked for sounding unusually formal or “proper.”
indexical field A group of ideologically related meanings, which can be activated by a linguistic variable; for example, -in for -ing might connote working class, down to earth status, or casualness.
indexical order, indexicality A sociolinguistic framework (cf. Silverstein 2003) in which the choice of linguistic variants on an interactional level reflects underlying, larger social meaning.
indicator See social indicator.
indirect speech act A speech act used to accomplish another type of speech act; for example, a statement such as The garbage is overflowing when used to request a person to empty the garbage.
inflectional morpheme A suffix that augments a word without changing its basic meaning or its word class; for example, the -s in dogs or the -er in bigger.
Informal Standard English The spoken variety of English considered socially acceptable in mainstream contexts; typically characterized by the absence of socially stigmatized linguistic structures.
inherent variability Variability between items within a single dialect system; speakers sometimes produce one variant and sometimes another. For example, sometimes speakers say drinking and at other times they say drinkin’ in the same social context.
initiative style shift A shift in speech style motivated by the speaker’s desire to shape situations, relationships, and/or personal identity in some way.
innovators The first people to adopt changes; they typically have loose ties to many social groups but strong ties to none.
interdental A sound produced by placing the tongue tip between the upper and lower teeth; sounds such as the [Ɵ] of think and the [ð] of the are interdentals.
interruption “Breaking into” the speech of the person holding the floor without waiting for a signal which indicates that the speaker is ready to relinquish the floor.
intervocalic Occurring between vowels; for example, r in Mary, t in butter.
intonation The pitch contours that accompany phrases and sentences; for example, question intonation on Are you going? vs. statement intonation of You are going.
intransitive verb A verb that does not take an object; for example, the verb jog in The students jogged is intransitive.
intrusive Additional, as in the additional t of acrosst or the r of warsh.
intuition In linguistics, the ability of native speakers to judge the well-formedness of particular kinds of sentences. With reference to vernacular dialects, judgment of well-formedness, or grammaticality, may be in opposition to judgments of social acceptability. For example, the sentence Sometimes my ears be itching is a well-formed, grammatical sentence as judged by native speaker intuitions but is socially unacceptable. See also linguistic intuition.
inversion A reversal of the “typical” order of items; for example, Are you going? vs. You are going, or Can’t nobody do it vs. Nobody can’t do it.
irregular form An item that does not conform to the predominant pattern; for example, the -en plural of oxen, the past tense of come (came). Compare regular form.
isogloss A line on a map indicating a boundary between the use and non-use of a particular linguistic feature. See also bundle of isoglosses.
isoglossal layering See layering.
jargon A particular vocabulary characteristic of a group of speakers who share a certain interest; for example, computer jargon, sports jargon.
junk language See mock language.
labial A sound produced primarily with the lips; the [p] in pit is bilabial, involving both lips, while the [f] in four is labiodental, since it involves the lower lip and upper teeth.
labiodental See labial.
language acquisition The unconscious learning of language rules which results in implicit knowledge of language.
language ideology Ingrained, unquestioned beliefs about the way the world is, the way it should be, and the way it has to be with respect to language.
language register See register.
language sample Language data based on conversational interviews, as opposed to the direct elicitation of items.
language transfer See transfer.
lax vowel A vowel produced with comparatively little muscular tension; the kit vowel [I] of bit is a lax vowel compared with the fleece vowel [i] of beet, which is a tense vowel. See short vowel.
layer See layering.
layering A hierarchical arrangement of dialect features in which successive areas show differing levels of shared dialect forms. See primary, secondary, tertiary dialect area.
leveling (1) a type of analogy. (2) dialect leveling.
lexicographer A person who compiles a dictionary or lexicon.
lexicon The vocabulary of a language, including words and morphemes.
lexifier The language that provides the base for the majority of the lexical items in the formation of a pidgin or creole language; for example, English is the lexifier language for Jamaican Creole or Gullah.
linguistic agency The use of language features by individual speakers to shape and project how they wish to appear in particular situations.
linguistic constraint A linguistic factor, such as a type of linguistic environment or structural composition, which systematically affects the variability of fluctuating forms.
linguistic crossing See crossing.
linguistic environment The linguistic context that surrounds a form, such as the sounds that occur next to a given sound.
linguistic geography The study of dialects in terms of their regional distribution.
linguistic gratuity See principle of linguistic gratuity.
linguistic intuitions Inner feelings or unconscious knowledge about the regular patterns that underlie the use of linguistic structures. See also intuition.
linguistic marketplace Those aspects of the socioeconomic realm that most directly relate to linguistic variation; for example, a receptionist may use standard language forms due to considerations of the linguistic marketplace.
linguistic market index A scale which measures the importance of standard English in various jobs.
linguistic profiling Discrimination based on the identification (whether correct or incorrect) of a person’s ethnic or other social identity based on their voice.
linguistic rule (1) An unconscious pattern which governs the occurrence of a particular language form. For example, a- prefixing is governed by a rule which states that the a- prefix may be attached to -ing forms which act as verbs but not as nouns or adjectives (as in The women went a-hunting vs. The women like hunting). (2) An explicit statement about the patterning of linguistic forms; a precise statement describing where a form may occur structurally.
linguistic subordination. See principle of linguistic subordination
linguistic variable A varying linguistic structure (e.g. -ing/-in’) which may correlate with social factors such as region or status, or with other linguistic factors, such as linguistic environment.
literary dialect Written portrayals of ethnic, regional, or class-based vernacular language, attempted through spelling changes, apostrophes, and other signals.
low back merger The merger of the vowels in word pairs like the thought vowel and the lot vowel as in cot and caught or Don and Dawn.
low density See density.
low vowel A vowel produced with the tongue in a lowered position in the mouth; for example, vowels such as the lot vowel of cot or the thought vowel of caught, or the trap vowel of bat.
Mainstream American English (MAE) A term used to refer to varieties of English that are not characterized by a particular dialect trait under discussion. For example, the use of a- prefixing in some rural and Southern dialects may be contrasted with its non-use in “Mainstream American English.”
marker See social marker.
meaning shift A change in word meaning so that one of the word’s sub-referents, or a referent originally only loosely associated with the word, becomes the new primary meaning of the word; for example, bead used to mean “prayer” but now refers to a type of jewelry.
merger The elimination of contrast between sounds; for example, the formerly distinct vowels in caught and cot now sound the same in many American English dialects. Also called neutralization.
metalinguistic task A task that involves talking about language rather than simply using language. Usually performed to give researchers insight into the structure and function of language forms.
metaphoring code-switching Switching fluidly between language varieties within a single conversation, in order to negotiate stances or intentions.
metathesis The rearrangement of sounds in a sequence, as in [æks] for ask.
mid vowel A vowel produced with the tongue in the middle range of tongue height, as in the dress vowel of bet, the strut vowel of but, or the goat vowel of boat.
minimal word pair A pair of words that are phonetically identical except for one sound; word pairs such as bit and pit or bit and bet are minimal word pairs.
minimal pairs (list) A task that involves reading a list of minimal word pairs, eliciting more careful speech than a word list
minority pattern analogy See analogy.
mock language The use of language based on linguistic and cultural stereotypes to parody a particular group. Typical cases are Mock Ebonics, Mock Spanish, Mock Asian, and so forth.
modal An auxiliary verb which expresses certain “moods” related to permission, obligation, suggestion, or the speaker’s attitude toward the truth of her or his assertions; for example, can, may, will, shall, must. See also double modal.
monitoring The act of paying attention to how one is speaking during the production of speech.
monophthongization The reduction of a two-part vowel, or diphthong, to a one-part vowel, or monophthong, through the elimination of the glide, as in the lot vowel for time rather than the price vowel. A single vowel without gliding is referred to as a monophthong.
monosyllabic Consisting of one syllable, as in go or but.
mood A grammatical category which pertains to speakers’ attitudes toward the truth of their assertions (e.g. possibility, probability) or to speakers’ expressions of obligation, permission, and suggestion. Mood is usually indicated in English through modal verbs, such as must, should, and may.
moribund dialect A dying dialect with no children learning the variety as a native language variety; see endangered dialect.
morpheme The smallest meaningful component of a word; for example, in dogs, dog and -s are morphemes.
morphology The level of language which concerns words and their meaningful components, or morphemes.
morphosyntactic Pertaining to the marking of a syntactic relationship through a particular morpheme; for example, third-person -s in Tyler works hard indicates a relationship between the subject and verb.
multiple negation See negative concord.
multiplex network A social network characterized by the interaction of individuals in a social network in a number of different spheres, such as work, leisure, and neighborhood. See social network.
multiplexity See multiplex network.
narrowing See semantic narrowing.
nasal A segment produced by allowing air to pass through the nasal cavity, as in the m of mom or the n of no.
nativization The differentiation of a transplanted language in a newly independent country from the language variety/varieties of the country from which it was originally transplanted. In nativization, the language variety becomes associated with the new country.
naturalistic speech Speech that represents how people talk under normal, ordinary circumstances.
negative concord The marking of negation at more than one point in a sentence (e.g. They didn’t do nothing about nobody).
neo-Anglicist hypothesis See Anglicist hypothesis.
Network Standard A variety of English relatively free of marked regional characteristics; the ideal norm aimed for by national radio and television network announcers. See Standard American English.
neutralization The process by which differences between phonemes may be eliminated; when [ƞ] (“taking”) is produced as the sound [n] (takin’), this process makes the final nasal segment of taken and takin’ phonetically the same. See also merger.
nonstandard With reference to language forms, socially stigmatized through association with socially disfavored groups.
nonstandard dialect A dialect that differs from the standard dialects spoken by mainstream or socially favored population groups; usually it is socially disfavored. It is used synonymously with vernacular dialect in this book.
Northern California Vowel Shift See California Vowel Shift. Northern Cities Vowel Shift A vowel shift or rotation in which the low back vowels are moving forward and upward and the short front vowels are moving downward and backward; found predominantly in Northern metropolitan areas of the US.
nucleus The core or base of a diphthong, or a two-part vowel sound; in the first part of the vowel sound of the price vowel, like in the word bike [baIk], the [a] is considered the vowel nucleus.
null isogloss When intermediate areas do not have clearly defined adjacent dialect regions.
objective case The form which a noun or pronoun takes when it is the object of a verb (e.g. me in Tanya likes me). See case.
observer’s paradox A widely accepted tenet in sociolinguistics which holds that the best speech for analysis is that which occurs when people are not being observed though an observer may be there to conduct the interview.
oppositional identity Identity as defined primarily in terms of disassociation from another group; for example, defining Black or Latino behavior as “non-White.”
orthography The spelling system of a language.
overhearer A member of a speaker’s audience whose presence is known to the speaker but who is not considered to be a participant in the conversational exchange.
overlapping isogloss A type of isogloss where linguistic features of different dialect regions co-exist.
overt prestige Positive value ascribed to language forms which is based on the value of the forms in mainstream society. See covert prestige.
paradigm A grammatically restricted class of forms, such as the set of different forms a verb may take when used with different subjects (e.g. the forms am, is, and are of the verb to be).
paralinguistic channel cues See channel cues.
participle A word derived from a verb, having qualities of an adjective or noun as well as a verb; for example, charming in He was charming, taken in It was taken.
perceptual dialectology The study of how non-linguists classify different dialects, as well as their beliefs about and attitudes toward different dialects and their speakers. Also called folk dialectology.
personal dative A pronoun in dative case (i.e. indirect object form) which refers back to the noun in subject position and is used to indicate that the subject benefited in some way from the object of the verb in the sentence. For example, in the sentence, She ate her some lunch, the subject, she, benefited from the object, lunch. Typically found in Southern dialects of American English.
phonation See voice quality.
phoneme A basic unit of contrast, or meaning difference, in phonology. Usually established on the basis of “minimal word pairs.” For example, /p/ and /b/ are considered to be different phonemes in English because they can be used to make meaning differences, as in pit and bit.
phonemic brackets The slashes / / surrounding sounds which are used to indicate that the enclosed symbols represent phonemes rather than phonetic or orthographic elements.
phonetic brackets The symbols [ ] which are used around sounds to indicate that they are being presented in their phonetic form, particularly as opposed to their phonemic or orthographic form.
phonetic space The area in the mouth in which language sounds, particularly vowels, are produced.
phonics An approach to reading based upon the letter-by-letter processing of written symbols; letters are “sounded out” and combined with each other to decipher words.
phonology The sound system of a language.
phrase timing The timing of syllables in which stressed syllables in phrases are held longer and unstressed ones shortened by comparison.
pidgin language A language used primarily as a trade language among speakers of different languages; it has no native speakers. The vocabulary of a pidgin language is taken primarily from a superordinate language, and the grammar is drastically reduced.
possessive An item indicating possession, such as the suffix -s in John’s hat or the pronoun his in his hat.
postconsonantal Occurring immediately after a consonant, as in the r of brought.
postvocalic r The sound r when it follows a vowel, as in the r of poor.
power The amount of control conversational participants have over each other; the amount of social distance between addressor and addressee.
pragmatics The level of language organization pertaining to language use; takes into account such matters as speakers’ and hearers’ beliefs, attitudes, and intentions.
prefix An affix attached to the beginning of a word base, such as re- in retell.
preposing The shift of an item to the beginning of a sentence; for example, Yesterday in Yesterday Marge ran, as opposed to Marge ran yesterday.
Prescriptivism, Prescriptivist Approach The variety deemed standard by grammar books and other recognized language authorities to be “correct.” In this stance, other varieties are considered to be “incorrect” or “improper.” See also Formal Standard English.
prestigious See socially prestigious.
primary dialect area That portion of a dialect area which exhibits the greatest concentration of shared dialect features.
principle of debt incurred The sociolinguistic tenet which holds that linguists should use data from their research to benefit the community that provided them with data.
principle of error correction The sociolinguistic tenet which holds that linguists should use knowledge gained from their research to correct errors about language in society and education.
principle of linguistic gratuity The tenet which holds that linguists should proactively seek ways to use data from their research to benefit the community that provided linguistic data.
principle of linguistic subordination The tenet that holds that the speech of socially subordinate groups will be interpreted as linguistically inadequate by comparison with that of socially dominant groups.
pronominal apposition The use of a co-referential pronoun in addition to a noun in subject position; for example, mother and she in My mother, she came home early.
proportional analogy See analogy.
prosody The aspects of pitch, intensity, and timing that accompany the segments of spoken language; also called suprasegmentals.
raising Pronouncing a vowel with a higher tongue position; for example, the Northern Cities Vowel Shift is characterized by the raising of trap vowel /æ/ to near dress vowel /ɛ/ position, and Tidewater Virginia speech is characterized by the raising of the nucleus of /ai/ to comma vowel, of schwa position.
reading passage A task that involves reading a series of sentences or paragraphs aloud, eliciting more careful speech than in a sociolinguistic interview, but less careful speech than in a word list.
recutting Reanalyzing words into component parts different from the original parts; for example, a napron historically was recut into an apron, and an other is currently being recut into a + nother, as in a whole nother.
reduplication The repetition of a word or part of a word, as in teensy-weensy, boo-boo.
referee design The component of the audience design approach to style shifting that focuses on referee groups and initiative style shifting.
referee group A non-present group with whom speakers attempt to identify when they engage in an initiative style shift.
regional standard English A variety considered to be standard for a given regional area; for example, the Eastern New England standard or the Southern standard.
register A language variety associated with a particular situation of use – for example, the math register or the “baby talk” register.
regular form An item conforming to the predominant pattern, such as the regular plural form cats or the regular past tense form missed. Compare irregular form.
regularization The process in which irregular forms are changed to conform to the predominant or “regular” pattern; for example, oxen becomes oxes, or grew becomes growed.
relative clause A clause that modifies a noun; in The man who took the course was demented, who took the course is a relative clause.
relative pronoun A pronoun that introduces a relative clause, such as who in The woman who liked the class was a linguist.
relic area An area where older language features survive after they have disappeared from other varieties of the language.
repertoire in sociolinguistics, a fluid set of linguistic resources that can be used to index linguistic identity, offering an alternative to defining a unitary system that characterizes a community of vernacular speakers. See also ethnolinguistic repertoire.
replacive dialect See eradicationism.
responsive style shift A shift in speech style motivated by shifts in the speaker’s audience make-up.
retroflex A sound produced with the tip of the tongue curled upward; the consonant sound r in run and the vowel sound ir in bird are retroflex language sounds.
r-lessness The absence or reduction of the r sound in words such as car and beard.
rotation See vowel rotation.
rule See linguistic rule.
rule extension The expansion of a rule of limited application to a broader set of items.
saturated With reference to language features, used by the vast majority of speakers within a given speech community. Saturated features contrast with unsaturated features, or those used by only a few speakers in the speech community.
schwa A mid central vowel, the comma vowel, symbolized as [ǝ]; for example, the first vowel in appear [ǝpir]. Generally occurs in unstressed syllables in English.
science accommodation adapting scientific knowledge to (or popularizing it for) the general public and/or those outside of the field of expertise.
second order constraint See first order constraint.
secondary dialect area That portion of a dialect area showing the second highest concentration of shared dialect features.
semantic broadening Meaning shift in which a word can be used to refer to a more general class of items than previously. For example, in American English holiday has been broadened to refer to all days off from work rather than just “holy days,” or days of religious significance.
semantic derogation Meaning shift in which words take on more negative connotations or denotations. For example, the word mistress was once the female counterpart of mister but has taken on negative meanings not matched by its male counterpart.
semantic narrowing Meaning shift in which words come to refer to a less general class of items than previously. For example, girl could once be used to refer to a young child of either sex; deer was once used to refer to all animals but now refers only to one specific type of animal.
semantic shift See meaning shift.
semantics The level of language organization which pertains to word meaning.
sharp isogloss A type of isogloss where well-defined linear boundaries exist between dialect features.
sharp stratification A distributional pattern for socially significant language features, characterized by a clear-cut division between social groups. Compare gradient stratification.
sibilant A sound produced with a groove in the middle of the tongue through which the air passes, creating a “hissing” sound; sounds such as the [s] of see and the [z] of zoo are sibilants.
slang Words with special connotations of informality and in-group solidarity that replace words with more neutral connotations (e.g. rad for “great”; wasted for “drunk”).
social constructionist An approach to linguistics in which identities are seen as fluid rather than fixed, and are created in social and linguistic interaction rather than isolation. Compare structuralist.
social dialectology The study of language variation in relation to social status or other social relationships.
social indicator A language feature whose usage correlates with social group but not speech style; speakers do not indicate awareness of such features or their social meaning.
social marker A language feature whose usage correlates with both social group and speech style; speakers are aware of such forms and their group associations but do not comment overtly upon them.
social network The pattern of social relationships that characterizes a group of speakers.
social stereotype A language feature that speakers are aware of and comment upon. May be stigmatized (e.g. ain’t), prestigious (e.g. The lot vowel in vase instead of the face vowel, or simply “unusual” (e.g. hoi toid for “high tide”).
social variable A social attribute or characteristic such as status, ethnicity, or gender that may correlate with linguistic variation.
socially diagnostic With respect to language features, serving to distinguish a certain social group of speakers.
socially prestigious Socially favored; with respect to language forms or patterns, (items) associated with high-status groups.
socially stigmatized Socially disfavored, as in a language form or pattern associated with low-status groups (e.g. He didn’t do nothing to nobody).
socioeconomic status (SES) Status determined on the basis of an objective set of scores for factors such as occupation, income, and residency.
socioethnic dialect A variety defined on the basis of a primary ethnic variable. See ethnic dialect.
sociolect A dialect defined on the basis of a social grouping, such as a social class or ethnic group, as opposed to a dialect defined primarily on the basis of region.
sociolinguistics The study of language in relation to society; the study of language in its social context.
solidarity The amount of intimacy there is between conversational partners.
Southern Vowel Shift A vowel shift or rotation in which the short front vowels are moving upward and taking on the gliding character of long vowels, the long front vowels are moving backward and downward, and the back vowels are moving forward.
speaker design An approach to style shifting that focuses on style as the proactive projection and performance of identity rather than a reactive response to situational factors such as audience or topic.
speakerly text A text written to project the spoken voice; the text typically uses a form of literary dialect.
Speech Accommodation Theory An approach to style shifting which maintains that speakers shift style based on their social-psychological adjustment to the addressee; strategic adjustment toward the addressee is convergence; adjustment away from the addressee is divergence.
speech act An utterance which accomplishes a social action. For example, Take out the garbage! is a directive speech act in which the speaker directs the hearer to perform an activity.
speech community A group of people with shared norms, or common evaluations of linguistic variables. Members of a speech community may use language forms in different ways, but all members orient toward common norms – i.e. believe certain language forms are “good” and others are “bad,” or “appropriate” vs. “inappropriate.”
spelling pronunciation The pronunciation of an item based on its spelling rather than its conventional spoken form (e.g. often pronounced with [t]).
Standard American English (SAE) A widely socially accepted variety of English that is held to be the linguistic norm and that is relatively unmarked with respect to regional characteristics of English. See also Formal Standard English, Informal Standard English, Mainstream American English, Network Standard, regional standard English, standard dialect.
standard dialect The dialect associated with those socially favored in society; the dialect considered acceptable for mainstream, institutional purposes. See also Standard American English, Formal Standard English, Informal Standard English, Network Standard, regional standard English.
statistical hypercorrection The quantitative overuse of a prestigious or standard language form; usually found among those groups attempting to emulate a higher social group, for example, the overuse of postvocalic r in New York City by lower middle-class groups in formal speech style.
stereotype See social stereotype.
stigmatized See socially stigmatized.
stopping The process of producing fricatives as stop consonants, as in these [¢iz] being pronounced as dese [diz].
stress Force or intensity which is given to a syllable. Syllables spoken with such force are stressed syllables, those without such force are unstressed syllables (e.g. in pity [pI] is a stressed syllable, [ti] is unstressed).
stress timing Timing of utterances in which stressed syllables have greater duration. Contrasts with syllable timing, in which each syllable in a phrase has approximately equal duration. Languages and language varieties may exhibit stress timing vs. syllable timing to a greater or lesser degree. See syllable timing for examples.
stressed syllable See stress.
structural hypercorrection The extension of a linguistic boundary in the attempt to produce more standard or “correct” English; for example, the use of whom in Whom is it, where the objective form is extended to a subject function.
structuralist An approach to linguistics in which people (and thus their speech) are seen as the products of relatively fixed structures in which they are caught up (e.g. sex, socioeconomic class, race).
style One of the speech varieties used by an individual; different speech styles tend to correlate with such factors as audience, occasion, degree of formality, etc. Speakers also often use speech styles to shape situations, relationships, and personal identity.
style shifting Variation within the speech of a single speaker; often correlates with such factors as audience, degree of formality, etc.
subjective case The form which a noun or pronoun takes when it is in subject position in a sentence (e.g. I in I like students). See case.
substrate (effect) The influence of a language or a language contact situation on another language variety after the former language has ceased to be a source for immediate transfer or after the original contact situation has long passed. For example, some varieties of Italian English are influenced by Italian vowels, even among speakers who do not speak Italian itself.
substrate hypothesis The position that African American English has maintained a persistent substrate effect even though it accommodated to and mixed with regional dialects early in its development.
suffix An affix attached to the end of a base or root word, as in the -s of bats.
Superstandard English See hyperstandard.
superstrate A language spoken by a dominant group which influences the structure of the language of a subordinate group of speakers. Used sometimes to refer to the dominant language upon which a creole language is based.
supra-regional norm A dialect norm that is generally adopted regardless of the regional location of a group. Often used with reference to contemporary African American English.
supra-regional vernacular norm A vernacular dialect norm that is generally adopted regardless of the regional location of a group. See supra-regional norm.
suprasegmental See prosody.
swamping The inundation of a longstanding dialect area with speakers from other dialect areas.
syllable timing Timing of utterances in which each syllable in a phrase has approximately equal duration. Contrasts with stress timing, in which stressed syllables have greater duration. For example, a phrase like in the house may be produced with equal duration assigned to each syllable (syllable-timed rhythm) or with longer duration to the stressed item house and shorter duration to the other words in the phrase (stressed-timed rhythm). Languages and language varieties may exhibit stress timing vs. syllable timing to a greater or lesser degree.
symbolic capital Symbolic rather than genuine worth or power. Often accrued through use of language features associated with those with genuine worth/power, whether a standard variety, or a local variety that has economic worth (perhaps to tourists interested in the local culture).
syntax The formation of words into phrases and sentences.
taboo word A word having a social prohibition against its ordinary use, such as the “four-letter” words of English (e.g. shit, damn).
tag question A special type of question formed by items attached to, or “tagged,” on to the end of the sentence (e.g. right in You’re coming to class, right? or aren’t you in You’re coming to class, aren’t you?).
task interference In testing, an impediment to valid testing due to the way language is used to obtain information.
tense (1) Produced with more muscular tension; for example, the fleece vowel [i] in beet is a “tense” vowel, whereas the kit vowel [I] of bit is a lax vowel. See long vowel. (2) The time reference of an activity or event (e.g. “past tense” in Jason missed the lecture).
tertiary dialect area The third-ranked, outer, area in the layered, hierarchical concentration of shared dialect features.
transfer The adoption of a form from another language, usually a form from a first language carried over into a second language in the process of acquiring the second language.
transitional zone An intermediate area existing between two established dialect areas.
transitive verb A verb that takes an object (e.g. like in Students like movies).
transmission Change within a speech community as children learn the dialect of the community from parents and peers.
transparency principle The tendency for languages to mark meaning distinctions as clearly as possible, to avoid obscurity in meaning.
turn-taking Shifting from one speaker to another in a conversational exchange.
ungliding The loss or reduction of the glide, or second half of a diphthong; for example, in many Southern varieties, the price vowel /ai/ in words such as time [taIm] is unglided to lot vowel [a], as in [tam].
ungrammatical (1) Outside the parameters of a given linguistic rule, usually indicated by placing an asterisk in front of the form or sentence (e.g. *She is tall very). (2) Socially unacceptable (e.g. I seen it); although “ungrammatical” is often used in this sense by non-linguists, linguists do not generally use the term in this way, restricting its use to the technical sense given in (1). Compare to grammatical.
uniplex network A social network characterized by the interaction of speakers on one sphere only (e.g. speaker A works with B but does not socialize with B; speaker B socializes with C but does not live near C, etc.).
unsaturated See saturated.
unstressed syllable See stress.
uptalk The use of high-rising final intonation, or question-like intonation, on declarative statements. Also known as upspeak.
variants Different ways of saying the same thing, whether different ways of pronouncing the same sound, different ways of forming the same construction, or different words for the same item or concept. For example, -in and -ing are variants of the -ing ending on words like swimming or fishing.
velar Sounds produced by touching the back of the tongue against the “soft palate” or velum at the back of the mouth; the [k] of cow, the [g] of go and the [ŋ] at the end of sing are velar sounds.
vernacular The indigenous language or dialect of a speech community. The term vernacular dialect is often used to refer to nonstandard or non-mainstream varieties as opposed to the standard variety.
vernacular English See vernacular.
vernacular principle The contention that the speech style that is most regular in its structure and in its relation to community patterns of language change is the vernacular, or style in which least attention is paid to speech.
vernacular stereotype The portrayal of a dialect, whether by linguists or non-experts, in its most vernacular form.
voice quality Pertaining to how the air flows through the vocal cords during speech rather than how the sounds of speech are articulated per se; examples of voice quality include breathy voice, creaky voice, whispery voice, and falsetto.
voiced sound A sound produced by bringing the vocal cords close together, causing them to vibrate when air passes through them in the production of speech sounds (e.g. [z] as in zoo, [v] as in vote).
voiceless sound A sound produced with the vocal cords open and not vibrating, as in the [s] of suit or the [f] of fight.
vowel breaking The process by which a one-part vowel, or monophthong, is divided, or “broken,” into a two-part vowel, or diphthong, as in some Southern pronunciations of words like bed [bεId] and bid [bIid].
vowel nucleus See nucleus.
vowel reduction The change or neutralization of a vowel to the quality of a comma vowel schwa [ǝ]; usually takes place in unstressed syllables (e.g. the second o of photograph [foDǝgræf]).
vowel rotation The systematic shifting of the phonetic values of a set of vowels, as in the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, the Southern Vowel Shift, or the California Vowel Shift.
wave model A model for the diffusion of language change which views change as radiating outward in a wavelike pattern from a central point, or focal area. See contagious diffusion.
weakening Changing the pronunciation of sounds so that they involve less blockage of airflow in the mouth; for example, changing [t] to [θ] between vowels.
word list A task that involves reading a list of words aloud, eliciting more careful speech than a reading passage, but less careful speech than a minimal pairs list.
word-medial Occurring in the middle of a word, as in the sound k of baker.