THE CULPRITS OF SOUND CHANGE.

Mark Rosenfelder has another gem at zompist.com (which I really should visit more often): Sound change: Who are the culprits? He starts off:

I just finished William Labov’s Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors, which is a detective story. No, really. You don’t expect a linguistic tome to have the literary quality of suspense, but this book does. It’s organized around the central puzzler of historical linguistics: why does language change? Why do people bother with sound changes, especially when everyone agrees that they’re destructive if not positively evil? It takes the whole book to create a framework to answer the question.

Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll quote Mark’s summary:

◘ The leaders of sound change are almost always women; they’re often a generation ahead of the men.
◘ Women keep advancing a sound change in a linear fashion; men’s advance is stepwise. The obvious interpretation is that men don’t pick up the change from their contemporaries, but from their mothers.
◘ There’s a typical curvilinear function of class: neither the lower class nor the upper class are in the forefront of change, but those in the middle– even more specifically, the upper working class.
◘ Nonstandard variants often peak in adolescence. So older speakers may retreat from a change.
◘ There’s only a very small contribution from ethnicity or neighborhood (except to the degree that these correlate with class).
◘ A phoneme doesn’t change all at once; some words are leaders, some laggards. For some reason, the tensing of short a in Philadelphia strongly affected the word planet, while Janet remained lax. (This is reminiscent of the effect of Trojan horse words in gender change.)

He also “was able to identify individuals who were in the forefront of sound changes in Philadelphia”; go to the link for the exciting details. (Via Sentence first.)

Comments

  1. Bathrobe says:

    I think it would be wonderful if read could do The Zompist Phrasebook in Mongolian. (She could refer to the Russian for inspiration.)

  2. which I really should visit more often
    Sign up at Google Reader using this link.

  3. Bathrobe says:

    I’m hoping read won’t get offended at my suggestion. The Zompist phrasebook is making fun of insensitive tourists, and reading the French and German, the translators seem to have done a very good job of rendering the tone and expression of the English. The Chinese isn’t quite so good. I’m curious how (and whether) this kind of humour would go into Mongolian. No slight is intended.

  4. i can submit entries if it accepts, the site,
    facebook always exploits me whenever i login asking to edit this or that expression whether it is good translation or not
    or if you would like me to write here, i can do that, just it will be in romaji, no cyrillic or kana on my keyboard, just i’m afraid my sentences would sound pretty formal, our young kids blogs are really colloquial and hilarious to read

  5. Bathrobe says:

    Well, you would have to talk to Mark Rosenfelder. Doing a Mongolian version might be easier said than done…

  6. marie-lucie says:

    About the topic of Rosenfelder’s comment:
    There was a time when the keyword in linguistics was “structural”. Each language had a structure, subdivided into substructures of sounds, words, etc. The whole thing was so beautifully arranged that each language seemed to be perfect in itself. So why should it change? Obviously, surviving texts from past centuries showed that each language had been somewhat different in the past and must have changed in the meantime, but change was supposed to happen at a glacial pace, unnoticed by anyone in their lifetime. Someone even wrote: “No language has ever been observed to change” – only the results of change could be observed over the centuries. This is the position Mark pretends to hold (change is destructive, evil, etc).
    Well, this was like saying “No child has ever been observed to grow”. Of course you don’t see it from one day to the next, but it happens nevertheless, and it does not take decades for anyone to notice it.
    Labov did not start out to study language change: his first goal was to investigate how people actually use a language in the course of their daily life, not how its abstract structure is put together. Interviewing and recording people in many settings led him to notice consistent differences in location, age, sex and class, plus circumstantial factors leading to different registers (eg slangy, casual, formal, etc). In the course of this research he realized that he had discovered the key to linguistic change: it depended on more or less conscious social factors as people adapted their use of language to their circumstances. Read the book!

  7. From Rosenfelder: For some reason, the tensing of short a in Philadelphia strongly affected the word planet, while Janet remained lax.
    If there are causal or associative relationships between (the use of) “Philadelphia”, “planet” and “Janet”, they’re not obvious to me. Perhaps there is an indefensible statistical argument lurking here, of the post hoc, propter hoc variety ? Something like this: “The pronunciation of the word ‘Philadelphia’ was observed to change in the period 1950-1970. The pronunciation of the word ‘planet’ was observed to change in a similar way in the period 1965-1980. Therefore the ‘Philadelphia’ change strongly affected the ‘planet’ change”.
    I have no problem accepting that a “tensing of short a” phenomenon over time has been demonstrated. What I find hard to believe is that the specific word “Philadelphia” played a distinguished role in that. In the Philadelphia area, maybe so – possibly because “for some reason” there are more planets than Janets in Philadelphia.
    Apart from that, why are these changes described as involving “advances” and “upwardly mobile” “leaders” (I can’t tell whether these characterizations are from Rosenfelder or Labov) ? Where is there any “advance” when pronunciations change ? To take the comparison with fashion a step further, those who characterize pronunciation changes as “advances” could be said to be fashion designers – of sociolinguistic fashion.
    There is a pleasing retro touch to the claim that moving hemlines and altered vowels are contributed by women, as there would be to the claim that men move furniture and alter the course of waterways. One merely has to add the proper spin to these claims, and they’re back in fashion.

  8. Grumbly: Philadelphia isn’t an exemplar here, it’s just the place (in fact, one of the places) where the sound-change in question occurred.
    Advanced is a technical term meaning ‘more completely changed’: it is not evaluative. For example, in Received Pronunciation the conservative pronunciation of tune is “tyoon”, whereas the advanced pronunciation is “choon”.

  9. John, thanks for the explanation that “advanced” is a technical term. Unfortunately I don’t understand the terms of the explanation. What is the sense of “more completely” ? What is being conserved, wherein consists the “advance” ?
    Is there really a clearly defined “change” or “distance” metric when talking about pronunciation ? Would it be intolerably lax simply to say: “The Received Pronunciation of tune is ‘tyoon”. There is a variant pronunciation ‘choon’” ?

  10. Grumbly: “choon” is not RP, advanced or not. It is seen as incorrect from an RP point of view.

  11. Yes, that’s exactly what I thought. It’s the reason why I don’t understand this talk of conservation and advancement.

  12. To complete the chain of credit: my source for the link was Adrian Morgan on Twitter. I subscribed to the Zompist blog after reading the post on sound change, which I found very interesting.

  13. For what it’s worth, I also found the post on sound change interesting. I just wish there were less misleading spin in it – such as the sneaky use of “advance” in connection with “upwardly mobile”.

  14. dearieme says:

    As someone once said, a warm bath may “advance” to become tepid.

  15. dearieme says:

    Ot, to be topical, a strawberry may advance to become mouldy.

  16. That’s new to me. So “advance to become” means “become” ? Could one say that an ugly person has, over the years, advanced to becoming ?

  17. Dearie, I just remembered that “become” can be used in the sense of “attain a different condition”, without any notion of process: “When he was crowned, he became king”. So “advance to become X” means “after a time, enter the condition of being X”. I have encountered that expression after all.

  18. If there are causal or associative relationships between (the use of) “Philadelphia”, “planet” and “Janet”, they’re not obvious to me.
    Well, of course they’re not, since you know nothing about the topic, as you’re well aware. Which is fine, all of us are ignorant about almost everything, but I don’t go to (say) nuclear physics blogs (assuming there are such) and complain that things aren’t obvious to me. (Plus, as JC points out, you completely misread it anyway and thought Philadelphia was an example word.)
    Perhaps there is an indefensible statistical argument lurking here, of the post hoc, propter hoc variety ?
    Or perhaps you’re shooting wildly from the hip with your eyes closed, as you’re so fond of doing. I’m sorry if I sound irritated, but gosh, this is actually an interesting topic that people actually know something about, and a little humility might be more productive than assuming you can shoot holes in it after one quick and sloppy read.

  19. I also am irritated at the way the subject is presented, so that makes two of us. You may not have noticed that I wrote: “For what it’s worth, I also found the post on sound change interesting. I just wish there were less misleading spin in it”.
    I am not trying to “shoot holes” in Labkov’s work, about which I know nothing. You see guns everywhere. A little thought should make clear that I am complaining about the Rosenfelder post, not Labov’s book.
    Perhaps you know so much about the subject that you don’t notice or care how it is presented ?

  20. On a minimally more conciliatory note: please try to remember that I like to include a dash of over-the-topness in most of my comments. You are free just to ignore that bit, you know. When I get really serious it is unmistakable, and only in connection with things I know something about – of which linguistics is not one.

  21. Bathrobe says:

    I think the usage you’re looking for, GruStu, is something like ‘He has advanced Alzheimers’ (or similar cases of advanced illnesses). Or ‘the disease is fairly advanced’. The usage implies a progression. In the case of a disease the trajectory is set. In the case of a sound change, the sound change is moving in a certain direction (lowering, fronting, etc., etc) and the progression is presented in those terms. I don’t think this ‘technical usage’ that you complain of is terribly difficult or terribly opaque.

  22. moving in a certain direction (lowering, fronting, etc., etc)
    Thanks, Bathrobe. NOW I see. It’s certainly “not terribly difficult or terribly opaque” – once it’s been explained, that is.
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “advance” used in that sense at this site over the last 2-3 years. John Cowan explained it as “more completely changed”, which unfortunately didn’t help me along the road to understanding.

  23. Bathrobe says:

    How about advanced age? :)

  24. marie-lucie says:

    I confess that the only thing I knew about Marc Rosenfelder was his massive compilation of Numbers of the world.
    After looking up the Zompist site (which is amazing – I am sure it would take me the rest of my life to get up to date even to this day) I think it assumes a basic knowledge of linguistics on the part of readers. So the way the current topic is presented is rather tongue-in-cheek, as well as using technical words from phonetics (eg ‘tensing of the vowel’) and sociolinguistics. Of course when anything is presented that way, people who are not familiar with the topic may misunderstand what is being said.
    About comparing women’s “lead” in two kinds of fashion: indeed there are fads and fashions in language as well as in clothing, some soon forgotten (eg “groovy” or “Nehru jackets”), others which become part of a normal wardrobe (eg blue jeans) or language (eg “compound verbs” such as “to bartend”). The difference is that clothing fashions are deliberately influenced by the clothing industry, while language fashions seem to arise spontaneously among some groups, but in each case, creating or adopting a fashion has much to do with both group identity and self-expression, even if these factors often remain below the consciousness of speakers and wearers.
    I don’t quite remember why it is that young women of a certain class are “in the lead” (= most innovative) when it comes to language change, especially phonetic, but the generational divide between men and women in this respect comes from the fact that mothers (and other female caregivers: nannies, most daycare workers) are the ones who spend the most time with young children, so that children’s language development is influenced far more by their mothers than by their fathers. The mother’s way of speaking becomes “the norm” for the child, who as a teenager will become part of the most creative generation.
    Of course the women “in the lead” are not conscious of their role in language change, and there are no parties in language as there are in politics. But it seems that young adult women are likely to continue with their teen-age language habits (eg “i’m like”, etc) rather than going back to how their own mothers speak, while adult men are more likely to side with their own fathers in matters of language. So men are in general more “conservative” in this context, preferring the “old-fashioned” vocabulary and pronunciations used by their fathers’ generation.
    These and other conclusions of Labov’s are not derived from some preconceived bias about society and the groups within it, but from the results of hundreds of recordings and interviews with people from all ages and walks of life, documenting language use across Amsrican society.
    Labov is a good writer, and his works are quite illuminating about the interplay of language and society. Although they use some technical linguistic terms, overall they are not beyond the capacity of a non-linguist (especially a polyglot) to appreciate.

  25. Thanks, marie-lucie. I find that there are currently 3 volumes to Principles of Linguistic Change. Rosenfelder’s post is about the second volume from 2001. I think I’ll just move right along to Labov, wenn schon, since – as you indicate – Rosenfelder in that post may be just doing a Grumbly.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    advanced
    One of the findings is that a phonetic change starts slow, affecting only a few words, then spreads to other words containing the sound which is changing. So at first the change could be called “incipient”, and when most of the potential words have undergone the change, it is “advanced”. When it has affected all the potential words, it is “complete”.
    One change I have been noticing around me for about twenty years is the change in the vowel of words like Megan (pronounced as “MAggan”), medicine (“mAddicine”), message (“mAssage”). This change may have started in the position immediately after m (or remained limited to this phonetic environment), since this is where I first noticed it. I can’t think of other, non-m-initial words, but I believe I have encountered a few. The people I have heard using this pronunciation are all women now in their thirties, some of whom I knew as teenagers. I don’t have much contact with current teenagers or with men of similar ages to these women (even on TV or movies, which I rarely watch), so I can’t say anything about their pronunciation.

  27. Labov’s own bibliography at his website says volume 3 was published in 2001, the date of volume 1, but amazon gives 2010.

  28. marie-lucie: I wish there were more people like yourself, who can explain things in a way that at least seems simple and clear. Perhaps there are indeed more who don’t care to make the effort.

  29. the change in the vowel of words like Megan
    I have noticed over the past few years that more and more Germans are pronouncing in-word “i” in a manner different from what used to be standard. Frisch becomes something like fr(ü/ö)sch. I have mentioned this to a few people – not linguists, since I know none – but nobody knows what I am talking about. Oh well.

  30. mothers (and other female caregivers: nannies, most daycare workers) are the ones who spend the most time with young children, so that children’s language development is influenced far more by their mothers than by their fathers
    I’m not convinced m-l, what about bilingual children? My daughter seemed to have no trouble picking up English at a roughly equal rate as English even though I (father) was the only one speaking it to her and I was out at work for most of the day.

  31. roughly equal rate as English
    I meant ‘roughly equal rate as Norwegian’.
    I think I’ve heard the Megan > Maggan vowel shifting in younger women too.

  32. But now that I think about it, there was a girl from Virginia who used to do it in 1980, when I was in architecture school. She would, for instance, call me Jaremy instead of Jeremy.

  33. I wonder how much of this is driven by in-group badging, with some kind of general, impresionistic sound shift serving the same role as gang colors. that would predict why it’s teenagers doing this, and also why new changes some along all the time, the way slang terms pass out of curency as slang once they become mainstream.
    I have also noticed that same lowering of -e- and mostly among young women, and mostly in the last 10 or 20 years. It is part of a general slack-jawed casual affect/impression the speakers seem to be striving for. There is also a drawling intonation pattern associated with it.

  34. I wonder how much of this is driven by in-group badging, with some kind of general, impresionistic sound shift serving the same role as gang colors. that would predict why it’s teenagers doing this, and also why new changes some along all the time, the way slang terms pass out of curency as slang once they become mainstream.
    I have also noticed that same lowering of -e- and mostly among young women, and mostly in the last 10 or 20 years. It is part of a general slack-jawed casual affect/impression the speakers seem to be striving for. There is also a drawling intonation pattern associated with it.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    AJP: bilingual children
    I too have raised a bilingual child (French-English) and I was the only model for French. In that case the child will follow the model and not have two slightly different models for one language. It does not mean that the child will not learn the language of a father who speaks it consistently with them! But overall, when both parents speak the same language, apparently the mother’s idiosyncrasies of speech (shared with those of women of the same generation and background) are more likely to get passed on to the child than the father’s. At least this is my memory and understanding of Labov’s work on the subject.
    MAggan, JAremy
    AJP, interesting that you mention JAremy in Virginia thirty years ago. Jim, where do/did you hear MAggan, etc? The girls and women I have heard were/are here in Nova Scotia, not exactly a hotbed of linguistic innovation, so possibly the change “e > a after m” represents the tail end of the trend, occurring in a limited environment, while elsewhere it is affecting the vowel in a wider variety of environments. But I don’t know of any studies that have been done on the subject (it does not mean that there haven’t been any).

  36. Paul, Grumbly: There are two usages of the term “RP”, one to denote a fixed pronunciation standard (in which case nobody uses it any more except the very old), another to denote a moving one. I use the latter meaning.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, thank you for your nice comment.

  38. Etienne says:

    While Labov’s work is interesting in terms of patterns of change in American English, many of its conclusions are inapplicable to other societies (something Labov himself seems more aware of than most of his followers, I’ve noticed).
    Take the finding that women are at the vanguard of linguistic change: this is actually not true of many ancient and modern societies. In many patriarchal societies young men are at the forefront of language change, with women’s speech being more conservative. Since women in all societies, as a rule, spend the most time with young children, it is clear that women being at the forefront of language change in the United States (and other first world countries) is related to more than just their role in raising children.
    As for the “planet”/”Janet” opposition: “planet” is a word which most of us encounter in writing far more often than in speech. “Janet”, on the other hand, will be encountered far more often in speech than in writing. This makes me suspect that the difference between the realization of /a/ in each word may have more to do with the effects of mass literacy than with the lexical diffusion of sound changes.
    Indeed, lexical diffusion would be best studied either in wholly illiterate societies or ones where writing is low in prestige and standardization (actually, one of the first scholarly works on the topic that I know of examines lexical diffusion in early Indo-Aryan languages: I only tried recommending it to a sociolinguist once, as the word “Aryan” in “Indo-Aryan” made them assume it was some kind of white supremacist manifesto. Need I add that said sociolinguist was subsequently in no mood to listen to my attempt at an explanation?)
    I recently wrote on another thread here that Albert Dauzat’s work on dialectology should be required reading for all serious linguists: frankly, he and other contemporaries (Jules Gilliéron is one I especially like) are far more interesting than Labov and his acolytes (they write better, too) when it comes to the study of language change in both space and time.
    This is not only because the degree of linguistic diversity in Early Modern French dialects was considerably greater than what is found in American English today (meaning that the range of changes and contact phenomena studied was correspondingly greater), but also because they knew enough about other times and places not to fall into the trap of mistaking idiosyncracies of their particular field of study for universal patterns of change (I suspect the same would be true for top early twentieth century dialectologists in other European countries as well).
    This blindness of sociolinguistics today exemplifies what I dislike the most about modern Academia, actually: pompously pontificating on the importance of “diversity”, all the while remaining blissfully ignorant of other times, other places, other scholarly traditions. No matter how relevant these other scholarly traditions might be. Again, this is not so true of Labov as it is of all too many of his followers.

  39. Jaremy instead of Jeremy.
    Isn’t this something different? A phenomenon specifically involving vowels before r: the marry/merry/Mary merger, which has occurred in many dialects and not in many others. As a young child I did not make this distinction, but after some moving around and being exposed to other regional speech patterns I began to.
    marie-lucie: I wish there were more people like yourself …
    Amen. And the lucidity of your exposition is only half the story: your gift for staying clear of pointless wrangles is something I admire just as much.

  40. M-L,
    “Jim, where do/did you hear MAggan, etc? ”
    Washington State, and I don’t have the impression that following -m- has anything to do with it. I hear it in accented syllables – period.
    Etienne,
    “In many patriarchal societies young men are at the forefront of language change, with women’s speech being more conservative. ”
    I wonder if that has to do with greater contact with other languages, outside the home. In immigration settings the stereotype is the immigrant mamma who speaks X the least of anyone in the family.
    On the other hand in settings of high language density and patrilocal marrage patterns, you are going to get more women who are L2 speakers of the language, and however strong the pressure to be more X than X, they are going to slip and bleed their own language intuitions into their speech, and then…. little pots have big ears.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, Etienne. I find your remark about the current role of women in (at least American English) language change very intriguing.
    I am not saying that Labov’s work is perfect, but I think that within American linguistics he has blazed a trail, going in directions that neither the structuralists nor the Chomskyans were considering, and also applying his findings to real-life situations and problems. On the other hand, I also understand that he tried (or was invited) to do similar work in France, but that attempt was unsuccessful, perhaps because the methods had been developed too closely to the American settings and were not sufficiently adapted (by him or by the team members trying to apply them) to the French situations.

  42. Bathrobe says:

    Well, GruStu, it appears that I was wrong and JC was right. My characterisation of ‘advanced’ was incorrect. But at least it put you on the right path and gave m-l an opportunity to elucidate the meaning in more detail.

  43. your gift for staying clear of pointless wrangles is something I admire just as much.
    So true. Sigh.

  44. Philip Tobin says:

    Apologies for posting a misplaced comment here, but I can’t seem to find any way of doing so where the item itself is concerned. So-oo . . .
    This is just to say that your Blackpool-born correspondent who posted a year ago on the grockle thread is absolutely correct. I was born and raised in Morecambe, that other seaside resort a little way up the Lancashire coast, and ‘grockle’ was in widespread usage there right up to the time I left for university. . . in 1964.
    I don’t for a moment believe it has anything to do with England’s southwest, or Torquay, nor some obscure movie, nor even Dandy. Its origins remain opaque — albeit that’s now two Lancashire-born seasiders who well remember it from the 1950s and 1960s.
    Perrhaps George Formby invented it . . .

  45. Apologies for posting a misplaced comment here
    No need to apologize; it’s a shame that I have to close old posts to comments because of the [insert epithet of choice here] spammers, and I’m always glad when people use new threads to comment on them.

  46. And yes, marie-lucie is far, far more patient and kindly than I; this is why she is a teacher and I am not. I remember in my first linguistics class getting impatient with all the repetition and asking the teacher after class “You’ve told them what a phoneme is half a dozen times by now, if they haven’t gotten it it’s their own fault!” (or words to that effect). She explained to me that it was her job to try and make sure that everyone got it. I thought then that I could never do her job, and later life experience proved it.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    N’en jetez plus!
    I am a retired teacher, so it is a pleasure to explain things I know about (or I think I do) to an audience that does not need endless repetition! (and often knows at least as much if not more on a linguistic topic, so it’s a conversation not a one-way talk). Toward the end I felt like a broken record, repeating the same things year after year although I tried to introduce variety in some respects. Patience also comes with age, as you gradually realize people have different minds and different reasons why they pick up things right away or have mental blocks.

  48. dearieme says:

    Everyone in Britain pronounces Derby as Darby (unless the Americanisation of the young has reached even this word).
    My wife claims that I am unusual in saying clargy and harse for clergy and hearse. Since I am not English my harse is easily distinguished from my arse, and that from my ass.

  49. dearieme says:

    The hyphen in cunt-lapping distinguishes the word from cun-tlapping. It would be helpful if German were to adopt the habit. Of hyphenating, that is.

  50. dearieme says:

    oops, that last comment of mine is on the wrong thrad.

  51. Marie-Lucie: Does that mean “Don’t make me blush” or “Hold your horses” here? Context suggests the first.
    Dearieme: I used to say harse for hearse too: probably a spelling pronunciation. Clargy, though, looks a lot like a survival of the vermin/varmint sound shift we were talking about a few posts ago.

  52. dearieme says:

    “I used to say harse for hearse too: probably a spelling pronunciation.” Could be, but I’d guess that I heard the word before I read it. But maybe not.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    JC: N’en jetez plus! meaning literally “don’t throw any more!” refers to the custom of throwing flowers, etc at a person or ahead of them on their path, as a sign of congratulation, jubilation, etc. So approximately “Thank you, but this is too much!” (and indeed “you make me blush!”).

  54. marie-lucie says:

    Ø : Jaremy instead of Jeremy. – Isn’t this something different? A phenomenon specifically involving vowels before r: the marry/merry/Mary merger
    Given the context of “MAggan, mAddicine” etc, I assumed that AJP’s spelling Jaremy means “Jarremy” (with the a as in the words above) rather than “Jare-emy” with the vowel of dare, but perhaps I misunderstoof the spelling.
    It seems to me that the marry/merry/Mary merger went in the direction of “Mary” – as in the American pop song which includes “gonna get ma-a-a-rried” with the vowel of “Mary”.
    So AJP, can you be a little more precise about what you meant?

  55. I know plenty of people who say “Jeremy” with the vowel of “dare”–including sometimes myself.

  56. dearieme says:

    I assume that in his period Wooster’s first name would have been pronounced Bartie?

  57. I think I meant “Jarremy” (with the a as in the words above). But it’s a bit tricky, because she had (has) a rhotic R, and it’s hard for me to imitate.
    I know plenty of people who say “Jeremy” with the vowel of “dare”–including sometimes myself.
    That’s definitely not the pronunciation I meant.
    I assume that in his period Wooster’s first name would have been pronounced Bartie?
    I don’t know, but we may start calling you dairy-me.

  58. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, AJP, you confirm that my hunch was correct. If so, the tendency to lower the vowel is not limited to its occurrence after [m] even though it seems limited to this environment in Nova Scotia (or perhaps Eastern Canada).
    We could say the change is “incipient” in Nova Scotia (where I have noticed it) but “more advanced” in other places (that I am not personally familiar with). (Actually, I can only speak for Halifax, I am not sure about the rest of the province).

  59. Christopher Burd says:

    …more and more Germans are pronouncing in-word “i” in a manner different from what used to be standard. Frisch becomes something like fr(ü/ö)sch..
    A character in Buddenbrooks (a rather uptight governess, I think) pronounces “immer” as “ümmmer”.

  60. That was old Madame Buddenbrook née Duchamps, the “head of the family”, on page 3:

    Madame Buddenbrook wandte sich an ihre Schwiegertochter [die Konsulin], drückte mit einer Hand ihren Arm, sah ihr kichernd in den Schoß und sagte:
        “Immer der nämliche, mon vieux, Bethsy …?” “Immer” sprach sie wie “ümmer” aus.

    The governess is Mamsell Jungmann.

  61. Sorry, I meant the wife of the “head of the family”.

  62. The way she says “ümmer” is related to the circumstance (as I remember) that her native language is French.

  63. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly:
    Madame Buddenbrook wandte sich an ihre Schwiegertochter [die Konsulin], … und sagte:
    “Immer der nämliche, mon vieux, Bethsy …?”

    I don’t understand who or what Madame B is referring to. She is speaking to her daughter-in-law. What is “mon vieux” doing here? In French this would be a form of casual address (especially between boys or men, kind of like “old chap” in British English). (It has a feminine equivalent, “ma vieille”). Or is “mon vieux” an incomplete phrase? In that case it should have three dots after it. I really can’t make sense out of this bit of speech.
    “Immer” sprach sie wie “ümmer” aus.
    The way she says “ümmer” is related to the circumstance (as I remember) that her native language is French.
    The German speakers around her must speak very strangely if she interprets their “immer” as “ümmer”. My German is anccient and was never fluent but I have never heard any of my classmates or other French speakers say the German word that way.

  64. marie-lucie: The German speakers around her must speak very strangely if she interprets their “immer” as “ümmer”.
    Yes and no. No character in the novel is a phoneticist, but Thomas Mann was polyglot and famous for detail-stickling in matters of language, especially in his reproduction of speech idiosyncrasies. In the WiPe article on the novel I found a few sentences about his “sprachliche Polyphonie”.
    The novel takes place in Lübeck over the middle third of the 19C. Many characters speak a variant of Low German, or some other German dialect, jumbled together with proper-like German, French and English. I will comment briefly on two things: the meaning of the sentence in which it occurs as spoken by Madame Buddenbrook, and the pronunciation “ümmer“.
    I see now that the sentence is hard to understand out of context. The novel starts with grandfather Buddenbrook, her husband, teasing their granddaughter Tony. This is what old Madame B is commenting on to the Konsulin. Her German seems not quite idiomatic (from a modern point of view, anyway), in that she says Immer der nämliche instead of Immer der gleiche [he never changes]. Her mon vieux strikes the reader as surprisingly down-to-earth, vulgar even, as a reference to her husband, but after all this scene occurs in an intimate family circle. It’s just Madame B as she is being introduced as a character.
    Note that in speaking to the Konsulin, she doesn’t look right at her but “into her lap”. She is speaking her thoughts out loud for the benefit of “Bethsy”. You know the kind of thing: in a group of people, someone leans over towards another person to say something semi-confidentially without looking at them. This is all on the first three pages of the novel, should you want to look closer.
    Now to ümmer. French people tend to pronounce immer as “eeemmer” (in an English pseudo-transcription) . The German vowel ü is in fact pronounced by arranging to say “eee”, and then saying it but with the lips pursed at the same time. For some reason Madame B acquired the habit of pursing her lips for the first vowel in “immer“, so it comes out as ümmer. If she had pronounced it as the French usually do, there would have been no particular reason for Mann to bring it to the attention of the reader. Mann doesn’t go for cheap laughs.

  65. Having checked in the internet to adjust my stylistic antennae, I must correct my suggestion that der nämliche was non-idiomatic in the period in question. It is merely an older form of derselbe. I got carried away by Madame B’s mispronunciation, and imagined more furrinness where there was none. Actually I can’t remember details of how she speaks.
    One of the things that grate on me in Thomas Mann’s novels is that the speech of almost every character is either some weird gobbledygook, or (most often) a high-flown Thomas-Mann-speak with Queen’s-jubilee-wedding-cake syntax and vocabulary. But hey, Uncle Tom was special-like.

  66. That’s all very interesting, Stu. Thanks.

  67. Christopher Burd says:

    Herr Grobleben also says “ümmer”, in whatever we want to call his dialect. (Basically Bayrisch, I suppose, but is “ick” an overcorrection? Isn’t it “i” in Bayrisch?)
    »Ick bün man ‘n armen Mann, mine Herrschaften, öäwer ick hew ‘n empfindend Hart, un dat Glück und de Freud von min Herrn, Kunsel Buddenbrook, welcher ümmer gaut tau mi west is, dat geiht mi nah, und so bün ick kamen…«

  68. Christopher: what are your reasons for assessing Grobleben’s speech as Bavarian ? I’m no expert on 19C German dialects (or those of any C, to be exact), but what Grobleben is given to say seems just as Low German as with the other characters who speak it, or fall into it from time to time. The “ick” points to the Berlin area.

  69. I forgot to address your interesting find that Grobleben also says “ümmer“. If that can be found amongst North German dialects, then the reason why Mann remarks on old lady B’s use of it may be different from what I thought – it would be not a French mispronunciation, but an environmental breach in her otherwise elevated speech (I’ve started reading Buddenbrooks again in order to re-sort these things in my mind).
    I have no idea of the effect English translations of Mann have had on readers. My own reactions to him and the way he writes don’t seem to be widespread – namely, that he was a precocious, self-regarding tease. In particular, he loved to tease intellectuals, loved the spectacle of his doing it with panache, and was a prick himself.
    He produced great art, but of a quease-making kind – much like Michael Jackson did.

  70. Christopher Burd says:

    It seems I can’t keep any of the characters straight. I was confusing Grobleben with Herr Permaneder. My eyes tend to glaze over reading German dialect, but you’re right, Grobleben’s doesn’t look very Bavarian.

  71. Christopher Burd says:

    I had always interpreted Mme Buddenbrook’s “ümmer” as reflecting a purse-lipped, self-consciously proper pronunciation (which is probably why I ascribed it to the governess). If, in fact, it’s a feature of working-class speech, I wonder if it’s an example of a second-language learner mistakenly picking up a substandard usage.

  72. I couldn’t think so now. The novel reminds us on page 2 that Madame Buddenbrook was born in Hamburg: Nur der Schnitt und die lebhafte Dunkelheit ihrer Augen redeten ein wenig von ihrer halb romanischen Herkunft; sie stammte großväterlicherseits aus einer französisch-schweizerischen Familie und war eine geborene Hamburgerin.
    One can speculate endlessly on how Mann’s characters come to speak as they do. I bet there’s a whole subindustry for that in German literature studies. I myself shun the grand-opera breed of German person, the Bildungsbürger type that enthuses about Wagner and Mann – all furs, Brillis and aesthetics. Pfui !

  73. marie-lucie says:

    So “Madame” Buddenbrooks’ mannerisms of speech and attitudes can’t have much to do with French influence if her only “drop” of French blood comes from a grandfather of French-Swiss origin! There is no way that a French person would confuse German /i/ and /ü/ since French has both vowels (even if /ü/ is written u in French).

  74. In any event, the vowel of immer is not /i/ but /ɪ/, and I would take it that ümmer is meant to be pronounced with /ʏ/, not /y/.

  75. marie-lucie: There is no way that a French person would confuse German /i/ and /ü/ since French has both vowels (even if /ü/ is written u in French).
    I’m not quite clear on the implications of your use of “confuse”. Surely you do not want to deny that French people speaking German often have strong French accents involving vowel discrepancies, despite the fact (as it seems to me, though I may be far off the mark here) that almost all German vowels occur in French as well (French has more vowels, for instance the nasalized ones).
    What you say appears to be that close to a claim that such discrepancies are impossible – or would be impossible if only people paid attention. Unfortunately, however, it also appears that not every French person has a phonetician sitting in his/her head to monitor and correct speech. For any language X, few X-speaking persons have ghostly resident phoneticians to monitor their production even of X. Otherwise, for X = German, it would be hard to explain the existence of German dialects.
    Buddenbrooks is full of descriptions of how the characters speak, and empty of phonetic theories. I originally hazarded an explanation of “ümmer” that I saw was off the mark as soon as I started reading the novel again. Whatever else one could find there, or think up, to account for Madame B’s “ümmer“, Mann presents it as an idiosyncratic fact worth remarking on.

  76. This business of Madame B’s “ümmer” is a complex one, I find as I read on. It calls for what I suppose could be termed sociolinguistic analysis, rather than phonology. When I first read the novel I didn’t think much about such things.
    Let me repeat what Mann writes:

    Madame Buddenbrook wandte sich an ihre Schwiegertochter [die Konsulin], drückte mit einer Hand ihren Arm, sah ihr kichernd in den Schoß und sagte:
        “Immer der nämliche, mon vieux, Bethsy …?” “Immer” sprach sie wie “ümmer” aus.

    He does not write: “Immer” sprach sie immer wie “ümmer” aus. This initial scene of the novel displays certain similarities between old Antoinette and her husband, both in appearance and in things they do, for instance they “giggle” in a similar way. She grew up in Hamburg, so on the assumption that “ümmer” is/was something Norddeutsch (it occurs in Grobleben’s speech), she may, as she giggles and says mon vieux, be falling back on “ümmer” as something she said as a child.
    As the novel proceeds, we see that she is a competent woman in family business affairs, and displays no particular curiosities of speech (for the modern reader curious) apart from the mix of German/French used by all the Buddenbrook acquaintance of the same social class. I would say that she is perfectly aware that “ümmer” is not correct Hochdeutsch. When she said “ümmer“, she was not “failing to pay attention”, nor was she displaying an inability to hear the difference.

  77. Grobleben is speaking North German. In Bavarian it would be more like “I bi moi a årme Mann, meine Herrschåftn, aa i hå a [empfindliches] heazz…” or something like that.

  78. For the Bavarian touch, here is Permaneder speaking at the dinner table, after the Konsul has just received a telegram there and read it:

    “O mei, Herr Nachbohr!” anrwortete Herr Permaneder und wandte sich mit der Unbeholfenheit eines Mannes, der einen dicken und steifen Hals hat, nach des Konsuls Seite, um nun den anderen Arm an der Stuhllehne hinunterhängen zu lassen. “Do is nix’n z’red’n, dös is halt a Plog! Schaun S’, München” – er sprach den Namen seiner Vaterstadt stets in einer Weise aus, daß man nur erraten konnte, was gemeint war -, “München is koane G’schäftsstadt … Da will an jeder sei’ Ruh’ und sei’ Maß … Und a Depeschen tuat man fei nöt lesen beim Essen, dös fei net. Jetzt da haben S’ daheroben an onderen Schneid, Sakrament! … I donk scheen, i nehm’ scho noch a Glaserl … Es is a Kreiz! Mei’ Kompagnon, der Noppe, hat allweil nach Nürnberg g’wollt, weil s’ da die Börs’ ham und an Unternehmungsgeist … aber i verloß mein München nöt … Dös fei nöt! – Es is halt a Kreiz! … Schaun S’, da hamer dö damische Konkurrenz, dö damische … und der Export, dös ist schon z’m Lochen … Sogar in Rußland werden s’ nächstens anfangen, selber a Pflanzen z’ bauen …”

  79. I mistyped “anrwortete” for “antwortete”

  80. Also: “dös ist schon z’m Lochen” should be “dös ist scho z’m Lochen”. One letter too many spoils the effect.

  81. Apparently I do have a ghostly resident orthographer to correct things against my will. Despite my efforts to reproduce exactly what is printed in the novel, I unwittingly corrected “scho” to “schon”, and also “mei München” to “mein München”.
    But that kind of “correcting” is what enables you to understand dialect at all. You round off the square pegs to make them fit into the holes in your ears.

  82. I’m not quite clear on the implications of your use of “confuse”.
    I’m not quite clear on why you’re not quite clear. She’s saying that since French has both vowels, /i/ and /ü/, it makes no sense that a French-speaker would use one for the other. (By contrast, it makes perfect sense that people who do not have a vowel /ü/ would substitute another vowel for it.) Alles klar?

  83. Bathrobe says:

    A problem with Mann’s characterisation is that he is writing his auditory impressions. It is quite possible that in the dialect in question ‘immer’ sounds like standard ‘ümmer’, without necessarily meaning that ‘immer’ and ‘ümmer’ are mixed up by speakers. The distinction could be expressed in another way. This is similar to the impression that some people have that Australians pronounce ‘ay’ the same as ‘ie’, i.e., ‘day’ is pronounced the same as ‘die’. This is nonsense. ‘Day’ may sound like ‘die’ to Americans, but Australians still keep ‘day’ and ‘die’ distinct. A similar situation could apply to ‘ümmer’. But without knowledge of the dialect concerned, it’s impossible to say.
    m-l’s point is correct. There is no reason why a French speaker would mix them up when there a similar distinction exists in French. A French influence would only be a possible suspect if French did not distinguish the two sounds.

  84. marie-lucie wrote: “There is no way that a French person would confuse German /i/ and /ü/ since French has both vowels”. This claim seems to imply that confusion in use is inpossible where there is distinctness in theory. Thus my question about what she means by “confuse”.
    A French person presented with the isolated German vowels /i/ and /ü/ would probably say “oh, yes, I know those”. German vowels are pretty much a subset of French ones, after all – at least that’s how it seems to me, and nobody has contradicted me yet.
    Nevertheless, strong French accents in German, particularly as regards the vowels, are a fact of life. That was my point: everyday people are not phoneticians. Everyday people easily confuse things in practice that they can be led to admit are distinct when those things are isolated in a “scientific experiment”.

  85. Bathrobe’s comment shows that I may need to make something clear: as I already said explicitly, after re-reading page 2 of the novel I have discarded any idea that there is a French influence behind “ümmer“. My recent comments have been directed solely to marie-lucie’s statement. That statement seems – when I generalize away from the two vowels in question, about which there is nothing special – to imply that the French should have no problems pronouncing German correctly.

  86. Christopher Burd says:

    If you Google “ümmer”, most of the hits are people writing in Plattdeutsch. This makes me think that a German reader of a century ago – at least, a North German reader – would read Mme Buddenbrook’s “ümmer” as an example of Platt. Since she is an upper-middle-class Hamburgerin, I wonder if this is connected with the spread of standard German among the educated classes during the 19th century? Perhaps older members of the bourgeoisie, like Konsul and Konsulin Buddenbrook (born late 18c?), might have been brought up speaking Platt or Platt-influenced German, while the younger generations were brought up speaking Hochdeutsch, though they would understand Platt.

  87. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: marie-lucie’s statement … seems … to imply that the French should have no problems pronouncing German correctly
    You wrote about two different vowels, or rather, about a German word which is attested with two different vowels, most likely because of dialectal differentiation. My statement was limited to the two vowels in question. I did not mean to generalize that all French speakers should be able to pronounce German correctly, only to say that their errors are unlikely to involve mistaking i and ü for each other (this is what I mean by “confusing” them) since the distinction between unrounded and rounded high front vowels (the technical descriptions for these sounds) is meaningful in both languages (= is used to keep apart otherwise identical words): the distinction is not theoretical but eminently practical. The same is true also of German speakers speaking French with a German accent, with respect to the vowels in question.
    On the other hand, French speakers usually have difficulties with the distinction between short and long vowels in both English and German, since this distinction is rarely important in French (and it is on its way out) and French vowels are usually of intermediate length. So English speakers think that French people are saying “seat” for sit, and conversely “sit” for seat, when the actual French vowel pronounced is intermediate between the two English vowels (in length, tongue height etc).
    JC: In any event, the vowel of immer is not /i/ but /ɪ/, and I would take it that ümmer is meant to be pronounced with /ʏ/, not /y/.
    I think that whether you consider the sounds [ɪ] and [ʏ] to be allophonic variants of /i/ and /y/ (ü) or phonemes in their own right is a theoretical choice involving what importance you attribute to distinctions of length as opposed to tenseness or tongue height, since all these factors go together (as also in English for the contrast sit/seat, for instance). I feel that all such interpretations cause problems of detail, and I prefer to use the long/short contrast as the more important one, as well as the easiest one to use for practical purposes. But I could easily be contradicted by theoretical phonologists.
    In Québécois French there is a lowering/relaxing tendency affecting high vowels in certain contexts, thus [ɪ, ʏ, ʊ] instead of Standard [i, y, u] in vite, chute, route. I am not aware that this leads to confusion among the three series of vowels (front unrounded, front rounded, back rounded).

  88. I knew a woman, a Gräfin born ca 1913 into a well-known upper-class family, who grew up in Mecklenburg but spent her adult life in Hamburg. In the 1990s when I lived in Hamburg she not only understood Plattdeutsch, she continued to converse in it with the occasional old fisherman or what-have-you who still used it. I’m not certain whether she picked it up in Mecklenburg or Hamburg but I sort of have a feeling it may have been Mecklenburg, if that’s possible.

  89. Thanks for the clarification, marie-lucie !

  90. Crown: It’s characteristic that linguistic change comes from the middle class, with the lower and upper classes far more conservative: compare the distribution in England of traditional -in’ vs. innovative (but now standard) -ing in the present participle ending.
    Marie-Lucie:
    It’s certainly reasonable to take vowel length as primary in English as a whole: British phonologists for some decades now have been using so-called “quantitative-qualitative” notation, writing /fɪt/ for fit and /fiːt/ for feet. Indeed, in Australian English vowel length is inescapable, such pairs as bid/beard, cup/carp, ferry/fairy, and more recently can ‘able to’ / can ‘tin’ being all pure contrasts of length.
    But in Scottish English, and in my opinion also in North American English, length is predictable from the surrounding consonants whereas quality is not. In my own speech, for example, fit and feet do not differ in length, whereas feed is markedly longer. To write /fit/, /fiːt/, /fiːd/ would be false to the phonetic facts, and I reject British-style notation for NAmE, writing /fɪt/, /fit/, /fid/.
    In some varieties of NAmE there is a length distinction before [ɾ], short when it represents underlying /t/ and long otherwise, thus [læːɾɚ] ladder vs. [læɾɚ] latter. But for me the vowel is short in both environments, producing a true merger.
    I’m surprised to hear of lax high vowels in any Romance language, and I wonder if CanE has influenced the change in Quebec French. I seem to recall (though WALS is too coarse-grained to confirm it) that phonemic high lax vowels are rare in the world’s languages, and that the separate symbols [ɪ, ʏ, ʊ] were introduced into IPA only because they were needed for the Germanic languages, as IPA normally has a separate symbol if and only if there is a phonemic distinction in at least one language. Yet another way in which this English we speak is decidedly odd typologically!

  91. Christopher Burd says:

    I wonder if CanE has influenced the change in Quebec French.
    Marie-Lucie should know best, but a Quebecois professor at my university vehemently denied this possibility. That makes sense to me, since as far as I know the lax pronunciation is found in monolingual French districts as well as in linguistically mixed areas.

  92. Bathrobe says:

    That statement seems – when I generalize away from the two vowels in question, about which there is nothing special – to imply that the French should have no problems pronouncing German correctly.
    Why on earth would you want to generalise away from the two vowels in question? This was the real culprit in your confusion.

  93. marie-lucie says:

    I wonder if CanE has influenced the change in Quebec French.
    I asked myself that question when I came across this change, and I came to the conclusion that it was probably an independent phenomenon (I don’t remember what my reasoning was). Anyway, Etienne would be a much better source than me on this topic.

  94. You called? ;)
    About the laxing of /i/ /y/ /u/ in Quebec French: I agree with Marie-Lucie, it is almost certainly not due to English influence. Chronologically, it predates close French-English contact and is best seen as a simple instance of language-internal change.
    Also, the change only makes Quebec French more English-like in the most superficial way: indeed in my experience anglophones speaking L2 (Quebec) French find high vowel laxing hard to master: the conditioning factors are quite un-English-like, and perceiving and keeping the lax high vowels distinct from several others (mid-high ones especially) is challenging.
    Today, however, English loans with laxed versus unlaxed /i/ and /u/ (CHEAP versus CHIP, for example) are borrowed into Quebec French with their vowels intact: the presence of lax /i/ and /u/ as allophones in native French words may have made this borrowing of the English phonemes easier. As a result, Montreal French now has two extra vowel phonemes, bringing the total number of vowel phonemes to nineteen.

  95. This is exactly how English /f/ and /v/ came to contrast: originally they were allophones, but the borrowing of massive numbers of French words with initial /v/ caused them to become phonemically distinct in pairs like fan:van, fast:vast, ferry:very, fear:veer. I initially wrote fat:vat as well, but it turns out that both words are native: vat comes from a dialect in which all /f/ was voiced, as in Dutch vat, cf. German faß.

  96. And cf. fox:vixen.

  97. John Cowan says:

    Vixen is also interesting as being the sole survivor of the Germanic feminine suffix -in, per Etymonline.

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