“I’ve seen the march of progress.”

Just a tweet incorporating a video of less than a minute, but it’s remarkable:

1929 video of 94-year-old Rebecca Latimer (born 1835), talking about the world changing.

Note the accent and vocabulary — she has a manner of speech rarely seen today

She was from Georgia; Luis says in the Twitter comments:

Accent seems to be very similar to the UK accent (London area). Born in 1835 in an area probably populated by many British descendants !? Since then, English US has been influenced by the waves of migrants coming from Europe (Germany, Nordic countries, Italy, etc) and elsewhere.

I’ll be curious to see what Hatters think of her manner of speaking. It’s quite something to hear the voice of someone born in the 1830s; thanks, Trevor!


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    Not so many Scandinavian or Italian immigrants coming to Georgia, of course. As noted in one of the twitter comments, Mrs. Felton (Latimer was her maiden name) was an interesting lady of diverse interests and enthusiasms, some of which seem progressive-for-the-time in hindsight and others, not so much. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Latimer_Felton

  2. Her /r/ is interesting, an apical alveolar fricative. I don’t know what the distribution of it is.

  3. Her bio. Lest anyone think that liberal ideas always come in a bundle, she was a feminist and a suffragist, and an awful racist who championed lynching (as a means for defending “defenceless women”).

    (Oops, what J.W. Brewer said.)

  4. Quite so, but I was hoping we could focus on her speech and leave politics to the kind of site where people obsess over such things. It would be pretty unlikely for a white woman born in Georgia in the 1830s not to be an appalling racist. I think we can all take our requisite appalment for granted. (From J. Bentham in “Springs of Action” [1815]: “Transient emotions..2 Terror, 3 Appalment, 4 Consternation.”)

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    I agree that focusing on her apical alveolar fricatives may be more worthwhile, but would say that in the Jim Crow South as in many other places and times there was a certain range of political opinions held by respectable/prominent personalities. It may be that on certain racial questions the entirety of that range now falls outside the range of respectable opinions that may be held in 2023, but in 1898 or whenever, where a particular prominent white person fell on that range might be of some considerable practical significance. Southern blacks (of both sexes, after 1920) who were in practice deprived of the right to vote might well have a legitimate and well-informed rooting interest in white politician A beating white politician B in a race for state governor or whatever, even though both were overt white supremacists, because there were still differences between them that might affect how disenfranchised blacks might hope to fare after the election.

    And of course some of our modern political categories may not work well when retrojected. Mrs. Felton was for a time very active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was a very powerful and controversial activist group in its day. Was it in the context of that period a “left-wing” or a “right-wing” activist group? Is that even a question with a coherent answer?

  6. I’m with you, Hat. That was an aside. I hope someone more attuned to U.S. dialects than me will have something substantial to say.

    For now I’ll add that her speech makes sense to me as coming from someone used to public speaking.

  7. Yes, she’s clearly not some random resident plucked from a front porch!

  8. cuchuflete says

    The most surprising thing to me was the absence of anything that sounds “southern” to my New England ears. I spent much time working in Georgia—1980s-1990s—, heard a variety of local accents, and hers was unlike any of them.

  9. “Since then, English US has been influenced by the waves of migrants coming from Europe (Germany, Nordic countries, Italy, etc) and elsewhere.”

    Is there strong evidence for influence of later, non-Anglo immigrants on US English accent-wise? I know there’s obvious signs that the particular wave of immigrants in question, Ellis Island in particular, influenced American English by e.g. enriching vocab, slang, like “Kapish!” or Yiddish words, e.g. “Oy vey!”.

    But in terms of accent it feels like the exchange seems extremely asymmetric. Immigrants gradually shift to talk like locals, not vice versa in the US. I don’t know many (strong) counterexamples. Perhaps there’s things like Chicano English as counterexamples?

  10. Standard Received crossed with Granny, Jed Clampett’s mother-in-law? Particularly in the final phrase. I’d like to see the full clip, because I have the sense she may start one way, but slip as she warms to her subject. By class, a defeated elite looking for something to bolster itself, she may have had an accent that was aspirationally English.

  11. In the early 19th century, was there a clear social (and hence linguistic) demarcation in the South between the descendants of English immigrants and those of Scots and Irish ones? RLF, as far as I can tell, was descended mostly from pre-1700 English immigrants.

  12. Jen in Edinburgh says

    There’s nothing about it that strikes me as particularly UK regional – a bit like old recordings of royals and so on, but possibly only because of the similarities between that and whatever the posh old Hollywood accent is called.

    I’m not the best judge, though.

    (Occasionally I hear something a bit Irish in it, but I think only for the same reason that people guess that a very fluently English-speaking Dutch friend of mine is Irish – native-sounding English, but not quite from here, must be from our neighbours…)

    I like ‘footback travellers’, though.

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    @Y: Probably not really. There were certain families that pretended to genealogical poshness and a “distressed cavalier” narrative, but also plenty of social-climbing nouveau riches from humble beginnings (of various ethnic origins – and lots of un-Celtic English immigrants to the South were non-posh indentured servants) who bought themselves a passel of slaves and a slapped-together mansion house and tried to live in some sort of pseudo-medieval grandee style influenced by a surfeit of Walter Scott novels while staying one step ahead of their creditors. And the part of Georgia where she was born and raised was not the earlier-settled part near the Atlantic coast but was still in her girlhood the wild frontier (now metropolitan Atlanta!), where almost all the white folks were recent arrivals — the county where she was born was still predominantly occupied/ruled by the Creek Indians until a decade and a half before her birth. Down where everything was being newly settled (inland Georgia, north Florida, Alabama, Mississippi) you weren’t going to get the same tidewater versus Appalachian versus in-between isoglosses and class distinctions you might find in the Carolinas and Virginia.

    The post-Civil-War Deep South gives off this ancient frozen-in-amber vibe that seems like it must stretch back far beyond 1865, so it’s often difficult to realize that many chunks of it had not yet really been first settled by white folks (and their slaves) until the 1820’s and 30’s.

  14. that is amazing! in a totally un-rigorous way, her idiolect reminds me most of so-called transatlantic accents. which makes me wonder whether it owes more to Madison Female College than to other speakers in her region (and whether the lects of other upper-class southerners of her generation were also more defined by their finishing schools than anything else). if so, it wouldn’t be unusual: many professional new yorkers who grew up in working-class families during the 1920s-40s have a distinct accent that comes from the mandatory speech classes imposed on them during their public educations; to my ear it’s meaningfully region-specific (as well as generationally limited) but quite separate from what otherwise get called new york accents.

    what jumped out most (aside from “footback travelers”, which i love!) for me as exotic – so perhaps related to her generational lect – were vowels, like the first in “only” / last in “stagecoach”.

    ( parenthetically, to briefly answer JWB without encouraging derailment: you’re quite right: there’s not really a coherent way to place the (interwoven) temperance and sufferage movements on a right/left spectrum; both were deeply split along class lines, as well as into white-supremacist and anti-racist/multiracial segments (with white participants sometimes collaborating across that division), with an impact that’s visible in u.s. politics down to the present (traceable, for instance, in the best book yet written on the 2016 election, andrea dworkin’s Right Wing Women [1983]). but felton was in no way an outlier to either movement (and, unfortunately, not everyone who claims their legacies would wish her to have been). )

  15. FWIW: Her father, Charles Latimer, was born in Charles Co., Maryland, and his family had been there for generations. Her mother, Eleanor Ann née Swift, was born in Morgan Co, Georgia; I’m not sure about her ancestors.

  16. She sounds a bit like Roosevelt.

    Or it could be 1920s/1930s sound recording technology.

  17. David Marjanović says

    an apical alveolar fricative. I don’t know what the distribution of it is.

    …That would be most of Sweden. But I don’t hear a fricative, I hear an approximant; what’s unusual about it is that it’s not retroflex.

    whatever the posh old Hollywood accent is called

    Transatlantic. And that’s what the whole prepared speech sounds like to me, except I actually have very little experience with the Transatlantic accent…!

    It does sound a lot like really old-fashioned RP: DRESS is at least a mid vowel (though not quite [e]), and there’s no horse-hoarse merger. The non-rhoticity is not quite complete, though (girl at the beginning), FACE is a monophthong ([eː]), and I think GOAT (only, stagecoach) is, too ([oː])…

    I don’t think this was her native accent.

    She sounds a bit like Roosevelt.

    Transatlantic again.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Her mother was born in 1813, it appears. Morgan County was first carved out of the unsettled-by-non-Indians wilderness in 1807. So, again, right on the frontier. Her maternal grandmother (Mrs. Swift, nee Talbot) was born in 1793 in Wilkes County, Georgia, established way back in 1777 on land the Indians had ceded in 1773. Quite a ways inland, but easterly and very close to the South Carolina border, so settled by whites earlier. Mr. Swift (the paternal grandfather) was born in 1787 in North Carolina.

  19. To my ear, the vowel in all is distinctly fronted.

    It wasn’t clear to me from my cursory search whether Grandma Swift was born in Wilkes Co., GA, or Wilkes Co., NC.

  20. There’s a longer version in a Washington Post article from a year ago, and I’m sticking with the idea there’s a bit of Granny Clampett peeking through:

    “I’m livin’ on’d same grownd.” I think she has attempted to adopt a British accent, but can’t quite erase the country girl.

    And hopefully without derailing an interesting thread on accents, I do think her politics were rabid even in the context of her time and class. To use JWB’s terms of black voters who might prefer white politician A over white politician B, she’s politician E or F. Eight years after Tom Watson won a Georgia US House seat on a biracial “Farmer’s Alliance Democrat” platform, this woman who attended school in a town only about 20 miles from his district set off the Wilmington Race Riot with her rancidness.

  21. Or here, an even longer version, at the Moving Image Research Collection of the University of South Carolina (the watermark on the original clip.):

    (Whoops – this briefly had the wrong link, to the Post clip.)

    “I feel as much interest in people and things as I ever did” around 3:10 doesn’t sound too transatlantic. My ears perked a few seconds later when she begins to say she didn’t always talk this way, but it seems she means in terms of

    There are films of her from 7 years earlier, but of course they were still silent.

    And though not especially relevant, but just because I find it fascinating, here are the voter rolls for Beaufort Co. as reported to the military government of South Carolina in 1868.:

  22. Reminds me of my grandmother’s English, born in Germany in 1921 and acquired at 18 in London.

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I didn’t detect any similarity at all to a British accent (whether London or otherwise). She seemed very clearly American from beginning to end. You’d have to think that Dick Van Dyke did a good cockney accent to think otherwise.

    However, I agree with Cuchuflete about ‘the absence of anything that sounds “southern”’.

    I also agree with Zyxt that “She sounds a bit like Roosevelt.” (I assume that Franklin D. was meant; I’ve no idea what Theodore sounded like.)

  24. PlasticPaddy says

    I think there is a declamatory style which was common to many recorded speeches from both sides of the Atlantic in the 1940’s or earlier (maybe the speakers, e.g., Ms. Latimer were also reading from scripts, which would have affected the prosody). In this Johnson speech, I feel he adopts that style, which I think would be quite different from Kennedy or Nixon speeches.

  25. As per @Ryan and @PlasticPaddy, she was probably told to speak, but not specifically told to speak naturally so that people could discuss her accent during the next millennium.
    She could be forgiven for speaking as she would on stage during that period, when it was necessary to use stage-friendly skills, like special enunciation, pronunciation and projecting your voice.

  26. @Athel Cornish-Bowden

    Yes, I meant FDR.

    Regarding Teddy, apparently there is a sound recording of him, but I haven’t heard it.

    On the topic of former presidents, Theodore Roosevelt once said that Woodrow Wilson sounded like a Byzantine logothete.

  27. Theodore Roosevelt once said that Woodrow Wilson sounded like a Byzantine logothete.

    Now, that’s my kind of invective!

  28. (Back in 2003 I said “I think they should revive the old Byzantine title of logothete for this purpose [of submitting citations to the OED].”)

  29. Zyxt and Athel C-B – like you, I was reminded of FDR. Compare her final vowels in “country” and “buggies” to his “infamy” and her non-rhotic “march” to his “yesterday” and “forty-four.”

  30. I like the title of this thread.

    I guess now we are seeing it as “free flight” of progress…

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    @Ryan, not to further derail, but Tom Watson himself is a good example of how a given white Southern politician’s positions on racial issues could shift quite a bit (potentially in either direction?) over the course of a career. For extra credit, you could investigate the bios of the prominent Georgia leaders of the anti-women’s-suffrage cause and see if you can find one or two who were all the way at the liberal/progressive end of the then-existing Overton window on race policy. Maybe not any (in Georgia) who were wild-eyed enough to say out loud that the Fifteenth Amendment ought to be effectively enforced in practice with respect to black male suffrage before the franchise was extended any further, but there were other issues …

    EDITED TO ADD: Also, it’s sort of an interesting coincidence that Tom Watson was (briefly) succeeded as one of Georgia’s U.S. Senators by none other than Rebecca Latimer Felton!

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    And on behalf of the Byzantine Anti-Defamation League, I object to TR’s unsubstantiated suggestion that the odious Wilson had anything in common with the glories of Byzantine culture.

  33. Pretty much all politicians’ positions shift quite a bit over the course of their careers. It is perhaps not widely enough known that Joe McCarthy didn’t give a damn about Communists until it turned out to be a useful electoral wedge issue, and George Wallace famously adopted the segregationist cause after his failed run for governor in 1958. In more recent times, it seems Kari Lake had fairly normal political views until falling into the Trump vortex (as of course is true for many other politicians). Power is a drug, and addicts do whatever it takes to get another hit.

  34. I used to think an interesting Southern history could be written charting the downward arc of Tom Watson and then the upward swing of George Wallace in his final term as Governor in the 80’s.

    A related story would be “Dawson to Washington”, a history of African American power in Chicago starting with Congressman Dawson heading to DC with the patronage of the Democratic machine, and ending with Harold Washington running for Mayor and winning as an independent Dem challenger to the machine.

  35. Thanks for this fascinating bit of speech and film.
    The longer b&w segment answered something about the original tweet, which I now think must be colorized.
    I too was struck by the ‘footback travelers’ phrase.

    Given the biographical info posted in comments, Mrs Latimer must have had experience with public speaking, so to me her comments give the impression of a variety of accents or registers. Plus her comment that she didn’t know where the ‘boys’–presumably the crew on the other side of the camera–came from, suggest she was trying to make a good impression.

    My own grandmother, born in 1902 in East Boston to Irish immigrants, sometimes mentioned she had been given elocution lessons as a child. One peculiarity, she pronounced ‘floor’ distinctly as two syllables, something like floe-ahh, because the elocution teacher insisted she pronounce the r.

  36. J.W. Brewer says

    @Ryan: why start the narrative with Dawson rather than either of his two black predecessors who the same approximate parts of Chicago had sent to Congress before him?

  37. The full video Ryan linked to shows her moving from more natural speech, when intatcing with the filmmakers, to a more formal enunciation, when narrating her past. The apical r (when present) and the non-rhoticness (when absent) are there throughout. I haven’t listened carefully to see if the vowels change any.

  38. Dawson seemed to have a different relationship with the machine and therefore more fully integrated into the power structure. To be honest, this was something I had vaguely considered 30 years ago, and I no longer remember all the reasons. One thing I was interested in was Dawson’s connection to the ‘policy racket,’ an illegal, privately-run lottery that was a source of revenue and power for politicos in Chicago.

    Fun fact – out of college, I served as a substitute teacher several times at Oscar DePriest Elementary, named for one of those other, earlier African American congressmen you mention. His name is also on the plaque commemorating construction of the Cook County Building, because he had been a county commissioner at the time.

    Another arc I find interesting is the fact that DePriest was taking office (though not Congressional office) at precisely the time that black officeholders in the south were being forced out by violence, which offers a somewhat countervailing message to the idea that Reconstruction was a wave that ultimately ebbed. One could argue there was ongoing progress measured across the nation as a whole even as racial rule returned to the South.

    I also find the race riot in Springfield, (the, “white riot” to distinguish it from what people might think of if they only know of latter day riots over racial issues) fascinating. It’s horrifying that it happened – a classic “Southern” lynchmob in a northern state. But it’s also among the few (white) race riots that the rioters could be said to have lost. There were no gloating pictures of the grinning mob, in unchallenged control of the streets. Instead, several rioters died when the national guard came in to suppress them and restore order, and the city responded with a significant campaign of improvement of African American housing and other conditions (something that likely happened only because of the city’s legacy as Lincoln’s home.) Though they weren’t sent to Springfield, in Illinois, black units were integrated into the guard and the GAR (and of course, the Republican Party), as indeed they had been in Southern states during and for a time after Reconstruction, but suppression of black militia, like the “Tennessee Rifles” around the time of the Memphis riot, was a big component of Jim Crow.

    That was something that couldn’t happen in the North because black power was a small but important (and unthreatening) pillar of Republican power.

  39. Also, there were still people that I could have interviewed at the time who remembered Dawson, and Washington himself would have interacted with him.

  40. J.W. Brewer says

    The crackpot poet Vachel Lindsay was a native of Springfield, Ill. and simultaneously a Lincoln enthusiast (to an almost manic degree) yet also to some extent a Confederate-Lost-Cause apologist. He said somewhere or other than the Mason-Dixon Line ran straight through the Springfield of his boyhood.

    Somewhere or other there’s a composite photo of the Woman Suffrage Committee of the Iowa legislature’s lower house circa 1897, composed exclusively of white men, and composed overwhelmingly of combat veterans of the Union Army with impressive facial hair (including one of my great-great-grandfathers). I expect that most of them retained even at that date a certain emotional sympathy and attachment to the cause of civil liberties for the freed blacks that was (perhaps conveniently for them) largely theoretical in most legislative districts in Iowa.

    As to Chicago, wikipedia informs me that Dawson, like Washington, was an alumnus of my own (Chicago-located) law school. Funny story about Washington: he was in his younger years as a state legislator one of the comparatively few prominent black alumni of the school, so an oil painting of him got put up in a room in the school otherwise filled with oil paintings of prominent white alums. Then at some point along the way (wiki sez 1971) he got into some trouble with the law because he had “forgotten” to pay his taxes, took a no-contest plea to a felony, and lost his law license. His painting then got taken down on the theory that alums who had been disbarred were not appropriate role models for current students. Come the 1980’s and his political comeback and election as mayor, well … the story goes (I wasn’t at the school yet, so this is all second-hand) that the painting of Washington got surreptitiously pulled out of a closet and put back up on the wall without announcement or ceremony in the dead of night, and the school administration subsequently just acted as if it had been there all along.

  41. I think it’s interesting that before Harold Washington became mayor of Chicago, despite long having been an enemy of Richard Daley and the Chicago political machine, there was the transitional figure of Jane Byrne, who was mayor before Washington. Byrne had come up through the Chicago machine, and Daley had named her to a number of important positions. However, while she had been an ally of Daley, she clashed with the machine leaders after his death and was eventually forced out. So she ran for the Democratic nomination in 1979 as someone who both had experience in city government (through the machine) yet was now an outsider (going against the machine).

  42. > he had “forgotten” to pay his taxes

    Washington had actually forgotten/ procrastinated/fucked up on *filing* his tax forms. He was more or less properly withheld. My memory is that it was a matter of a couple hundred dollars over four years, in one of which the government owed him. This is pretty consistent with a generally disorganized or more charitably, overextended lifestyle, so I tend to believe he wasn’t attempting to profiteer.

    Still, there was maybe more justification for worrying about him assuming the mayoralty than in the most lurid tellings of the city’s racism. You too might have worried about handing over the reins of a large, complex bureaucracy to a guy who just couldn’t get around to filing for four years. Still, the city offered plenty of evidence of racism through those years, particularly the first couple.

  43. Here is Theodore Roosevelt speaking:

    It seems to me to be the same kind of ye olde declamation accent, but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear a ‘Buggs Bunny’ accent coming through, eg. ‘woid’ instead of ‘word’.

  44. It reminds me of the voice in the “Very, Very Hungry” track of the Byrne/Eno album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which diverges even more from the average contemporary American accent. I’ve always wondered where and when that sample was from.

  45. Stu Clayton says

    @Biscia: that particular track contains only a few understandable words. They sound to me like some kind of African English or AAVE pronunciation. Hardly anything more is said, and that is electronically distorted.

  46. @Stu Clayton: perhaps we aren’t thinking of the same version, or perhaps I have the track title wrong? I suppose it depends on your definition of “few” and “distorted,” but I’ve listened to it any number of times and your description has me genuinely puzzled. (I’m talking about the voice that says “they were walking and walking,” “they came to a house,” etc.: I’m afraid I don’t have time to dig up the mp3 in question right now to check.) Nor did it sound like any kind of African English to me. The closest accent I’d heard up to now was in a FWP Slave Narrative recording that didn’t resemble contemporary AAVE at all.

  47. Here is Theodore Roosevelt speaking

    Thanks for that! But that “‘Buggs Bunny’ accent” is Ye Olde New York accent — Teddy was born at 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan.

  48. Stu Clayton says

    @Biscia: I haven’t heard Eno in years. I very much like Very Very Hungry. Here is a digitally remastered outtake, here the full album.

    I’m talking about the voice that says “they were walking and walking,” “they came to a house,” etc.

    All I can hear is “house”. You must have Superman Dumbo hearing. The other explanation doesn’t bear thinking about.

  49. @Stu: sorry, I’m an entirely different kind of dumbo! I was thinking of the track after that, “Moonlight in Glory,” and the voice starting at about 3:00, although I remembered the words all wrong. Plus, relistening, it has almost nothing to do with the accent in the tweet except for maybe a few vowels. It always sounded to me like some strange and antiquated AAVE accent, though. I remember listening to the FWP recordings long ago in an attempt to identify it – and a few of those did have an odd lilt resembling Latimer’s, so that’s why I made the connection.

    In short: I have an atrocious memory and probably should not comment on blogs while I’m working. At least now that I’m googling the correct title, I’ve discovered that it’s Janie Hunter and hence a Gullah accent. Duh.

  50. Speaking of Teddy Roosevelt, I recently learned that a speech he made about the virtues of “The Strenuous Life”, specifically the word strenuous, became a cartoon meme (though they didn’t call it that).

  51. David Marjanović says

    ‘woid’ instead of ‘word’

    The only word I’ve heard is a monophthongal [wɜd]…

    But what’s stunning is the complete lack of aspiration. Is that a feature of the recording, or did Roosevelt have a Dutch accent?!?

  52. “first task” at 0:39. [fɔ̟e̯s tæːsk] or so.

  53. @languagehat re Ye Olde New York accent

    It surprised me that a posh family like the Roosevelts would speak in that accent. It must have been more widespread among all social classes in earlier times.

    It’s an intriguing thing to me as a non-American that such a well known (and well documented on screen) accent has become (almost) extinct.

    ‘Woid’ occurs about a third or half way into the clip.

  54. David Marjanović says

    “first task” at 0:39. [fɔ̟e̯s tæːsk] or so.

    Ooh, good catch. I think I didn’t even understand that when I heard it the first time.

    It’s an intriguing thing to me as a non-American that such a well known (and well documented on screen) accent has become (almost) extinct.

    Such things happen. In the introduction to his dictionary, Noah Webster bluntly stated as an uncontroversial fact that cl, gl were pronounced tl, dl; it turns out this was quite widespread on both sides of the Atlantic, among highly educated people no less, before it somehow vanished without a trace. And our esteemed host has a 19th-century book for English-speaking learners of German that warned the reader that g was not [g], but [ɣ] in German; while [ɣ] exists in various northern and central dialects, in the mid-20th century it vanished from anything in shouting distance of Standard German so completely that I grew up without knowing it existed… I mean that such a sound existed anywhere in human language. When I first encountered a description of [ɣ] in a dictionary of Greek (I must have been some 20 years old) and figured out what it must sound like, I was very, very surprised.

  55. PlasticPaddy says

    1. I think we had straddle vs. straggle on another thread
    2. Was/is there a version of German “r” sounding something like [GAMMA], eg., some pronunciation of the r in rate ‘mal?

  56. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Danes of my grandmother’s generation did have [ɣ] in words like pige, though not very strongly pronounced. Devoiced to [x] in words like agt, I think, or perhaps it was never lenited there — my form is [ɑɡ̚t].

    My ex-brother-in-law is from Southern Jutland and pronounces his surname Kragh with a strong [χ]. (Standard is [ʊ̯]).

    But more to the point, German and Danish have both replaced syllable-initial apical [r̺] with something like [ʁ] on the French model (and syllable-final [ɐ] vel sim). Except for some German regiolects that DM will presently tell us about. I suppose you can call [ʁ] a variant of [ɣ]).

  57. it somehow vanished without a trace

    Oi! I pronounce “lightly” and “likely” identically.

  58. Is it the case then that change in the phonology of a language happens very quickly – within 3 or 4 generations – whereas changes in vocabulary take more time with archaic and obsolete words lingering for relatively longer?

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    Toende Kusaal lost [ɣ] some time between the Indefatigable Révérend Père André Prost describing the dialect in 1979 and Urs Niggli doing likewise in 2012.

    The characteristic Kusaal loss of short final vowels is already there in Rattray’s splendidly titled Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland from 1932, though. Incidentally, I just found the following footnote in the “Kusase” chapters:

    Kusal is so much like Mole [i.e. Mooré] that an officer learned the former language by mistake for the latter, and was duly examined by a language board and passed, much to the amusement of critics of the said board. They had, however, every excuse for doing so, the laugh really being against those who, because these languages had different names, thought they were not related. Curiously enough, however, Kusase and Moshi do not intermarry.

    The surprising thing to me is the discovery that the Gold Coast Brit authorities were actually examining their local northern officials for proficiency in Mooré, and, had they been able to, presumably for profiency in Kusaal too. Quite impressive, in its way; although it would appear that the standard was not high …

  60. That is a hilarious anecdote; thanks for sharing it.

  61. Legend has it that when Patrick Conroy applied for promotion in the British civil service, he was obliged to sit an exam in a foreign language and chose Irish. The service made enquiries in the London Irish community for a qualified Examiner and the name Pádraic Ó Conaire was mentioned. Pádraic was paid to examine Patrick and duly reported he had passed with flying colours.

    Likely similar stories exist for other languages in the colonies

  62. David Marjanović says

    Was/is there a version of German “r” sounding something like [GAMMA]

    Well, the uvular fricative [ʁ] is widespread, but I only learned later to recognize it as distinct from my native [ʀ]. (Of course they’re extremes on a continuum to start with.)

    Laminal [r] is almost universal in Switzerland and surroundings; apical [r] has become a mark of Bavarian ethnic identity and is various degrees of old-fashioned in most of the rest of the German-speaking area.

    Oi! I pronounce “lightly” and “likely” identically.

    Interesting. Both with [t] or both with [ʔ]?

  63. I guesstimate [cˡ]. Same as in initial /kl/.

  64. And our esteemed host has a 19th-century book for English-speaking learners of German that warned the reader that g was not [g], but [ɣ] in German
    Do they refer to a sound like in Dutch, or maybe to the Berliner / Prussian Junker pronunciation of “g” as [j]?

  65. Earlier Brits that knew German seem to have been most familiar with North German, naturally. I’ve seen more than one British dictionary of Spanish that described [ɣ] as being “as in North German Sage.” As an American youth this always seemed to me to be explaining obscurum per obscurius, if not clarum per obscurum.

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