The various realizations of English vowels

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by nwon, Jun 3, 2013.

  1. nwon Senior Member

    Northwestern Ontario
    Inglés canadiense
    Good evening everyone,

    I've been thinking about English vowels and how much they vary between dialects ("po-tay-to, po-tah-to" being a saying that showcases this). I was trying to think of another language with a similar situation, but I couldn't think of any language that has vowels that vary so much between various regions. I was just wondering if anyone had anything to say about the topic, or if someone could give me another example of this.

  2. tFighterPilot Senior Member

    Israel - Hebrew
  3. nwon Senior Member

    Northwestern Ontario
    Inglés canadiense
    Sorry, I don't want a list of dialects; I want to discuss why this happened and if there are any other examples of it.
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I'd be surprised if English was particularly unusual in this. Unfortunately I don't know enough about regional dialects of other languages to give specific examples, but I'd think any language that had dialect diversity would look like this. What is perhaps unusual about English - or what makes it look unusual when it isn't - is that two quite different accents are equally standard. People call them British and American English, which is completely misleading in this context. The main vowel differences arose in England, and some of them happen to be used in AmE, some in the traditional standard form of BrE, others elsewhere.

    First, potahto isn't a real example, it's a joke made up for rhyming purposes in the song. Second, the real example tomato is sporadic: it doesn't illustrate any general dialect difference. Likewise lever, leisure, zebra, all one-off divergences where standard BrE and AmE happen to use different forms.

    The main systematic differences are the behaviour of old short , which became lower and more central in the South of England in most words, and remained short in the North - thus making the vowel in STRUT different from that in FOOT everywhere except in the North. That happened in the 1600s. Then there's the unrounding of short low [o] (using the phonetic symbol loosely): America, Ireland, and South-Western England have some kind of back [a], so this may have happened early, I don't know. Later was the backing of [æ] to some kind of [a] first before [f θ s] (laugh, path, class) then before [n] + consonant (chance, can't, command). Add to this the effect of loss of [r] at the end of a syllable.

    Mostly these follow the usual history of English sound changes: they happen in or around London then spread out. The historically unusual situation is that America separated at an early point, when only one or two of the changes had happened, and developed its own standard form. Though even then, the East Coast accents continued to match London for a while. So instead of one standard and numerous small, neglected regional accents we have two standards, making the divergence appear greater than perhaps it is.
  5. myšlenka Senior Member

    You want to know why different dialects of a language may have different pronunciations of vowels?

    Another example of such a language could possibly be French. I assume that there are differences between how vowels are pronounced in various varieties of French: France, Quebec, Belgium, Maghreb etc.
  6. killerbee256 Senior Member

    American English
    For English outside of the British isles, outside influences have a major effect as well. Various American English dialects have had influences from German, Scandinavian, Irish English, Spanish, French etc. African English dialects from Dutch (south Africa & perhaps to a degree Kenya) and native African languages. Hong Kong from Chinese I could go on but you get the idea.

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