LINGUIST List 8.31

Fri Jan 17 1997

Sum: "bury" and "charcoal"

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Mary Ellen Ryder, "Bury" and "charcoal" summary

Message 1: "Bury" and "charcoal" summary

Date: Thu, 02 Jan 97 15:28:09 MST
From: Mary Ellen Ryder <>
Subject: "Bury" and "charcoal" summary

Happy New Year!

Below is a summary of the responses we got about pronunciation of "bury"
and "charcoal". I hope everyone is included; I've been getting ready for
sabbatical and am not in my right mind. If you were inadvertantly left
out, please forgive me. If you read my request, you know that I made
it on behalf of one of my introductory linguistics students. Let me
thank you all for responding; she was truly thrilled. I asked her to
write a summary of the data, which is what is given below. It was a
great learning experience for her, and we both appreciate your help.
Since I am about to leave the country, if you have any more comments
or questions about the data, you should probably contact my student
directly. Her name is Lynn Thomas, and her e-mail is:

Thanks for the following for their responses:
Alice Faber
James Cornish
Cynthia Claire Schneider
Lynn Burley
Chad D. Nilep
Gayle McIntyre mcintyrcc.UManitoba.CA
Lelanie Misanchuk
Richard Firsten
Ronald Ross
E. Wayles Browne
Charles T. Scott
Thomas F. Shannon
S. J. Hannahs
David Wilmsen
Glynis Baguley
Vern M. Lindblad
Clodagh Lynam
James Vanden Bosch
Andrew S. Mccullough
Karl Teeter
Carl Mills Carl.MillsUC.Edu
Walter Bishop
Barbara Pearson
Paul Kingsbury
Laurie Bauer
Marie M. Egan
John E. Koontz
Ellen Polsky Ellen.Polskyspot.Colorado.EDU
Doug Bradley
Donn Bayard
Dale Russell
Allen Ray Klanika
Peter Daniels
Mark Hansell
Waruno Mahdi

In the following, E stands for the mid front lax vowel found in
"get", A stands for the mid central vowel in "but", and r, stands
for the syllabic r in "fur". (I hope all those correspondences
will work!)

Bury/Charcoal Summary

Thanks to everyone who replied to the informal bury/charcoal survey
that Dr. Mary Ellen Ryder of Boise State University launched via
E-Mail earlier this month. Special thanks to those who shared
their own dialect idiosyncrasies.

I'm the undergratuate student to whom Mary Ellen referred. Mary
Ellen informed me that a summary is in order and, because
performance anxiety has sabotaged my test scores, I'm only too
eager to oblige.

First, the numbers:

35 people responded to the survey. Some gave multiple examples,
some gave none, so the total number of examples was 33.

21 pronounced bury bEri
(ranging from NYC to California and in between; also New Zealand
and Great Britain)

9 pronounced bury br,i (syllabic r)
(1 MD, 1 NJ, 3 PA, and 1 VA; also 2 Canada and 1 Denmark/Germany)

1 as biri (as in cheery)
(Cincinnati, OH)

1 as bAri

1 as either bEri or br,i in free variation
(currently at Harvard, but gave no personal regional history)

That bury pronounced bEri was a 2:1 winner is no surprise. After
all, it was my searching the dictionary in an attempt to prove to
my husband that I hadn't invented bury as br,i that started all
this. Bury pronounced as bEri was the only pronunciation listed in
the American Heritage College Dictionary. Bury pronounced as br,i
wasn't even listed as an alternative pronunciation.

Beyond the numbers, here are some comments:

Using rhyme to illustrate pronunciation got tricky, as you might
guess. The different dialects of the respondents themselves
produced different rhymes. One respondent said bury was pronounced
bAri to rhyme with hurry. Another respondent used that same word
(hurry) as his example, but he said hurry was pronounced br,i like

One respondent felt bury as br,i was an older generation
pronunciation. Another felt that same bury as br,i was an under 40

One respondent believed pronouncing bury as br,i was an attempt to
reconcile the pronunciation with the spelling. (This is
inconsistent with the Philadelphia Phenomenon described below.)

One respondent doubted there was any regional bias associated with
bury as br,i and suggested consulting Labov.

Another respondent did consult Labov's 1991 paper "Language
Variation and Change" written with Mark Karen and Corey Miller.
This paper was further developed into a 1994 book (title not
given). In these works, Labov writes about a phenomenon in
Philadelphia whereby all words in the berry, ferry, Jerry, Terry
realm are pronounced br,i -- appropriately and alliteratively
forever after known as the Philadelphia Phenomenon.

Philadelphia Phenomenon Wins!

I have declared myself judge of this pronunciation explanation
contest (for my particular case, anyway) and have declared all
advocates of the Philadelphia Phenomenon to be winners.

I base my decision on the evidence gathered in this informal
survey, the reference to published works by Labov on the subject,
and my own personal experience and long distance bill.

My family is not from Maine. There was a bit of confusion there.
My family is from . . . drum roll . .Philadelphia! After my
failed attempt to seek validation from the dictionary, I called my
mom and dad to see if they, too, pronounced bury as br,i. I asked
them the following question: "What does a dog to to a bone in the
back yard?" They both replied "He buries (br,iz) it." I also
called Philadelphia and spoke to my aunt (which I do, indeed,
pronounce to rhyme with font as one respondent wondered). Same
question. Same answer. I felt some small personal vindication,
but wasn't satisfied. I reported my quest to Mary Ellen and she
posted her informal survey. Later, I called my dad to give him the
results. I used the bury to rhyme with berry method to explain the
results. Of course, being from Philadelphia, my father was
confused. He pronounces berry as br,i too! I told him he earned
a badge of honor for a native Philadelphian. I wear an honorary
badge now.

Charcoal to rhyme with sparkle:

I think rhyming's relatively safe here, as nobody pronounces
sparkle sparkole, do they? Two respondents pronounced charcoal to
rhyme with sparkle (one from Texas and the other from Arizona). The
Texan offered the following as a possible reason:
" . . . mainly the vocalization of the 'l' and its inability to
attract stress."

Many respondents chose not even to address this question. Some
simply wrote that they had no idea.

Here are some of the more judgmental comments: "Tell him to
 "weird " and "strange"

I prefer the comment of a kinder gentler respondent: "Why not.
It's an honorable process of vowel reduction in the second element
of compounds--like woman and chairman!" Thank you for your
gracious and open-minded response.

Another respondent (a fellow Palo Altan, I believe) holds the
answer to my husband's particular case. He wrote, "As far as
charcoal goes (it goes further with a little lighter), I say it
with an "o" in there, but it's so lightly stressed it could easily
be mistaken for charkle." (I enjoyed many years in the Bay Area
and two of them were on the funky side of Fulton Street in Palo
Alto. Do they still do the lights on the ritzy side?)

Finally, one respondent (who also guessed correctly that bury as
b,ri was "an east coast thing - around the Philadelphia area")
mentioned the American Dialect Group at as a
further source of information. Thought I'd pass it on.

Thanks again to everyone.

Merry Christmas!

May your Christmas lights forever sparkle
and Santa bring you more than charcoal
May Santa bring you slippers furry
and for your dog a bone to bury!

It rhymes, trust me!
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