LINGUIST List 9.676

Sat May 9 1998

Disc: Recent Change in English

Editor for this issue: Martin Jacobsen <>


  1. Marc Hamann, Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English
  2. bwald, Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English
  3. PBarr21106, Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

Message 1: Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 12:11:47 -0400
From: Marc Hamann <>
Subject: Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

I wanted to comment on some of Marie-Lucie Tarpent's observations of
recent trends of Canadian morphology, since I have noticed them as
well. In agreement with the sociolinguistic observations of Labov, I
have noticed that they are most pronounced in "lower middle class"

>a. at least in Canada, there seems to be a recent tendency to open
>the vowel in words like medicine, Megan, etc; again, i have not
>researched the conditioning systematically but it is not limited to
>the m-initial words where i first noticed it. To me this
>pronunciation sounds rather "snotty".

If I understand correctly, you mean pronouncing "egg" and "beg" as
though they were "agg" and "bag". This change has been going on for
some time (I remember noticing it as a kid.) and started in front of
voiced stops where vowel lengthening already existed. In the speakers
with the most advanced change, this seems to have spread to before the
voiceless consonants as well, i.e. "Beck" pronounced more like "back".
As for the description of "snotty", I'm not sure what you mean, but I
certainly have the same gut reaction to this change that one might
have had to "Valley Girl" in the 80s. ;-}

>b. another phonological change which is older is the increasing
>fronting of the vowel in words like "food". Texts for students of
>French used to say that the vowel of words like "vous" was like that
>in "you" while that of "tu" was much more difficult for English
>speakers. But in fact the vowel of "food" is getting closer to that
>of "tu" (ie it is getting more and more fronted) and it is very
>difficult to teach English speakers to say the vowel of "vous".

I have noticed this as well, but I don't think the phonetic
description you give is quite right. My analysis is that the change
is from [uw] to [iw], where "i" here represents a high central or back
unrounded nucleus. I can see though how this would be perceive as IP
"y" by a native speaker if French.

>I would not be surprised if structural changes like these were more
>obvious to non-native than native English-speaking linguists.

Though I do speak French as a near-native language, English is in fact
my mother tongue, so maybe I'm just weird. ;-}

- ---
Marc Hamann
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Message 2: Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

Date: Thu, 7 May 1998 21:58:24 -0700 (PDT)
From: bwald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

Marie-Lucie Tarpent gives as examples of recent changes in (Canadian)

>1. morphosyntax: a. the sudden proliferation of compound verbs in
>English, eg "to fund raise, to problem solve, to guest conduct", etc;
>usually these are written as 2 words, and this may be ok for native
>English speakers but is very confusing to learners of English (and i
>suspect, also for slow readers). When i have seen examples like
>these mentioned by linguists, usually the only comment is that they
>are not really compound verbs because they derive from nominal

There is a tremendously large linguistic literature on compounding,
including these verb types. And examples go back to Old English.
Meanwhile, it is true that until recently, the standard texts, esp
Marchand, the most extensive study, called them "pseudo-compounds"
formed by "backformation" from compound nouns, such as
"guest-conductor" etc etc. It is also true that they seem to have
become more productive in recent years (since the 19th c). As if in
response, more recent literature, esp. generative, claims that they
are "base-generated", i.e., that they are generated in the same way as
"problem solver" and other nominal compounds, and thus they are indeed
compounds and not "backformations" or "pseudo-"anythings. There is an
interesting set of issues here and I have actually been working on
this for a while, so I could go on at length, but wait for the
published version.

So, what's "new" is basically that the pattern indeed seems to have
become more productive as of late -- but how many of you are
comfortable with:
yesterday we sight*saw*, so today we'll go back to the conference

I type*wrote* the paper on my old Olivetti

(Of course, you prefer "typed" nowadays, but ignore that -- if you

Here's a good one:

 The plane nose*dove* into the field.

Otherwise, the fact that there are always particular new lexical items
arising based on Noun+Verb is a lexical matter, and not particularly
interesting to anyone except lexicographers. NB I haven't *proofread*
this message.

>b. even more recently, "whomever" has come into fashion, most likely
>as a hypercorrection which is replacing "whoever" and even simply
>"who". The people who use "whomever" do not necessarily also use
>plain "whom" .

This is more specifically a slo-o-o-wly spreading change in the
standard. Most colloquial versions of English relinquished
"whomever", not to mention "whom", long long ago. Thus, the change is
more striking to those who were first introduced to English via more
conservative versions of the standard language. It remains
interesting, and a reminder that the English standard also changes and
is permeable to colloquial influence lest the standard and colloquials
drift too far apart and we need a renaissance to vernacularise the
written language, as happened with Latin and its spin-offs in the

>2. phonology:

phonological changes, esp sound changes, are invariably local matters,
as opposed to the particular morphosyntactic cases M-L mentioned
above, which are quite general to English. So they are much discussed
by dialectologists and sociolinguistics concerned with sound change in
progress and her examples are well known. The fronting of 'long u' as
in 'food' is extremely widespread and well-known to have arisen
independently in a great variety of English dialects. It is also a
well-known change in the history of many other languages. Again,
there is a large literature on this.

I would not consider any of the examples she gave as *recent* changes
in English, where English refers roughly to English as a whole. The
sound changes may be recent or ongoing, but over the spread of English
as a whole there are too many of them to discuss in one place or at
one time, or just for the purpose of cataloguing observations without
drawing any conclusions.
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Message 3: Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 01:02:51 EDT
From: PBarr21106 <>
Subject: Re: 9.668, Disc: Recent Change in English

My daughter (23) pronounces food and movies as you describe, very
forward in the mouth to start with, then a shift back. Neither my wife
nor I nor my son speak this way. I think it is a teen-age girl
pronunciation that may have begun in California. There was an article
in the NYT magazine a couple of years ago on the fact that there is a
nation-wide teen-speak. Pat Barrett
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