LINGUIST List 9.720

Fri May 15 1998

Disc: Recent Change in English

Editor for this issue: Brett Churchill <>


  1. Earl Herrick, Midwestern diphthongization
  2. MARC PICARD, Re: 9.701, Disc: Recent Change in English
  3. Dennis Holt, Recent changes in English
  4. kdcaldw, Re: 9.690, Disc: Recent Change in English

Message 1: Midwestern diphthongization

Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 15:28:37
From: Earl Herrick <>
Subject: Midwestern diphthongization

Several people have been discussing front vowel diphthongization,
especially before velars. Let me add my two cents worth.

I grew up in northeastern Kansas. I ordinarly pronounce "beg" with a simple
low-mid front vowel. However, I pronounce "bag" with a diphthong: low front
vowel followed by an upward front glide. Costa and Picard have mentioned in
this discussion the influence of following velars on this diphthongization.
I ordinarily diphthongize only the low front vowel. 

However, when I stress a pronunciation, I tend to (or at least I used to)
diphthongize more. I can remember when I was in Chicago at college and I
was phoning home to my parents. I soon learned that if the operator did not
understand my pronunciaton of where I was phoning to (I'm that old!), I
should not try to stress my pronounciation of "Kansas", because what would
come out would be two syllables, each with a diphthong like the one I
ordinarly pronounce in "bag", and the result would be even less intelligible.
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Message 2: Re: 9.701, Disc: Recent Change in English

Date: Tue, 12 May 1998 21:03:15 -0400
Subject: Re: 9.701, Disc: Recent Change in English

Lance Nathan wrote:

> >Date: Mon, 11 May 1998 11:49:12 -0500 (CDT)
> >From: Megan Elizabeth Melancon <>
> >Subject: Recent changes in English
> >
> >On the
> >other side of the coin, I find the usage of 'an historical event' to
> >be an horrible thing.
> Whereas I still wince when I see "a historical" (which if I heard
> aloud, I would probably be tempted to parse as "ahistorical," 'having
> no interest in history'). 

Which is not surprising given that the deletion of /h/ before
unstressed vowels occurs in many if not most dialects of English,
e.g., 'prohibit' vs. 'pro(h)ibition', 'vehicular' vs. 've(h)icle',
'rehab' vs 're(h)abilitation'. There is thus every reason to say 'an
(h)istorical novel' but not 'an (h)istory of mental illness'. Now who
can tell me how long the following exchange has been going on:

A: Hey, how are you today?
B: I'm good. How are you?

Marc Picard
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Message 3: Recent changes in English

Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 12:41:10 -0500
From: Dennis Holt <holtscsud.CTSTATEU.EDU>
Subject: Recent changes in English

Another one of the areas of English in which audible change seems to have
been taking place recently is that of the stress-pattern of two- and
three-part compound nouns and adjectives. I am most aware of this as it is
evinced by commentators on National Public Radio news-broadcasts. I
attribute these manifestations to what I would like to term
"reading-pronunciations" (which constitute a special type of
spelling-pronunciation): (I suppose that) the commentators have been given
scripts in which such integral compound forms have been written as phrases,
and they read them correspondingly. Thus, for example, I have recently
heard such things as "dairy far'mers" (instead of "dai'ry-farmers"); "milk
pri'ces" (instead of "milk'-prices");and even (just yesterday) "lung
can'cer" (instead of "lung'-cancer"), and this in a context in which
contrastive stress was called for (!). More complex sequences involving
adjectival compounds seem to cause the radio-people even greater
difficulty. Thus, for example, I have heard "free mar'ket-principles"
(instead of "free'-market prin'ciples" [or perhaps "free' mar'ket
prin'ciples"?]), etc.

I believe that the reinstitution of the regular use of the hyphen in such
compounds would alleviate the problem, and I have adopted this practice in
my own writing (as can be seen herein). I don't know exactly when it was
in our American orthographic history that this important use of the hyphen
became optional or outmoded (a perusal of the practice of early
20th-century poets such as Jeffers and HD and other language-sensitive
writers such as Mencken will reveal just how useful and important the
hyphen can be and how late it did persist in American practice), but its
current absence from such compound forms seems to lead to confusion and
mispronunciation in these special communicative contexts (and can sometimes
give rise to garden-path sequences in the context of silent reading).

It is not clear whether such pronunciations are spreading into spontaneous
oral speech, but I suspect that the existence of these sorts of models over
the airwaves might tend to encourage or support such shifts.

Dennis Holt
So. CT St. U.
New Haven
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Message 4: Re: 9.690, Disc: Recent Change in English

Date: Wed, 13 May 1998 14:06:41 -0700 (PDT)
From: kdcaldw <>
Subject: Re: 9.690, Disc: Recent Change in English

On Mon, 11 May 1998, LINGUIST Network <> wrote:

>"may (have) [possibly (did)]" = "might (have) [would/could (have)]"
>c1985? I know at least one person my own age who claims not be be
>able to distinguish "may" and "might," so the date may be questionable
>(but she admits to growing up with a "substandard" variety of

I've never made such a distinction either (I'm 35). I do still try to 
distinguish "may" from "can", though.

>A peculiarity in American English that has been around longer than I
>have is represented in "Sears sellS shoes, DO'nt THEY?" 

While in British English they say, "The government are..."

>But it is
>only in recent years that countable things have started coming in
>"amounts"; several examples I have seen in recent weeks include Brian
>Covert in The Japan Times: "cards of ... women ... with numbers
>indicating the amount of men they have slept with." At a race I was
>helping administer, a fellow helper asked me, "How much runners in
>this race?" [1996+] Announcer on TV: "... the most number of
>opportunities ..."

That last example sounds so atrocious to me, it's almost painful.

>"between" for "among" Not as new as I would have thought: "... with a
>small party of miners on board who carried about a million and a half
>dollars in gold between them..." (_Scientific American_, August 1897
>on Klondike gold rush.)

I've also noticed more and more people saying "amongst" rather than
"among." I've always suspected that they think it sounds more educated.

>As to the vowel in "leg" and "vague," I am another northern
>Californian (father New York rural, mother born of Oregonians) for
>whom they have always rhymed (with the vowel of "lake").

I tend to rhyme "egg" and "leg" with "vague", but I don't do this
with words like "beg," "peg," "keg," and "Meg" (and definitely not
with "Megan" - /MAY-gun/ sounds so pretentious.

>-------------------------------- Message 3 -------------------------------
>Date: Mon, 11 May 1998 20:05:26 EDT
>From: ShariEllen <>
>Subject: Re: 9.686, Disc: Recent Change in English
>In a message dated 5/11/98 11:18:33 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
> writes:
><< The use of "disappear" in passive constructions. "The dissidents
>were disappeared in 1983". Interestingly, I haven't noticed an actual
>transitive use of "disappear" yet, though I suspect it's only a matter
>of time.
> >>
>I believe this is a back formation of "the disappeared," a direct
>translation of the Spanish, first used to describe political
>dissidents who "disappeared" in great quantity in (oh, gee, was it
>Chile or some other South American country?) in the '80's.

It was Argentina.

And now a couple of changes that other's haven't mentioned. One is the
introduction of pop-psychological terms into general discourse, such as 
using "to share" to mean "to give an opinion" or "to reveal something personal,"
or asking, "How do you feel about X?" rather than, "What do you think about X?"
"Meetings" can become "encounter sessions." And who thirty years ago would
have known what a "focus group" is?

Another is the crossover of technical jargon into the general vocabulary, such
as "networking," meaning "making and maintaining business contacts," or
"to interface with someone" meaning "to meet with someone."

The distinction between "lay" and "lie" seems to have been almost completely

More people are writing "of" when they mean "have," as in "could of," "should
of," etc. I noticed this in Booth Tarkington's "Penrod" (c. 1913), where he was
obviously writing dialogue the way a 12-year-old boy with no interest in school 
would have written it.

I have also noticed an increasing tendency to write the past tense of the verb
"lead" as "lead," rather than "led," as well as the disappearance of "leapt." Also,
the use of "drug" as the past tense of "drag" seems to be getting more common.

Kevin Caldwell
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