My Idiolect

Author

Joey Stanley

Published

January 16, 2023

Modified

February 3, 2024

Here is a never-complete but growing description of my idiolect. I’ll add to it whenever I think of or discover new things about the way I speak English.

Overview

I don’t like it when people say they don’t have an accent, however, my pronunciation is pretty close to what I’d call standard American English. I grew up in St. Charles County, Missouri, which is a suburb of St. Louis. You can read Matt Gordon and Chris Strelluf’s work for an in-depth analysis of Missouri English. See also Dan Duncan’s research which is focuses specifically on St. Charles County for an even closer match to my speech. My mom grew up in Minnesota and my dad grew up in Upstate New York and Minnesota.

Vowels

Here is a general look at my monophthongs. These come from a recording of me reading a bunch of real and nonce words where the vowel is flanked by coronals. (You can access this dataset with my joeysvowels package.)

As far as I can tell, I don’t have really any indication of any of the chain shifts that people are studying. Even though I grew up in the St. Louis Corridor, I don’t have the Northern Cities Shift. I also don’t have the Low-Back-Merger or the Low-Back-Merger Shift.

My low back vowels

My lot and thought vowels are rather close phonetically but are definitely not merged. Lot is slightly fronter and unrounded while thought is slightly backer and rounded. They are very close to what Jonathan Dowse transcribes as [ɐ̞] and [ɒ̈] here.

You can read a fairly comprehensive list of words that I classify as lot and thought in Appendix C (pg. 209) of my dissertation, reproduced in a blog post here. On page 161, I explain that I have a clear intuition about which words are classified into which lexical set, though admittedly a few like probably, prom, mom, bronco, and pond could go either way.

Like a lot of Americans even with the distinction, dog is thought, as are many other pre-/ɡ/ words. However, there are a few exceptions, like cog, which has an especially fronted vowel quality. Also, the name Og, as in the author Og Mandino, which is short for Augustine, bothers me because Og is clearly lot while Augustine is thought.

Prelaterally, I have a conditioned merger, which is best described in Aaron Dinkin’s (2016) JEngL paper. (Aaron’s paper is based in Upstate New York, close to where my dad is from, so perhaps this is something I’ve gotten from him.) I have lot if the vowel is in an open syllable (and the following lateral is the onset of the following syllable), as in collar, dollar, anthropology, ollie, and trolley. In fact, I have a rather fronted vowel, fronter than my lot normally is. However, I have thought if the lateral is tautosyllabic, as in golf, dolphin, volume, and doll. Thus, words like doll & hall rhyme, while hollar & hauler and collar & caller do not. You can hear me pronounce these words in the video in this tweet.

As is typical of American English, the cloth lexical set is indistinguishable from my thought. Similarly, the palm set (and any “Foreign a” words; Boberg 2009) mostly fits in with my lot. Except, ironically, palm itself (as well as psalm, qualm, and alms), because of that /l/, which makes it part of thought.

One important phonological distinction between my lot and thought is that, even though Hayes (2009:82) says tenseness is not specified for low vowels, lot appears to be a lax vowel. Like other lax vowels, it doesn’t appear word-finally, except in marginal cases like ma and pa, onomatopoeia (fa-la-la-la-la, haha, blah), and interjections (aha!, hurrah!). This means that some palm words like bra are reclassifed as thought. There are some exceptions though, like spa and schwa. So yes, for me, spa /spɑ/ and bra /bɹɔ/ don’t rhyme.

My CURE lexical set

Like probably most Americans, my cure is all over the place. Here is how I pronounce the words listed here and here:

  • [ɔɹ] (so merged with force/north): amour, bourgeois, Bourne, gourd, gourmet, moor, mourn (-ing, -er, -ful, -ed), paramour, parkour, poor, your (when stressed)

  • [uɹ]: allure, boorish, contour, detour, endure (citation form), Fleur, lure, manure, McClure, pleura, tour (-ism, -ing)

  • [ɚ] (so, merged with nurse): adjure, assure, bourbon, caricature, centurion, cesura, courier, during, embouchure, endure (non-citation form), ensure, futurity, Honduras, insure, jury, jurisdiction, luxurious, mature, Missouri, neural, neuron, plural, rural, spurious, sure, tournament, tourniquet, Ventura

  • [jɚ] (nurse with a jod): bureau, cure, curious, curate, demure, Euro, Europe, fury (-ious), Huron, injure, injurious, manicure, mural, Muriel, obscure (-ity), pedicure, procure, pure (-ify, -ity), Puritan, secure, security, sulfuric, Ural, Uri, urine, Uruguay

And here are words that I saw going through lists of cure words that I’m completely unfamiliar with or that I have never said outloud, so I don’t really know what I do: boor, Bourdain, bourrée, bourse, Boursin, bravura, burette, Chambourcy, coiffure, commissure, Courbet, Courvoisier, craquelure, cynosure, dasyure, dour, dourine, Douro, epicure, gourmand, houri, immure, inure, Jourdain, lurid, Muir, ouroˈboroi, penurious, photogravure, pourparler, rotogravure, sourdine, spoor, tambour, tandoori, tellurium, thurible, tourmaline, tournedos, Truro

/æ/ and /ɛ/ before nasals

I raise /æ/ before nasals. Before /n/ and /m/, it’s raised, fronted, and nasalized, such that ban is definitely not the same as bat or even bad. Before /ŋ/, it’s raised even higher to the point that naive me would classify the vowel in bang as /e/. In fact, I’m not actually 100% convinced that it even is /æ/ underlyingly; I may have rephonologized it as being truly /e/.

As I point out on page 74 of my dissertation, there are very few words with /ɛɡ/. A nearly complete list, as far as I know, is length, lengthen, strength, strengthen, penguin, dengue, and Bengal (tiger). For what it’s worth, those vowels are the same as /æŋ/, so that bang and the first syllable of Bengal are the same for me.

beg-raising

As I explain on page 400 of my 2022 American Speech paper on prevelar raising, I raise historic /ɛɡ/ to something like [eɪɡ] such that beg, egg, leg, and Greg all rhyme with vague. It happens in open syllables like in legacy, negative, and megaphone. It occurs in some infrequent words like renege. I’ve also got it when the vowel has secondary stress, like in Winnipeg, stegosaurus, and nutmeg.

However, there are a handful of exceptions, which was a major part of the reason why I did that paper in the first place. For an unclear reason to me, integrity, segregate, interregnum, and segment all have [ɛ]. I noticed that the /ɡ/ in those words are all followed by sonorants, but that’s not a guarantee blocker of raising since regulate, pregnant, and segue are raised. Interestingly, negligible is raised but negligent is not. Also, peg is raised but JPEG is not. Finally, any word with <x> pronounced as [ɡz] (yes, it’s voiced for me) like exit, exile, excerpt, and exigence are firmly [ɛ] and not [e].

Rosa’s Roses

I don’t know the technical term for this, but I have two, possibly three, unstressed vowels, such that Rosa’s and roses aren’t homophonous to me. The first has [ə] while the second is what I’d transcribe as [ɨ].

My [ɨ] category of words is rather large and I have it in a handful of environments. Some of the distribution is predictable. I have [ɨ] in plurals (classes, offices), 3rd person singular (loses, pushes), and past tense allomorphs (waited, decided). Word-finally, it’s always [ə], as in extra, area, and data.

In a lot of words, I think I’m influenced by spelling. Word-initially, if it’s spelled with an <a>, <o>, <u> I have [ə], as in again, among, & ago, occur, opinion & obtain, and upon, unless, & until. (This spelling preference might explain why I always have [ə] word-finally because as far as I can tell <a> is the only letter used for unstressed word-final vowels.) However, if it’s an <e>, then I have [ɨ], as in expect, edition, effect, emotion, event, and exactly.

Word-internally though, I haven’t done enough digging to see if there are any patterns and I’m not familiar with the literature so I don’t know what to look out for. I have a suspicion that if it’s next to a coronal sound, the vowel is [ɨ] and [ə] otherwise. So I have [ɨ] in student, woman, & happen but [ə] in problem, system, & item. I have [ɨ] in minute, private, & unit, but [ə] in product, democrat, develop, proposal. Interestingly, I have both vowels in advocate [ˈædvəkɨt]. But there are exceptions to these generalizations, like stomach, perfect, galaxy, miracle, and obstacle all have [ɨ]. I have [ɨ] in regime but [ə] in machine, which makes me think spelling is a stronger factor than phonological context. Without being too exhaustive, I’m inclined to think that [ɨ] is the elsewhere allophone and that [ə] is the exception.

As for a possible third one, I have some [ʊ]-like vowel in words like success, support, and suggest. It seems like word-initial <su> might be the environment, but I also get it in to. I’ll have to dig a little deeper to think of other examples.

Prelaterals

I have lost the ability to intuit what’s going on with my back vowels before laterals, but I’ll try to explain what I think I have. I know I merge /ʊl/ with /ol/, so that pull and pole are homophonous. However, it’s the /ʌl/ class that is really tricky for me. When it’s in a closed syllable, like in hull, dull, cull, and mulch, I’m pretty sure I at least had it merged with /ol/. However, I’ve looked at the list of words so much and I’ve thought about this enough that I pretty much know all the words that fall into this category without thinking (at least the one-syllable words) and I apparently want to unmerge them, so now you’ll be hard pressed to find me saying hull the same as hole, even in casual situations. Words like culture, result, vulnerable, multuple, and ultimately, I have no idea what I do.

In fact, it was this homophone that got me interested in prelaterals in the first place! There is a small town near the University of Georgia named Hull, and I had to go there for something. I thought to myself over and over as a I drove there, “Wait, is this pronounced like Hole?” I never did really figure out what I did.

However, when it’s in an open syllable, like color, gullet, and sculley. The word adult fits in this category as being firmly [ʌ] rather than [o]. Though not all open syllable words are [ʌ] because like gully and mulligan I think I said as [o] when I was younger. (Not sure what I do now.) A word like sullen could go either way, even now.

Some of my favorite quirks

Here are a list of some of my favorite things I have in my idiolect.

  • I epenthesize a [k] in ancient, [ẽɪ̃ŋkʃɨnt]. I think what’s going on is I have [ŋ] instead of [n] in the first syllable, possibly analogous to anxious, and the [k] slips in there as I transition from the velar nasal to the post-alveolar fricative.

  • big has a bit of raising towards the end of the vowel. I’d transcribe it as [bɪi̯ɡ]. I don’t have it in any other /ɪɡ/ word, as far as I know, not even pig.

  • want is [wʌnt]. So, wants is homophonous with once.

  • I 100% say camouflague as “camel-flague”. So I have an extra /l/ in there.

  • The last syllable of kindergarten has a /d/ underlyingly rather than /t/.

  • The default way I say grandma is [ɡɹæ̃mə].


Other things

Phonological

  • /t/ and /d/ before /ɹ/ (as in try, train, dry, and drain) are affricated to [tʃɹ] and [dʒɹ]. In other words, little kid me would spell them as “chry” and “jrain”.

  • I raise /æ/ before nasals but not in other environments.

Lexical

  • I pronounce the <l> in words like psalm, alm, palm, qualm. I also pronounce it in wolf, yolk, and folk. I know I used to insert an [ɫ] in both and local, but I don’t think I do that anymore. I do do it in only though.

  • The second syllable of caterpiller doesn’t have an /ɹ/ underlyingly: /kætəpɪlɚ/

  • lair is homophonous with layer and does not rhyme with hair.

  • I don’t pronounce the <t> in often.

  • Though both my parents grew up north of the on line and therefore have lot in on, I don’t, so on is firmly thought.

  • I don’t have the pin-pen merger, but I have /ɪ/ in parentheses and /ɛ/ in symmetry.

  • I consistently say settler with three syllables ([sɛ.ɾl̩.ɚ]) and not two (*[sɛʔ.lɚ]), even when saying the name of the game Settlers of Catan.

  • I think I say violet with two syllables, meaning it’s [ˈvɑɪ.lɨt] instead of [ˈvɑɪ.ə.lət]. However, alveolar does have a very short schwa, so it’s [æɫˈvi.ə.lɚ], which does not rhyme with velar [ˈvi.lɚ].

  • I say the final syllable of astronaut with lot, as if it were “astro-not,” rather than the probably more etymologically accurate thought, as if it were “astro-naught.” I do say nautical with thought, so I think this is just a quirk about this one word.

My kids’ speech

Since my kids are growing up in an area different from where I grew up, they will likely acquire a different variety of English from my own. Here’s a list of things I’ve heard my 6-year-old say that is different from my own speech.

  • kindergarten has a clear [t], i.e [kʰɨndɚɡɑɹtʰɨn] while I definitely have an underlying /d/ there.

  • Occasional use of [ʔɨn] in words like Martin