Missouri lies at a regional crossroads where the Midwest meets the South and the West begins. The contemporary dialect picture of the state reflects this blend of influences. Depending on their backgrounds, Missourians may share speech features with Chicagoans, Kentuckians, or Californians. The authors explore the history behind this current linguistic variation by listening to the voices of Missourians born between the 1880s and the 1930s. Drawing on a corpus of archival recordings, this book documents the unique linguistic features that characterized Missouri dialects over a century ago. State-of-the-art techniques in sociophonetics are applied to track patterns in pronunciation with a focus on regional differences related to vowel sounds. The study presents detailed examinations of several vocalic mergers and chain shifts heard today in various regional dialects. The evidence uncovered in the speech of older Missourians challenges prevailing ideas about the history of these particular features and about the origins and spread of sound change more generally. In addition to providing insight into the development of Missouri English and other American dialects, the book serves as a model for the application of large-scale sociophonetic analysis to the study of language history.
Christopher Strelluf is associate professor of linguistics at the University of Warwick.
Matthew J. Gordon is professor of English at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
Chapter 1. Missouri: History and Dialectology
Chapter 2. Historical Sociophonetics
Chapter 3. Automated Formant Estimation and Old Recordings
Chapter 4. Materials and Methods of Analysis
Chapter 5. The Pin-Pen Merger
Chapter 6. The Low-Back Vowel Merger
Chapter 7. force, north, and start
Chapter 8. The Southern Shift
Chapter 9. The Northern Cities Shift and the Low-Back-Vowel Merger Shift
Chapter 10. What’s in a Vowel? The Pronunciation of Missouri
Chapter 11. Wrapping Up and Looking Forward
The Origins of Missouri English: A Historical Sociophonetic Analysis is an important work by two outstanding scholars. Far beyond simply exploring vocalic changes that took place over a century ago in Missouri speech, itself an important endeavor providing compelling new evidence about the time depth and organization of contemporary changes in American English (i.e., the low back merger and the Southern Vowel Shift), this book serves as a prime example of why doing the hard work of finding and analyzing archival data is vital in our quest to understand the foundations of sound changes that are at the heart of the sociophonetic enterprise. An important complement to the rapidly emerging field of historical sociolinguistics which focuses more on textual data, this volume establishes what I hope will be a model for future work in what the authors refer to as ‘historical sociophonetics.’
This detailed and accurate examination of the sources of English in Missouri is a milestone in the burgeoning field of historical sociophonetics. In their meticulous analysis of early recordings for this variety, the authors have succeeded both in illuminating its origins, going back to the late nineteenth century, and in achieving foundational results and insights which will point the way forward for further research in this field.