Brian’s English

Like most linguists, I love talking and learning about my own dialect. I wrote this little description as a sample for a phonology class, in which students had to write their dialect descriptions. I’m always curious to know how accurate it is, so please send me an-email if you’re from the area, or know someone who is, and have something to say about it.

My variety of English

I’m from the area around Ocean City, NJ, and was raised by a native speaker of Philadelphia English. For what it’s worth, I’ve checked the generalizations here with my extended South Jersey family, and all of them behave consistently.

The English of coastal South Jersey is close to Philadelphia English, but differs in some interesting ways. Most strikingly, there are a number of phonological processes that relate to L: heavy L-vocalization/deletion, post-L flapping, intrusive-L, and a lot of pre-L vowel mergers.

You can observe intrusive L and deletion in the following pairs, which are homophones for me: ‘cow’ and ‘cowl’ are [kaw]; ‘caw’ and ‘call’ are [kɔ]; ‘drawling’ and ‘drawing’ are [drɔləŋ]. These pairs show the classic pattern of intrusive L: L is deleted in ‘call’ and ‘cowl’ and epenthesized in ‘drawing’. My own pattern of intrusive L is a bit complicated. For me, coda L-deletion is obligatory after both [aw] and [ɔ], but intrusive L only occurs after [ɔ]. This means there is no L in ‘plowing’, although there is one in ‘drawing’. While intrusive L is blocked after [aw], linking L still occurs in this context. For example, the [l] in ‘towel’ is pronounced between vowels but not otherwise: toweling [tawləŋ] ~ towel [taw].

In addition to intrusive L, my English also show rampant pre-L vowel mergers and post-L tapping. In my variety of English, you’ll never find [ʊ] before L. This vowel maps to [o] or [u] in a seemingly unpredictable fashion. For me, ‘fool’ and ‘full’ are both something like [ful], and ‘hull’ and ‘hole’ are both [hol]. There are countless neutralized pairs: ‘colt’ and ‘cult’ (both [o]), ‘pull’ and ‘pool’ (both [u]), ‘dull’ and ‘dole’ (both [o]).

Post-L tapping also occurs, which might not be surprising given the fact that coda L’s are heavily vocalized. For example, there’s tapping in ‘melted’, ‘fealty’, and ‘salty’.

All of these processes can accumulate to result in some fun (and to others incomprehensible) pronunciation anomalies. My favorite examples are the pair ‘malty’ and ‘gaudy’, which rhyme: [mɔɾi] and [gɔɾi]; the pair ‘coldest’ and ‘cultist’, which are homophonous: [koəɾəst]; and the pair ‘salty’ and ‘Saudi’, which are both [sɔɾi]. Don’t talk to a South Jerseyan about Saudi princes, because they will almost certainly misunderstand you.

Finally, ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ remain unmerged in my dialect, but there is tendency to neutralize the vowels [ɑ]~[ɔ] before [r], as in ‘forest’ and ‘fortress’: [fɑrəst] and [fɔrtrəs]. The vowel [ɑ] tends to occur before [r] in open syllables: [ɑ]range, f[ɑ]reign, st[ɑ]rry, h[ɑ]rrible, imm[ɑ]ral. The vowel [ɔ] tends to occur before [r] in closed syllables: imm[ɔ]rtal, [ɔ]rganize. There are exceptions in both directions. For me, these words all have [ɔ]: forum, Oregon, boris, boron; and these all have [ɑ]: farther, far, star, car. Older speakers, such as my parents (born early 50s) seem to have [ɔ] very rarely before [r] in open syllables. For example, my mother has an [ɑ] in ‘moron’, ‘Boris’, ‘Oregon’, and even ‘boron’, although she finds standard pronunciations with an [ɔ] ‘not very weird’.