THE NORTHERN CITIES VOWEL SHIFT. Jennifer Schuessler’s article also introduced me to the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, which has special meaning for me and Mary Jane. I had noticed that there were similarities between Mary Jane’s Syracuse accent and my Chicago accent. I had not realized that these similarities were reflections of the Northern Cites Vowel Shift, which has occurred in the area around the Great Lakes. Schuessler says: “The line separating the North and the Midlands — an area dialectologists define as stretching roughly from New Jersey westward to Kansas and Nebraska — is ‘the deepest division in our society’ linguistically, [William Labov, an editor of the Linguistic Atlas Project] said, and it’s only getting deeper.” Labov says that the change involves some 34 million people and has been going on since the 1940’s. Why it is occurring is a mystery. Labov suggests it may be a long-delayed result of the Erie Canal.
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