LISTENING FOR THE NORTHERN CITIES VOWEL SHIFT. I was comforted to learn from Rob Mifsud’s article that people affected by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCS) are not aware that their dialect is different. He quotes one linguist: “They don’t perceive their dialect at all …. The awareness of the NCS in NCS territory is zero.” I was comforted because I can’t hear a lot of the differences either, although Mary Jane and I have long joked about the nasal “a” in “Aunt Alice.” A characteristic of the NCS is that it differentiates between the pronunciation of the words “cot” and “caught” and I can’t imagine pronouncing the two words the same way—which means that I have never noticed that apparently most people do pronounce them the same way.

Here is Professor William Labov on YouTube discussing a recording of a speaker who exemplifies a Northern Cities Vowel Shift. (If this link doesn’t work, you can go the link in Mifsud’s article on the words “bosses with the antennas on the tap”). The speaker talks about “busses with the antennas on the top”, but it sounds like “bosses with the antennas on the top”. I guess that I can hear the differences, but I think that I would never catch them in a conversation.

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