Directions of linguistic change in the Texas Panhandle



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Texas Tech University


It is popularly believed that American speech is becoming more homogenous. Most people assume that language in the United States is undergoing a "leveling" process as a result of the media's influence in our society. However, William Labov and Sharon Ash point out that "in spite of the intense exposure of the American population to a national media with a convergent network standard of pronunciation . . . the local accents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco are more different from each other than at any time in the past" ("Understanding Birmingham" 508). In fact, Labov has identified three primary dialect areas in the United States which are undergoing very different sound changes. The Northem Cities shift entails an upward shift of the low long vowels (so that bag sounds like beg, for example) and a falling downward and backward of the short vowels (so that Debbie sounds like Duhbie), while the Southern shift involves a movement of the back vowels to the front and an exchange of position among the front vowels (so that hill/heel, for example, sound like /hiyel/). The Third Dialect seems unaffected by the changes occurring in the Northem Cities Shift and those in the Southern Shift, but is characterized instead by the merger of/a/ and lol (so that cot and caught are homophonous) ("Three Dialects"). While Labov and others have demonstrated that phonological differences still exist and new differences are emerging, lexically /American English seems, in fact, to be moving toward greater homogeneity due to a variety of factors. The effects of marketing, education, migration and the media tend to make American speech more homogenous and dialect boundaries much more difficuU to draw based on lexical items. Peter Tmdgill agrees that lexical difftision as a result of the media and other factors may be taking place, but he argues that phonological and syntactic changes take place only through dialect contact (Dialects in Contact 41). Social and geographic mobility has made such dialect contact in the United States common. Nevertheless, dialect differences do exist and deserve careful examination. It is important that we find out what regional distinctions in the lexicon are disappearing as well as discover where certain distinctions do exist lexically, syntactically, and phonologically. This study will analyze the distribution of distinctive regional words that do still exist in the Texas Panhandle and will examine their possible future. Additionally, a preliminary account will be given of certain phonological changes that are occurring in the Panhandle. As Labov and Ash and many others have pointed out, phonological variation, the precursor to phonological change, is evident in American speech, and the study of such variation can give us insight into the nature of language change and, thus, the nature of language itself Dialectology is just as important today as it was when it began over a century ago.