Bag, beg, bagel: Prevelar raising and merger in Pacific Northwest English

Freeman, V. (2014). Bag, beg, bagel: Prevelar raising and merger in Pacific Northwest English. University of Washington Working Papers in Linguistics, 32

This paper describes the raising of the low front vowels /ɛ, æ/ and the lowering of the mid front /e/ before the voiced velar /ɡ/ in Pacific Northwest English (PNWE). This prevelar system appears to have two parts with differing social patterns. In the most advanced part, /ɛɡ/ and /eɡ/ are homophonous upgliding diphthongs merged at a point between non-prevelar /ɛ/ and /e/ for all 20 Caucasian Seattle speakers examined. In contrast, raising of /æɡ/ is more variable between speakers and shows signs of social differentiation: men and older speakers are more raised, with middle-aged men showing near-complete three-way merger with /ɛɡ-eɡ/. Previous work has described both /æɡ/- and /ɛɡ/-raising, but with varying degrees of raising and incomplete data, it has been difficult to determine whether either is truly involved in merger. This study specifically included /eɡ/ in order to provide solid evidence that merger or near-merger is present between /ɛɡ/ and /eɡ/, and that the target for raising /æɡ/ may be merger with these two, not with the higher non-prevelar /e/. However, although /ɛɡ/ and /eɡ/ overlap significantly in F1xF2 space throughout their trajectories, /ɛɡ/ remains shorter in duration, which may be sufficient to differentiate it from other prevelars.

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