Speech in Seattle, the rainy city

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Listeners' perceptions of PNW English

Sounds of the PNW

On this page, you can listen to some of the audio data collected in the study of English in the Pacific Northwest.  Research funding was provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation (award #BCS-0643374).  Recordings were designed to enable a general characterization of the entire vowel system, with additional words included to enable study of sound patterns known to differentiate US varieties. In, particular, we are learning about three sound patterns that, because of their co-occurrence in the region, make Pacific Northwest English distinctive.  To start, listen to the words in the table of sounds below beginning with “h” (“heed”, “hid”, etc.) to get a general sense of the vowel system of Pacific Northwest English. It’s not much different from the English spoken in many other regions of the US, varieties that are considered to be standard (or sometimes referred to as General American English).  But there are features that may surprise you. A companion study explores people's thoughts regarding how English is spoken in Washington State, and what, if anything, differentiates Washingtonians from each other.

The speech sample

The sample is made up of speakers born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, from a range of ethnicities that have been present in the region since the 1880s. By examining the speech of 2-3 generations of speakers within individual families, we can better understand how English in the Pacific Northwest changes over time. Why study the Pacific Northwest? Read more about the project here.

What we’re finding

 As we listen to the data produced by speakers from three generations, we hear clear evidence that 3 vowel changes are underway in the region, the merger (or coalescence) of the vowels in words such as CAUGHT vs. COT, BULL vs. BOWL, and BEG vs. BAG. The sounds in the table below illustrate each of these processes.  Compare the audio files for older vs. younger speakers to hear how the sounds have changed in roughly three generations (so-called “apparent time”). Speakers from the oldest generation appear at the top of the chart, and age decreases as we move to the bottom of the chart.