Why I asked about Mit the cat…

A few months ago, I had a post where I asked for American English naturalness judgments on a story. Astute readers pointed out that I don’t usually make up fake children’s stories and wondered if there was another purpose.

There was indeed a purpose to this story. As part of my research methods class for seniors, we did a study of Freshperson dialect convergence at Yale. I had noticed when I was a grad student at Harvard that the intro linguistics students’ accents changed markedly over the semester. ‘Marked’ features (US dialectal shibboleths, like ai-monophthonisation and “warsh” for “wash” seemed to disappear.

So, in order to see if we could make any generalisations about this, we recorded a bunch of Freshpeople as early in the semester as possible. They read the story (they were told it was for the students in research methods to practise recording techniques). We then took formant and duration measurements of 6 vowels: /i/, /ɪ/, /e/. /ɛ/, /æ/ and the diphthong /ai/. We also ‘earballed’ the recordings for distinctive features.

We’ve just done the second set of recordings now, so I can tell you all why I put up that story (and why it had to be ‘Mit the cat’).

We don’t have the results yet, though. Stay tuned…


2 responses to “Why I asked about Mit the cat…

  1. A parallel anecdote: After Thanksgiving of my freshman year at another New England university, a classmate from South Carolina reported with dismay that he had been told back home that he sounded like a Yankee. This was in 1961.

  2. Oh yes, I’ve heard that from students too. I’m hoping in future to try to get some data on this…

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