Pacific Voices, 2014 -2019

Pacific Voices, 2014 -2019

Edwin Battistella, Kristin Denham, Anne Lobeck

Progress report [12/2020]

Contents

1. Introduction 2

1.1 Challenges 2

1.2. Goals 3

1.3. Oregon and Washington 3

2. Pronunciation 5

2.1 The cot-caught Merger 5

2.2 Front vowels 7

2.3 Aaron and Erin, and Mary, merry and marry 8

2.4 Horrible 9

2.5 The pin/pen merger 10

3. Once-stigmatized forms: coupon and often 11

4. Two other problematic words: syrup and route 17

5. Lexical changes in progress 18

5.1 on accident and by accident 18

5.2 dude 20

5.3 legit(ly) 21

5.4 Hella 22

5.5 Your guyses 23

5.6 Jojos 24

6. Comparison with the Harvard Dialect Survey 26

7. A Reading Passage 30

8. What we learned and what’s next 32

8.1 Struggles 32

8.2 Learning opportunities 32

8.3 Next steps 34

References 35

Key words: Oregon, Washington, Low vowel merger, California vowel shift, Pacific Northwest speech, slang and language change.

1. Introduction

1.1 Challenges

One of the challenges of teaching linguistics, and especially of teaching linguistics to non-majors is to heighten students’ awareness of dialect diversity, dialect research, and dialect stereotypes. As professors, we discuss language variation in classes and elicit pronunciations, vocabulary and usage from students, but we often find students to be uncomfortable with the complexity of usage and sometimes nervous that they are not speaking properly. Students in the Pacific Northwest are often surprised to learn that they have dialects and that the speech of the Pacific Northwest might vary widely according to features of region, age, gender, ethnicity, education and social class.

And it’s not just students. When we talk dialect diversity with members of the general public, they are sometimes skeptical that the region would have a discernable accent or dialect. A historian colleague who read an essay on Pacific Northwest dialect perceptions questioned whether bag-raising was a real phenomenon and asked how dialects compared to other regional styles, like clothing and architecture. An administrator from Texas, reviewing a grant proposal, opined that Oregonians didn’t have an accent, “not like Texas.”

Here we report on some survey and classroom techniques to bring linguistic research into the classroom and engage students in exploring their own speech variation. Taking Ashland, Oregon, and Bellingham, Washington, as end points along the I-5 corridor of the Pacific Northwest, we piloted a survey of about 887 (mostly) students during the academic years 2014-2019 (continuing into the 2019-2020 academic year), asking about perceptions of pronunciation with a long-term goal of collecting demographic information. After obtaining IRB approval, we used the Qualtrics survey software to develop an online survey asking students 35 questions, 22 of which had to do with language and 12 of which were demographic, and a final question about using their survey results.[1]

1.2. Goals

Initially, we had four goals. First, we wanted to give students an appreciation for the complexity of dialect data and the way in which representations of dialect (and data) are often abstractions. Thus, in class discussions, students often note that their own speech differs from textbook descriptions, and they cite various anecdotal examples and counterexamples from friends and relatives (“My boyfriend says EYE-ron and it drives me crazy,” said one student). By having students analyze actual data from their speech community, they can see where patterns exist and don’t, and they may become less judgmental about variation.

Second, we wanted to explore the various vowel shifts and the extent to which they might differently be showing up in the speech of northwest Washington (Bellingham is 21 miles from the Canadian border) and southwest Oregon (Ashland is 13 miles from the California border). We hoped that we might spark students’ interest in the topic of vowel shifts and phonetic variation more generally.

A third goal was to collect data on some potentially age- and social class-related items, such as the use of gender neutral dude, the double possessive your guys’s, hella, and legit, as well as the pronunciations of items like often and coupon.

Our fourth goal was to develop some questions, activities and exercises surrounding local dialects that would allow us to reinforce learning goals in linguistics as we discuss the survey results in classes.

Finally, in this initial phase of our work, we cast a wide net to experiment with the survey software and to determine both what was doable as researchers and what was important to teach in class. In the conclusion, we offer some suggestions for the future.

1.3. Oregon and Washington

The earliest languages spoken in the Northwest were those of immigrants from northeast Asia, traveling across the continental shelf into what is now Alaska and Canada, making their way along the Pacific coast and inland. As a result, the Northwest shows especially dense concentrations of pre-European languages. First contact by Europeans came by sea, when Spanish galleons landed along the coast of northern California in the mid-1500s. In 1778, on his third voyage to the Pacific, English Captain James Cook sailed to the central Oregon coast and in 1792, Captain Robert Gray of Rhode Island sailed into the mouth of the Columbia River, which Gray renamed after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. The famous expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and the founding of Astoria in 1811 helped to further establish the American presence in the Pacific Northwest.

From 1818 to 1846, the Oregon Territory was jointly occupied by British and Americans. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 fixed the boundary between Great Britain and America at 49 degrees. Once the border was established, American settlement in the Oregon Territory took off. In The Willamette Valley: Migration and Settlement on the Oregon Frontier, William Bowen writes that those settling in that area tended to be “disproportionately from the ranks of unmarried men from the Northeast or abroad.” The census of 1850 recorded 11,873 Oregonians, 60% of whom were males and most of whom hailed from the states of Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio (Loy, et. al. 2001, 15).

According to Randall V. Mills, most settlers funneled through the Missouri and Iowa area while preparing to travel west on the Oregon Trail. The migration brought language to the new territory that incorporated the speech of many emigrants from New England or New York (Mills, 1950: 83). In Oregon, Mills proposed three broad founding dialect areas, a narrow strip along the Willamette River from Portland to Eugene, a more rural area extending from the Willamette River Valley to the Pacific Coast Range, and an area to the east of the Cascade Mountains and to the south of the Calapooya Mountains. As for Washington, Carroll Reed (1952) noted that while the Missouri element predominated in the areas of Washington adjacent to Oregon, spreading “all along the Columbia River, particularly in the areas east of Walla Walla,” other waves of settlers from Iowa, southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio predominated in the Pacific counties. According the Reed, “the speech of southern Illinois and Iowa may be considered typical for most of the state of Washington,” at least as far as the founder effect is considered.

Today both states are increasingly multilingual, though less so than much of the rest of the country. According to the data from the Language Map Data Center of the Modern Language Association, about 83 percent of the Oregon and Washington population speak English at home and about 17 percent speak a language other than English, with Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, and Tagalog among the most robust.[2] Apart from the founder effects and linguistic diversity, both Oregon and Washington have significant urban-rural divides and show the influence of emerging industries and of emigrants from other states.

Our subjects were 887 (mostly) students at Southern Oregon University and Western Washington University.[3] Demographic data collected included age, gender, ethnicity, hometown, perceived social class, college major, and family household income. We also asked students’ self-perception of whether they were urban, rural or suburban and to rate themselves as speakers and writers of English.[4]

2. Pronunciation

2.1 The cot-caught Merger

The Pacific Northwest is geographically situated between two current linguistic shifts in vowel production: the so-called California Vowel Shift and the Canadian Vowel Shift. The California Vowel Shift, shown below with the shifts represented by arrows, involves a fronting of the vowels produced in the back of the mouth—the long vowels boot and coat and the shorter vowels in could and cut being pronounced more toward the front of the mouth (approaching butte, key-oat, cud and ket), with the short front vowels being lowered and backed (kid toward ked, get toward gat and cat toward cot). At the same time, the earlier distinct vowels in cot and caught are merging. Linguistic shifts happen slowly over long periods of time, and are sensitive to style shifts and the performance of identity, but overall what had been a vowel trapezoid historically is becoming more of the vowel triangle.[5]

C:\Users\Brandon Aleshire\Desktop\CALshiftWARD41.png

(diagram from Ward, 41, from Hinton, et al.)

Not shown in the diagram is a counter-raising among the front vowels in syllables ending in velar consonants (g, k, ng). There, the lower vowels in the front of the mouth shift upward, yielding beg for bag, laig for leg, thenk (or even think) for thank, and so on. See Freeman (2013, 2014).

The elements of the California vowel shift are proceeding at different rates and are more prominent in different speech styles and some (such as the lowering and backing of /æ/ and the fronting of /uw/ have made their way into media stereotypes of the Valley Girl/Surfer Dude speech. Students are often aware of the fronting of /uw/ in their own speech as an aspect of speech style but seem to be less attuned to their backing of /æ/.

The Canadian Vowel Shift is similar to the California Shift in several respects. First described in 1995 by Clarke, Elms and Youssef, the shift also involves the lowering of the front lax vowels /æ/ (the short-a of trap and cat), /ɛ/ (the short-e of dress), and /ɪ/ (the short-i of kit). It also involves the merger of the cot and caught vowels, though the merged Canadian vowel is more rounded, slightly lower and slightly further back than the merged cot/caught vowel among many speakers in the U.S.

According to Charles Boberg, the retraction of /æ/ is being led by speakers from Ontario, in in east-central, and by women. The shift is somewhat less advanced among speakers from the other regions of Canada and among men (Boberg, 2005). In the Atlas of North American English, (Labov et al., 2006), it is suggested that about a quarter of speakers in the Western U.S., exhibit the Canadian Shift. [6]

C:\Users\Brandon Aleshire\Desktop\CANshiftWARD42.png

(diagram from Ward, 42 from Clarke)

When we discuss the vowel shifts in introductory classes, students are fascinated but also sometimes unsure of their own pronunciation. Thus we begin by collecting data on some of the more easily identifiable of the vowels involved in the shift, the vowel sounds in the names Don and Dawn. The don/dawn pair is salient for students because the orthography indicates the word difference and thus highlights the phonological merger. And often, someone knows in a class knows both a Don and a Dawn and can attest to the possibility of confusion arising from the merger. Two of our survey questions looked at this pair and at hock and hawk:

Q2 – How do you usually pronounce the vowel sounds in the words DON and DAWN? The same or differently.

Q19 – Do you pronounce the words HOCK and HAWK the same or differently?

81% said they pronounce don/dawn the same and differently and 83% pronounce hock/hawk the same.

It is worth asking at this point whether students are accurately able to self-identify their pronunciations in response to prompts. More research is doubtless needed on this topic, but in section 8 we report on a sub-study comparing actual pronunciation to reported pronunciation for 23 speakers. Here we found an 89% accuracy in identifying their own pronunciation.

2.2 Front vowels

We also asked a set of questions about the pronunciation of the front vowels in the words Craig, leg, and egg, where the vowels may be tensed /e/ or a lax /ɛ/. The name

Craig is word of Celtic origin and related to the Scottish Gaelic creag “rock,” and thus also to the word “crag.” The pronunciation varies in the English-speaking world, and in the U.S. and Canada it is often pronounced with the lax /ɛ/. Historically the pronunciation of Craig falls outside of the California/Canadian shift and the alternate pronunciations appear to be in fairly evenly distributed among Pacific Northwest speakers.

Q5 – Do you usually pronounce the name CRAIG as crAYg or crEHg?

59% reported pronouncing the name as crAYg and 41% as crEHg.

In leg and egg we were looking for evidence of raising of the vowel lax /ɛ/, to a tensed /e/. This is part of the counter-raising aspect of the California vowel shift in particular.

Q7 Do you usually pronounce EGGS more like EHggs or AIggs?

Q20 Do you usually pronounce the word LEGS more like LEHggs or LAYggs?

The results were:

Non-raised /ɛ/ Raised /e/

64% EHggs 36% AIggs

62% lEHgs 38% lAYggs

Most speakers reported pronunciations with a lax /ɛ/ though just over a third were egg and leg raisers.

In classes (and conversations, especially those with individuals in the service professions) we also find evidence of raising of the /æ/ vowel in thank, which is in a closed syllable before velar /ŋ/ and /k/. Thank you is sometimes pronounced /thɛŋkju/ or even /thInkju/. We return to thank you in section 8.1 below.

2.3 Aaron and Erin, and Mary, merry and marry

We also examined the pronunciation of the pair of names Aaron and Erin, which makes a nice pedagogical contrast with Dawn and Don. In most of the U.S., the pronunciation of Aaron and Erin is the same, with a mid-lax /ɛ/ rather than a low /æ/. American English merged the two sounds before /r/ while they remain distinct in the U.K.[7]

Given this, we expect the American West to show the merger of these sounds quite robustly.

Q17 – Do you say the names ERIN and AARON the same or differently?

78% reported pronouncing the names the same.

The Aaron/Erin merger opens the door to classroom discussion of the three-way contrast before /r/ in the words Mary /e/, merry /ɛ/, and marry /æ/. In New England, New York City and Philadelphia and parts of the South, the three words are often distinct. In the Inland North and mid-Atlantic (excluding Philadelphia), there is often a two-way contrast of with Mary and merry pronounced as /mɛri/ and marry retaining the /æ/ (/mæri/). See Labov, et al. (2006), Dinkin (2005) and Gordon (2008), and Kretzschmar (2008) for more background and discussion. In much of the rest of the country, the three are merged as /mɛri/. For simplicity’s sake in the survey, we took for granted that Mary and merry would be homophones (pronounced as /ɛ /) for many speakers and focused on marry and merry.

Q 9 How do you usually pronounce the vowel sounds in the words MARRY and MERRY? The same or differently.

83% reported pronouncing them the same. 82 respondents reported pronouncing both marry/merry and Erin/Aaron differently, but 110 of those who pronounced marry/merry the same pronounced Erin/Aaron differently and 70 of those who pronounced marry/merry differently pronounced Erin/Aaron the same.

2.4 Horrible

The pronunciation of the word horrible (and similar words (such as orange, florist, and Florida) with /ɑr/ is common in the area including New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the Carolinas. Elsewhere the pronunciation tends to be the /ɔr/, with the exception that Oregonians typical have an /ar/ in the state’s name. We expected the pronunciation of horrible to have the pervasive /ɔr/ we represented as HOAR-ible.

Q6 – Do you usually pronounce HORRIBLE as HAR-ible or HOAR-ible.

97% reported HOAR-ible.

2.5 The pin/pen merger

The pin-pen merger is a merger of /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ before the nasal consonants [m], [n], and [ŋ], which predominates in the South, resulting in a near homophony in words like pen and pin, gem and gym, him and hem, kin and Ken, bin and Ben, and so on. Bailey and Maynor (1989, 13) report that the merger began “in the last part of the nineteenth century and worked its way to completion during the last half century.” The pin/pen merger is found in the Midland Regions (Labov, et al. 2006), has expanded west, and is widespread through Kansas City, Houston, Seattle, and Bakersfield, California (Strelluf 2014 and Koops 2008). Since parts of Oregon and Washington were settled by emigrants from the South, we were interested in testing the robustness of this merger in the Pacific Northwest. Impressionistically, it appears to be most prominent with speakers who have Southern roots or close relatives. [8]

Image result for pin pen merger

pin/pen merger areas in purple

We approached this obliquely by asking about the pronunciation of center, rather than pin/pen directly.

Q18 – Do you usually pronounce the first vowel of CENTER as sen or sin?

Speakers overwhelmingly selected the non-raised vowel. 96% reported the pronunciation SEN-ter. Of the 4% of respondents whose responses suggest that they have the merger (34 individuals) 8 were from the South or had lived in the South several of the Oregon, Washington, and California speakers reported rural identification.

3. Once-stigmatized forms: coupon and often

There is of course more to speech variation than pronunciation of vowels, so we have also been collecting data on the pronunciation and use of lexical items that seem to be social variants. One of these is the pronunciation of coupon, which in American usage is pronounced with or without a glide following the initial /k/. The glide is a twentieth century development and was for a time stigmatized (and it remains a shibboleth for some speakers and in some pronunciation guides), though current dictionaries give it as standard. But while, dictionaries of American English give both pronunciations, older dictionaries and more prescriptive guides still treat the glide pronunciation as substandard (the Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, for example, calls it “Spurious” and Bryan Garner says that it “betrays an ignorance of French and of the finer points of English”). Nevertheless, in the U.S., pronunciations with a palatal glide (a /j/) before long /u/ are common after velar consonants (as in cute, cube, cue, Cupid, skew, factual, regulate, angular, and argue). [9]

In the case of coupon, we offered speakers the third option of reporting that they pronounced it both ways.[10] The speakers we surveyed reported a slight majority pronouncing the word as COOP-on but roughly a quarter consistently pronounce it with the glide (CYEW-pon).

Q8 Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as COOP-on CYEW-pon? Or both ways.

58% reported the pronunciation COOP-on; 21% reported pronouncing the word as CYEWpon or CUEpon; 19% reported pronouncing coupon both ways.

In classes, the coupon item can lead to a discussion of the misleading role of etymology in judging pronunciation. Coupon can be traced back to the French word coup (meaning a blow, as in coup-contrecoup or coup de grâce and later an impressive act (as in a publishing coup). Coupon entered English in the 19th century, with a first OED citation from 1822. It was initially a financial term related to certificates attached to bonds. The meaning evolved to refer to prepaid ticket for travel and in the early twentieth century to the familiar sense part of an advertisement redeemable for a discount or free offer.

We also looked at what connections there are between self-perceptions of social class and of speaking/writing ability and pronunciation of coupon? There was relatively little difference across class.

Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as:
COOP-on CYEW-pon I pronounce it both ways
How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 40% 42% 44%
Lower Middle Class/Working Class
Middle Class 13% 19% 19%
Upper Middle Class/Affluent 47% 38% 37%
Total 493 206 174

We also looked at the self-reports of speaking and writing, and again there is very little difference. Interestingly the CYEW-pon speakers did not consider themselves less good English speakers or writers, suggesting that it is not stigmatized for them.

Do you consider yourself _____ speaker/writer of English
a better than average an average a worse than average Total
COOP-on 292 211 9 501
CYEW-pon 117 82 6 205
both ways 102 62 1 165
Total 511 355 16 882

58% of COOP-on speakers considered themselves better than average as did 57% of CYEWpon speakers and 61% of those who pronounce coupon both ways. COOP-on is still the marginally dominant pronunciation but about 40% of respondents either pronounce the word CYEWpon or alternate. The results are consistent across social class and gender.

The situation for often, another former shibboleth, is somewhat more complex than that of coupon. The formerly stigmatized form AWFten is vastly preferred, though somewhat less so by females and urbanites. The preferences of the self-described middle class speakers are fairly close.

Historically, often comes from oft, and the /t/ was lost among educated speakers in the 17th century. But the /t/ was retained or reintroduced as a spelling pronunciation. Merriam Webster cites the pronunciation as \ˈȯ-fən, ÷ˈȯf-tən\, with the ÷ sign (the obelus mark) indicating “a pronunciation variant that occurs in educated speech but that is considered by some to be questionable or unacceptable.” [11]

Others commentators are less diplomatic about the /t/-less pronunciation, with Elster’s Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations calling it “less common in educated speech and far more often disapproved of by cultivated speakers—particularly teachers of English, drama, and speech.” Elster cites early twentieth century commentators who called it “vulgar” and “sham-refined,” or in Henry Fowler’s terms, practiced by “the academic speakers who affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbours … & the uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell.” Garner refers to it as non-U usage (following the terminology of Alan Ross and Nancy Mitford for upper-class and non-upper-class usage and social practices in England).

Nevertheless, the speakers we surveyed pronounced the word without a /t/ by about three to one, though some noted in class discussion that they sometimes pronounce it either way.

25% reported pronouncing the word with a t (AWFTen)

75% reported pronouncing it without a t (AWFen)

When we cross-tabulated this split for social class we found little difference in the percentages according to class self-perception.

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 14 26 40
Lower Middle Class/Working Class 79 236 315
Middle Class 39 121 160
Upper Middle Class/Affluent 96 270 366
Total 228 657 887
Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
How would you characterize your social class standing? Poverty Level 35% 65%
Lower Middle Class/Working Class 25% 75%
Middle Class 24% 66%
Upper Middle Class/Affluent 26% 64%
26% 74%

Gender did not appear to be a factor either: the percentage of females with the AWFEN pronunciation is about the same as the percentage of males.

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
What is your gender? Male 69 178 247
Female 151 463 614
Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten
What is your gender? Male 28% 72%
Female 25% 75%

However, rural speakers appear to prefer AWFten, 82%, as compared to 65% of urban speakers and 76% of suburban speakers.

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
How would you characterize your background? Urban 50 91 141
Rural 26 115 141
Suburban 80 257 337
Total 156 463
Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten
How would you characterize your background? Urban 35% 65%
Rural 18% 82%
Suburban 24% 76%

Finally, we looked to see what the preferences of COOP-on and CYEW-pon speakers were with respect to often and vice versa (the preferences of AWFen and AWFten speakers for the pronunciation of coupon.)

Do you pronounce OFTEN as
AWFen AWFten Total
Do you usually pronounce the word COUPON as: COOP-on 150 363 513
CYEW-pon 41 166 207
I pronounce it both ways 37 128 165
Total 228 657 885

About 10% more COOP-on speakers preferred AWFen than AWFten and 10% more AWFen speakers preferred COOP-on suggesting a clustering of the former prestige forms for some speakers.

Say AWFen Say AWFTen
COOP-on speakers 30% 70%
CYEW-pon speakers 20% 80%
Both 24% 76%
Say COOP-on Say CYEW-pon Say both
AWFen speakers 65% 18% 16%
AWFTen speakers 55% 25% 19%

4. Two other problematic words: syrup and route

How do you say the words syrup and route? The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) gives the pronunciation of the former as “Usu. [‘sɪrəp, sɝəp], Sth SMidl [‘sʌrəp, ‘sɝp],” noting that there is additional regional variation and evidence from spelling pronunciations. The DARE coding indicates a usual pronunciation with a high lax vowel or a mid-lax rhotic [ɝ] with somewhat different pronunciations in the South and South Midlands. Merriam-Webster offers the pronunciations [ˈsər-əp, ˈsir-əp, ˈsə-rəp] as variants and the Harvard Dialect study points to the widespread use of the variants with the [ʌ] or [ə] in the first syllable.

The various transcription systems make for a sticky situation, but the key question is whether the word is pronounced with a higher front vowel (as in SEER) or a lower more back vowel (as in SIR):

Q3 – Do you usually pronounce the word SYRUP as SIRup or SEERup?

72% reported SIRup

In American English, the word route can be pronounced as either /ru:t/ (rOOt) or /raut/ (rAWt), making the word polyphonic like economics, either, garage, and Celtic. Pronunciation may be affected by cultural influences like the iconic Route 66 and by competition from the term router for the networking device that moves data packets between computer networks. According to DARE, the usual North Eastern and Central Atlantic pronunciation is /ru:t/ with some variation in specific uses like a rural free delivery mail route or a paper route (/raut/).

DARE respondents for /ru:t/

DARE explains that the /raut/ pronunciation (they give both [raUt and [ræUt]) is “scattered but chiefly IL, OH, wPA, WV, MD.” DARE cites an Oxford English Dictionary comment that “Down to c 1800 the usual spelling was rout,” and that the pronunciation appears in 19th century still “remained in military use, and by many speakers in the U.S. and Canada.” DARE also observes that in the west, route has an additional sense in which it means the length of time working in a logging camp. Our tentative hypothesis was that westerners would prefer the /raut/ pronunciation, but also be well aware of the /rut/ pronunciation from the media. We asked

Q4 Do you usually pronounce the word ROUTE as rUWt (like boot) or rOWt (like out) or do you say both?

However, in the first two years of the survey, we forced a choice between the two pronunciations.

60% ROWT when there was a two-way choice. When there was a three-way choice, 33% reported ROWT and 42% reported pronouncing route both ways.

Add a map of route in OR & WA

5. Lexical changes in progress

We also asked about several lexical and grammatical changes in progress including the spread of gender-neutral on accident, dude, your guyses, legitly, hella and jo-jos.

5.1 on accident and by accident

If you do something accidentally, is it on accident or by accident? According to Leslie Barratt (2005), younger speakers in different parts of the country are moving toward saying on accident while older speakers tend to use by accident, a form that is still prescribed by some traditionalists. Barrett and her students studied on accident in four communities differing in size and demographics: Terre Haute, Indiana; Farmington Hills, Michigan; Irvine, California; and McRae, Georgia. Barrett’s project surveyed actual usage (with a reading passage), reported usage, and reported acceptance of the two phrases. In Indiana, for example, the use of on accident was largely nonexistent for speakers older than 30, while both by accident and on accident were used by those younger than 30. Reported use was not identical with actual use, with about 29% of those who used on accident exclusively saying that they would use by accident, a confusion which suggests that “some speakers are not aware of the form that they in fact use.” Results were similar in Michigan, California, and Georgia, though California speakers (in Irvine and Laguna Beach) showed some divergence:

While on accident occurs more frequently than by accident among the 11 and 12 year olds surveyed (22 to 13 for I did it ___ accident), it is completely absent among those surveyed over age 34. Likewise, in reported use, Californians were slightly less likely to report that they used on (21 responses) than they were to use it (26 responses). Finally, people who reported that they used by were less likely to accept on than the reverse.

Barrett concluded that on accident was found nationally among younger respondents in all four states and suggested that the use of on accident in different parts of the US dates back to at least the late 1970s. [12] Students in our classes have sometimes proposed a distinction in the use of on and by, depending on whether the speaker is responsible or someone else is. We tested this with the following two questions, one in which contrasts a third person she with first person I:

Q11 – If your roommate does something wrong unintentionally would you say:

She did it ON ACCIDENT 65%

She did it BY ACCIDENT 11%

I could say either one 24%

Q21 – If you did something wrong unintentionally would you say:

I did it ON ACCIDENT 62%

I did it BY ACCIDENT 13%

I could say either one 24%

It seems that the proposed 1st person/3rd person split distribution is mythical rather than actual, at least in this group of respondents.[13] Overall, younger speakers overwhelming prefer on accident and the few younger by accident speakers often report being explicitly scolded on the distinction when they had used the innovative form.

5.2 dude

If you have seen the 1969 film Easy Rider, you may recall the jail scene where the Harley-riding protagonists Wyatt and Billy find themselves in the lockup with boozy lawyer George Hanson, played by a young Jack Nicholson. When George talks the guard into giving Billy a cigarette, Billy says,You must be some important dude. That treatment—”. Here George interrupts, “Dude? What does he mean, ‘dude’? Dude ranch?” and Wyatt explains “‘Dude’ means a nice guy, you know? ‘Dude’ means a regular person.”

The dialogue encapsulates the development of dude. The first DARE citation is an 1877 one from painter Frederic Remington who wrote fellow artist Scott Turner, with whom he was swapping sketches: “Don’t send me any more women or any more dudes.” He was referring to drawings of men and women in evening dress that Turner had been sending him. Remington said Turner should “Send me Indians, cowboys, villains, or toughs. These are what I want.”

Dude in Remington’s use means a man or boy pretentiously concerned with his clothes and grooming, as was the case for a city person new to the West, someone who might come to a dude ranch. The sense of being an out of place novice is also found in later uses in military, where dudes are new recruits. A 1936 DARE citation finds: “All right, you dudes. Fall out.”

Early on, dude could also just mean an ordinary male—a guy—and this usage picked up steam by the 1960s, according to both DARE and the OED. [14] And along the way, dude came to be used for either sex or even for inanimate objects. From 1968, we find “When the FAC pilot gets the green light to go in he fires one of these dudes to mark the target,” and a 1985 citation is “Mom asked me and I said ‘No way, dude’.”

There’s more to the story of dude, no doubt, including its popularization by The Big Lebowski, and its emergence as a term of address. But stripped to its essentials, dude seems to have evolved from a mildly pejorative term to an neutral one and from being semantically male to increasingly generic. Our survey asked

Q12 If you use the word dude, can it refer to males or females?

Yes, it can refer to both sexes.

No, it refers only to males.

88% reported that dude can refer to both sexes. Of the 103 speakers who reported that they would not use dude generically, 76 were in the 18-29 age range. One student suggested that guys would be his preferred usage for mixed-gender groups.

We will return to the question of guys as mixed gender in section 8, along with the competing form y’all.

5.3 legit(ly)

The word legit represents a change in the part of speech as well as a clipping of legitimate. In its use as an adjective short form, Merriam Webster dates its origin to 1907 and labels it “informal.” MW also includes the adverb form, labelled as “slang,” with a first citation from 1998.

Merriam Webster doesn’t, however, include legitly, the –ly adverb. Anne Curzan, writing in her Lingua Franca column in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2014, reports being contacted by an Michigan teacher who noted students saying things like:

“I legitly left my homework at home!”

“I legitly bombed that quiz.”

At the time, Curzan found disdain for the –ly form in both the Urban Dictionary and the popular press but concluded that “adding an –ly to legit to make a new adverb is, from a linguistic perspective, far from morphologically rebellious.”[15]

Legit, it is worth noting, was first recorded–as a noun–in an 1897 issue of the National Police Gazette: “Bob is envious of Corbett’s success as a ‘legit.’ It pained him to see Jim strutting through four acts of a real play.” The reference is to boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett, who became an actor after his boxing career ended. The clipping legit seems to have originated in the theatre, where it meant regular, normal or standard. The OED gives a 1908 citation to “Scene shifters, stage carpenters, actors, everything and everybody strictly ‘legit’. In the early citations, the quotes indicate the novelty of the form.

We noticed the adverb uses of legit and legitly around 2013 and were curious. At first we asked about legitly, but based on feedback from students and respondents, who indicated that they used the flat adverb legit rather than the –ly form, we revised our question in year 2 of the survey.

Q16 If you are trying to explain to your friend that you really like something, would you ever say “I legit love that book.”

Yes, I can use LEGIT that way: 27%

I’ve heard this but do not use it myself: 44%

No, I do not use LEGIT this way and haven’t heard it: 28%

Based on the low numbers, it seems, however, that legit is still not quite legit.

5.4 Hella

Hella, along with its middle-school counterpart hecka, is an adverbial intensifier that apparently emerged in the 1970s Bay Area. Linguist Ben Zimmer (1986) gives an early citation from an August 1986 interview in the magazine Thrasher in which Metallica band member James Hetfield used hella twice.[16] As youth slang, it is an index of coolness, and according to Bucholtz (2006) was “used among Bay Area youth of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds and both genders, much as teenagers in other parts of the United States use the intensifiers wicked and mad.” Bucholtz cited examples from a 1995-96 Bay City High School yearbook, suggesting widespread use from across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds and gender. [17] Among them:

I love ya’ll hella tite. (African American girl)

I wont to say I had a hella fun time Playing with every one from the football team. (African American boy)

this year was hella fun! (Latina girl)

my big sista, known you for hella years, you were alwaysthere for me. (European American girl)

haven’t seen ya for hella long (European American boy)

Bucholtz saw hella as “a very stable regional marker” in the Bay area and northern California at that time with “only isolated use outside of this region.” Writing in 2006, she noted that hella “currently enjoys a much wider circulation, thanks to its occasional use in popular music, television shows, and films aimed at a youth audience … but outside California it appears to be a marked, trendy term, in contrast to its enduring use as an unmarked feature of Northern California youth speech.”

We asked our subjects:

Q15 If you are trying to explain to your friend that something is very, very good, would you ever say “That’s hella good.”

Yes, I can use HELLA that way: 57%

I’ve heard this but do not use it myself: 40%

No, I’ve never heard HELLA used this way: 3%.

From these results it is clear that hella is pervasively known (by 97% of respondents) and has clearly gained traction in the Pacific Northwest youth culture, being used by more than half.

5.5 Your guyses

Since the loss of the second person singular thee, thou, and thy/thine, the standard Written English forms have been the formerly plural forms you and your. A similar process of plural- to-singular is underway with the third person they/them/their, which is widely used as an indefinite and today is increasingly used as a singular personal pronoun as well (see Baron 2020). To attenuate the ambiguity of you in the second person, various forms have emerged that distinguish singular you from plural, such as you/y’all, you/yinz, and you/you guys. [18] Yinz (from you ones and sometimes spelled yuns) is a regional form (DARE) while y’all has seemingly spread to a general friendly second person form. These plurals can be used in the possessive as well, giving yall’s, yinz’s, and you guys’s, and for many speakers your guys’s, with the possessive marking on both parts of the compound. Prescriptivists sometimes object to your guys. Here is Paul Brian’s view, from his Common Errors in English.

your guys’s: Many languages have separate singular and plural forms for the second person (ways of saying “you”), but standard English does not. “You” can be addressed to an individual or a whole room full of people.

In casual speech, Americans have evolved the slangy expression “you guys” to function as a second-person plural, formerly used of males only but now extended to both sexes, but this is not appropriate