If you want to know how Americans speak, the go-to source is the quarterly journal American Speech, published by Duke University Press for the American Dialect Society.
It’s a scholarly journal, written by experts in the study of American English, but a surprising amount of what they write is accessible to anyone. A case in point in the most recent issue (Summer 2013) is the case of Louisville, Ky.
Louisville is on the edge of the South, both politically and linguistically. Linguistically, the South is set off from the rest of the United States notably by the “ah” pronunciation for the long i that is an “ah-ee” sound in the North and West.
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. In the South, you hear the “ah” version of long i when it comes before a voiced consonant, as in wide, size, or five. You also hear an “ah” when i comes at the end of a word, as in high or my. Only on some parts of the South does i become “ah” when a voiceless consonant follows, as in light or like.
Louisville is outside that area, but at the north of the state right on the Ohio River, it’s at the edge of where Southerners pronounce “ah” before voiced consonants or at the end of a word. So the question is, is Louisville “ah” or “ah-ee”?
Jennifer Cramer of the University of Kentucky sought the answer to that question, and more broadly the question of whether Louisville thinks of itself as Southern or not. Her article “Styles, Stereotypes, and the South: Constructing Identities at the Linguistic Border” in this issue of American Speech tells what she found by asking people from Louisville what they thought and listening to what they said.
The article takes more than 20 pages, with far more detail than I can give here. But she concludes, basically, that Louisville language is indeed on the border. The speakers she interviewed think Louisville speech is different from the truly Southern speech of the rest of Kentucky. “Louisville can be situated as non-Southern and non-Northern,” she concludes. “Louisville may not, in the minds of these individuals, represent ‘real’ Southernness, but the data reveal that there are some ways in which Louisville can be portrayed as Southern.”
So is it “ah” or “ah-ee” in Louisville? It appears that the answer is yes.Return to Top