• The low back vowel in mid-coast Maine

      Davidson, Gail (2011-05)
      In mid-coast Maine, the words cod and caught sound like they contain the same vowel phoneme, employing the sound [a], a low back vowel. The word father contains a separate contrasting phoneme, spoken as [a], a low central vowel. This paper attempts to show that this perceived similarity in [a] and difference from [a] is in fact real. Unlike in the area of the Northern Cities Chain Shift, where the sound of the vowels in cod, caught and father all approach [a], the vowel in cod and caught in mid coast Maine remains low and back, occasionally rounded, more often not, while that in father is low and central. Twenty-six current speakers of varying ages, most residents since early childhood, were interviewed to compare these sounds. Each speaker was recorded reading a prepared story and a set of words included in a frame sentence. Formant frequencies for this recorded data were then analyzed. Statistical tests, including t-tests and ANOVAs, were run to compare the vowels and to test the validity of the hypothesis. Normalizing the data for one single vowel sound proved to be unworkable, so men and women were treated separately, as were Narrative and Frame data. The low back vowel was found to be stable in mid-coast Maine, including the same sound in cod and caught, and it was found to contrast with the low central vowel in father. Available historical evidence points to these vowels having been stable in this region for over a hundred years. This contrasts with changes in the vowel sound in the same words in the rest of the United States.