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Residual Dialectisms as Shibboleths

Speakers of standard languages may occasionally betray their social or geographical origins by retaining a non-standard or dialectal feature in their speech as a residue. For instance, the metathetic pronunciation [aks] instead of [ask] for the verb ask in the otherwise impeccably standard speech of an educated African-American is identifiably a residual dialectism.

This sort of linguistic atavism, i. e., the retention of an anomalous feature doubtless left over from childhood, can be observed when a person’s native dialect is refurbished to conform to speech norms associated with their occupation. Public radio broadcasting is (still) one such profession. Thus, one hears in the pronunciation of the NPR presenter/host Robert Siegel (“All Things Considered,” NPR Radio) a failure to palatalize the /n/ in news, regularly resulting in the dialectal form [nooz]; and the retention of  dialectal [git] instead of [get] for get, along with the pen/pin merger, in the speech of his NPR colleague Renee Montagne (“Morning Edition”).

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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