Models of Northern Cities Vowel Shift Reversal and Other Vocalic Phenomena in Michigan


This study investigates the vowels of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula in order to document any patterns of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCS) reversal as well as any other vocalic phenomena. I demonstrate that Michigan vowel spaces differ by demographic and region by surveying vowels from urban and non-urban areas while observing participant age and sex to create a chronology for various vocalic phenomena in the Michiganders. This study surveys vowels produced by 25 native born Michigan residents from the East, West, and Northern Lower Peninsula of the state, with representatives from urban, suburban, and rural areas ranging in three Age-Groups spanning from the 1940s to the early 2000s. Participants were presented with a 175 item wordlist to pronounce in automated succession isolating nine monophthong target vowels /i, ɪ, ɛ, æ, ʌ, u, ʊ, ɔ, ɑ/. I first provide the results for the collective regions, derived from the average vowel positions of East, West, and Northern Michigan, finding all the regions having shifted /æ, ɑ, ɛ/ in accordance to the NCS, but with no indication of progression or reversal. I then analyze each region using the three Age-Groups to provide a chronological direction to the data, finding clear reversal by the 1990s in East and West Michigan. Using speaker demographics, I present two different models of Northern Cities Reversal, with West Michigan reversing in young women independent of environment and East Michigan reversing in non-urban environments. The two models of reversal observed provide an interesting insight into the nature of vocalic change and patterns of language change, where the Northern Cities Shift advances in a uniform manner throughout the Inland North in set stages but is shown here to have two patterns of reversal. Further observations into the other phenomena, especially the fronting of /u/ and its contributing factors are of particular worth for future investigation due to the insight it might offer on what processes are viable for the engenderment of language change.



Northern Cities Vowel Shift, Vowel Shift, Phonetics, Language Change, Historical Linguistics, Linguistics, Vowel, Michigan, Inland North