At this week’s MCQLL meeting, Irene Smith will be presenting Cross-dialectal distribution of PIN-PEN merger in English. An abstract follows.

We will be meeting this Tuesday, February 7 at 3:00 PM. Meetings will be held both in person in room 117 of the McGill Linguistics department at 1085 Dr Penfield and on Zoom here.

Title: Cross-dialectal distribution of PIN-PEN merger in English
Abstract: The PIN-PEN merger is a commonly observed feature of Southern American English and African American English in which /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ are pronounced the same when they occur before an /m/ or an /n/. The result is that the words PIN and PEN (and other pairs of words, like HIM and HEM) are homophones in dialects with the merger—hence the name. Most often, the merger is described as /ɛ/ merging to /ɪ/, although it has yet to be verified whether this finding generalizes to all speech communities where the merger is present.

I will present ongoing work on the PIN-PEN merger that uses data from multiple dialects of English from both North America and the UK, taken from the SPADE dataset (Sonderegger et al. 2022). Each dialect being studied presumably belongs to one of the three following classes. First, in merged dialects, all speakers are expected to consistently produce the merger. In de-merging dialects, the merger is historically present but the merger is being reversed, and thus younger speakers are less likely to produce the merger than older speakers. Finally, in non-merged dialects, we don’t have any reason to expect that any speakers will produce the merger. The specific research questions I am addressing are (i) whether the PIN-PEN merger is actually complete in merged dialects, (ii) whether the amount of variability in merger patterns within individuals and within dialects correlates with the merger status of a dialect, and (iii) whether the dialect categorization system I have referenced so far is actually appropriate, or if dialects fall along a continuum of merged-ness. I will be presenting on several ongoing methodological issues.