University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This paper reports on the current status of the short-a system in New York City English (NYCE), traditionally characterized as a phonemic split conditioned by the following phonological environment and a complex set of additional constraints (Labov 2007, Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006). We provide apparent-time evidence from twelve white native New Yorkers of three age groups that the complex short-a split is changing over time, such that the system is losing its complex conditioning among our young white speakers. These results raise questions concerning the continuing characterization of NYCE short-a as phonemic. Additionally, we demonstrate that young native New Yorkers of ethnic minority backgrounds (Chinese, Puerto Rican, and African American) who speak English natively do not produce the traditional NYCE split, but instead produce a nasal tensing system (Labov 2007). In addition to providing current results suggesting change in white NYCE, this study contributes to the growing literature in sociolinguistics regarding ethnic minority speakers and their production of regional dialect features.