New England Borderlands: A New Investigation of the East–West Boundary

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Kurath (1939) proposed an east-west boundary along the Green Mountains of Vermont (Linguistic Atlas of New England). Likewise, The Atlas of North American English (ANAE) (Labov, Ash & Boberg 2006) draws a dialect boundary between Eastern and Western New England around the Vermont/New Hampshire border. However, there are no ANAE data points along the east-west boundary itself because that project focused on larger cities. This leaves a gap in contemporary understanding of this transition zone between two major US dialect regions. Labov et al. state that “a more precise contemporary delineation of the borders between the subregions of New England awaits more detailed local studies” (2006:230). Our study helps to answer that call. With the goal of revisiting Kurath’s work along the East-West boundary 70 years later, in 2010 we recorded 42 senior citizens representing 31 small town VT/NH locations around Kurath’s line. For the FATHER/BOTHER merger, postvocalic /r/, and BATH [a], we find that East-West distinctions continue to be very strong in this age group. However, our results also suggest that, since the time of Kurath, the line of contrast has moved eastward from the Green Mountains toward the Connecticut River (VT/NH border). Other variables showed no significant east-west contrasts.

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