University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This paper examines the influence of economic change on the reversal of a sound change in progress in Lansing, Michigan-the tensing of TRAP as part of the Northern Cities Shift (NCS). Recent reports of dialect attrition in the Inland North dialect area suggest that the shift away from the NCS is being led by upwardly mobile middle-class speakers (Driscoll and Lape 2015, Lape 2016, Wagner et al. 2016, King 2017, Zheng 2017). The social motivation and the actuation of this shift are unclear, however. Through an acoustic analysis of TRAP produced by Lansing natives born 1907-1997 (N = 27), we find that the progression of the local form (NCS raised TRAP) reverses in the Baby Boomer generation. Within this generation, maintenance of the local raised pattern is characteristic of workers and one manager who associated with the factory workers, e.g., served on unions and fought for worker rights. Other managers adopt the non-local nasal pattern characteristic of the Elsewhere Shift. We find that the rise of a class distinction for raised TRAP in this generation is especially important given the negative socio-cultural changes (population decline, unemployment and crime increase) that started to occur in Lansing because of its collapsing auto manufacturing industry in the 1980s. We argue that these changes allowed for everything local to become marked, including the accent, thus prompting upwardly mobile middle-class speakers to adopt the non-local Elsewhere pattern.