The loss of /hw/ in English in words like where and wheat is virtually complete in contemporary North American English, though /hw/ has lingered in Ontario, Canada. For vernacular speech from Almonte and Parry Sound, we analyze the decline of /hw/ in apparent time among individuals born from 1880s to the 1950s. We place these observations within the field of language obsolescence and suggest that Parry Sound and Almonte are examples of intermediate isolation, less profound than is typical in studies of dialect loss. Almonte retains /hw/ much longer than Parry Sound; this pattern parallels the greater share of /hw/-ful Scots and Irish speakers in Almonte’s early immigration, and accords with Parry Sound’s increased outside contact due to a rising tourism industry. Both communities uniformly exhibit more /hw/ in content words than function words as the feature recedes, to total absence for speakers born in the 1950s. This pattern corroborates the idea that “even linguistic features on the verge of extinction… will continue to retain diachronic patterns in systematic linguistic conditioning” (Jones & Tagliamonte, 2004).
Orderly obsolescence: The decline of /hw/ in Ontario
Jeremy M. Needle is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Linguistics Department at the University of Toronto, Canada. His work on language change deals with phonetics, phonology, and morphology to explore issues related to the mental lexicon, well-formedness, and word creation. His published research includes analyses of English in the USA, UK, Canada, and in Aotearoa/New Zealand; and of Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Sali A. Tagliamonte is a Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of Toronto, Canada. She is the author of six books, including “Making Waves” and “Variationist Sociolinguistics” (Wiley-Blackwell 2012, 2015) and “Analysing Sociolinguistic Variation” and “Roots of English” (CUP 2006, 2013). She has published on African-American varieties, British, Irish and Canadian dialects, and teen language. Her research explores linguistic change in morpho-syntactic and discourse-pragmatic features in corpora of spoken vernacular dialects.
Jeremy M. Needle, Sali A. Tagliamonte; Orderly obsolescence: The decline of /hw/ in Ontario. American Speech 2022; doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-10104915
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