Don’t Hurdle While Texting & The Northern Cities Shift

I live in a state that borders a Great Lake–which might matter by the end of the post–and yesterday I heard two of my kids use the sentence “Don’t hurdle while texting” several times.

(Don’t ask…OK, it was one event in what they were calling “The Badlympics”: Run through the dining room gawping at a cell phone, crash into the back of a chair instead of hurdling it, fall to the ground with cartoonish violence, roll around laughing, repeat.)

The thing is, one of them said it, “Don’t hurdle wall texting,” and the other said it, “Don’t hurdle well texting.”  And there was a brief moment when one of them didn’t understand what the other one said, and they narrowly avoided an argument that would have sucked all the laughter out of the game.

Then I read this on Slate:

[No divergence among American English dialects] is as dramatic, as baffling to linguists, and as mysteriously under the collective radar as what’s happening in the cities that ring the Great Lakes. From Syracuse, NY, in the east to Milwaukee in the west, 34 million Americans are revolutionizing the sound of English…What they observed may be the most important change in English pronunciation in centuries.

“They” are linguists at the U of Pennsylvania, and “what they observed” is The Northern Cities Vowel Shift:

[W]hen it comes to accents, nothing divides English dialects more efficiently than vowel pronunciation. Consider the three-letter words that begin with b and end in t: bat, bet, bit, bot, and but. All five of those words contain short vowel sounds. Their long-vowel equivalents—bate, beet, bite, boat, boot, and bout—arrived at their modern pronunciations as a result of the Great Vowel Shift that began around 1400 and established the basic contours of today’s English. But those short vowels have remained pretty much constant since the eighth century—in other words, for more than a thousand years. Until now.

And now, basically, people around the Great Lakes are pronouncing certain short vowel sounds as if they are other short vowel sounds, and then pronouncing still other vowels as if they are the sounds vacated by the first re-pronunciation, and so on, with a kind of domino effect that will leave all our short vowels re-pronouced. (Read the article to get the whole idea.)

Let me tell you, I got all excited because, hey, my kids are part of the biggest change in the English language since Chaucer retired. And I am too, probably, since most of the folks in the article didn’t even realize they do this.


Except that we don’t actually live between Syracuse and Milwaukee. And while has a long I. So the article isn’t about us at all. (Yet. Right, Penn linguists?)

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