In most dialects, the pronunciation of the words bear and beer is different. However, dialects found in Charleston, SC and New Zealand merge the vowel sounds found in these words. In both locations, it appears that there is a sound change in progress, resulting in different pronunciations among generations. Cranston, RI may also have this merger and may be undergoing a sound change as well.
To explore this possibility, acoustic recordings and analyses have been made of 18 participants from Cranston. Each participant produced different pairs of words that contained the vowels heard in beer and bear. Three different age groups (over 50, 18-26, and 8-12) have been studied to see if there is a difference in the way people of different ages pronounce these vowels. InNew Zealand it appears that the merger of these vowel sounds is new. Older adults are more likely to distinguish these vowels than younger generations. InCharleston, the opposite is true; older adults are more likely to merge these two vowel sounds than younger generations. This is indicative that the merger is reversing, going against the theory that mergers cannot be reversed (Garde’s Principle).
From the acoustic analysis, it appears that Cranstonis following the same pattern as Charleston. The participants over 50 merge these vowel sounds, the young adults either have a complete merger or merge the vowel sounds inconsistently, and children are distinguishing between these vowels. Thus, the merger peculiar to this geographic area is disappearing. A perception study has also been completed to see if the participants consider words containing the vowels in bear and beer to be the same. Results indicate that the majority of older adults (male and female) and male young adults perceive a merger of these sounds and female young adults and children (male and female) perceive a difference between these vowels.
DelGallo, Michaela, "Generational Differences: A Look at Dialectic Formation in Cranston, Rhode Island" (2012). Honors Projects Overview. 56.
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