Young American female vowel shift

In a recent post about a different topic, Bill Walsh mentions some annoying vowel shifts exhibited by young-ish American females. These mainly involve changing the short e to the short u sound, so that “desk”, “test”, and “better” become “dusk”, “tust”, and “butter”, respectively. “Dad” also becomes “Dodd”. I’ve also noticed these and been annoyed by them. It’s kind of a California valley-girl accent creeping into all parts of the country in teenage girls and 20-something women, and now probably even women in their 30’s.

I tried to post a comment reporting my observation of another pair of vowel shifts that have annoyed me much more than those have, but his blag only allows posts from Google Blagger users, which I am not. (What kind of foolish isolationism is that? How many insightful comments and loyal frequent visitors has that practice precluded over the years at the blags that employ it? I’ve only ever seen it at Blagspot blags, but I know the owner has to choose to enable that restriction, so I can’t place the blame entirely on Google.)

Instead, I’ll post it to my own blag and reap the sweet, sweet internet karma it’ll bring me: The annoying vowel shift I’ve noticed that is unique to young-ish American females is pronouncing “thank you” as “think yo”. I guess the “yo” is actually more of a Minnesota/Midwestern type of “yoh”, but it’s not like it’s ever stressed or enunciated so strongly that it makes you think of Marge Gunderson. Maybe it’s just halfway between “you” and “yo”, and maybe the first word is more of a “thenk” than a “think”, but whatever it is with each individual girl, it’s annoying.

I haven’t noticed any prevalence of vowel shifts among American males, although a little bit of the valley accent certainly can be heard in some college guys’ (especially frat guys’) speech, as in “mahn” for “man”, “cuhl” for “cool”, etc. Sort of a surfer accent by guys who are trying too hard to sound casual and indifferent (or who have tried to sound casual and indifferent for so long that they no longer can tell any difference).

Maybe some nit-picky female linguists are equally as annoyed at males’ dropping of entire consonant sounds, as in “’anks” for “thanks”?

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4 Responses to Young American female vowel shift

  1. AM says:

    Aaaaaaaaaaah! Hope three years isn’t too long to reply. I haven’t found an explicit reference to this phenomenon, just a couple of general linguistic articles recently.

    It has become a necessity to use the mute button while watching movies and TV shows. The shift that I hear is as follows (not a linguist): red = rad, bed = bahd, dead= dahd, test=tahst, better=bahter. The “a” is actually a hair longer and rounder, but I don’t know how to write that. There are a myriad of vowel twists happening, and sometimes you have to think about what was meant. It is spreading, especially among local newscasters (who wouldn’t want to sound like that), and, as you mentioned, younger women. Very few men, though I’ve heard red=rad from a male recently. I assume it’s a role model thing, and a pseudo “educated” sound that’s becoming ingrained.

    Clearly, you and I are hearing a different vowel shift, which is odd, since I’ve noticed it since at least 2004. It’s getting worse. I did hear a new one the other night, where a newsreader said dod for dead. Fingernails on a chalkboard.

    Thanks for allowing the rant. Most people apparently don’t hear it or it doesn’t bother them.




  2. John says:

    Holy jeez, it’s impossible to believe it’s been 3 and a half years since I wrote this blag post. It seems like about 2 or 2 and a half at most.

    Anyway, did you watch How I Met Your Mother? I noticed Josh Radnor (Ted Mosby) making an annoying valley-girl-type vowel shift fairly frequently. The best example is when he would pronounce bad as bahd. Also probably that as thaht, so it’s not that bad would become it’s not thaht bahd. (I don’t know if Ted ever uttered that phrase, though I’m guessing he did; either way, it’s a good illustrative example of his annoying vowel shift.) It’s a common American Millennial-generation thing. I don’t know if it resulted from trying to sound casual and indifferent as teenagers, or from self-consciousness and lack of confidence in some way… Either way, count me as annoyed as you.

    I have to say I’ve never noticed red becoming rahd or bed becoming bahd. Certainly never dead becoming dahd. Is it due to an excessively nasal pronunciation? I live in the Midwest but am not from here, so I don’t know if I’m hearing what you’re hearing but I just attribute it to the Midwest accent, or what. I don’t ever watch TV news, so I have no experience to compare to yours in that regard.

  3. AM says:

    Thanks for your reply, John. Lucky you, no TV. It’s endemic. I’m in the Pacific Northwest, and you hear it amongst the kids ALL the time, as well as on TV. Maybe I can put together a list of really bad movie offenders, but I guarantee that you’ll be reaching for the mute button. Yikes!

  4. HGN says:

    Another late-finder to an old post. I just heard another youngish female on TV talking about her “friends” and using the annoying “fruhnds”. I worked in Philadelphia radio and our station had an “M” in its call letters. They paid for some voices to record some liners and every time the female said “M” it came out sounding like “Uhm” or maybe more like “aam” or something halfway in between.

    I think the trend (or is that “trund”) is getting more prevalent (“pruvalent?”) as time marches on, and it may be part of the way that language changes over time.