When Fred Tuttle exposed the rest of the world to Vermont’s unique dialect in the 1996 film Man with the Plan, it seemed the classic accent was alive and well. Not so, according to Julie Roberts, professor of communication sciences, who says most young Vermonters today display very few elements of the state’s folksy way of talking.
One aspect remains, however: a speech variable known as glottalization. The term, most often noted in Great Britain and Ireland, describes a break in a word that would otherwise flow as one. Ask a true Vermonter to say the towns of Milton or Swanton and you’ll recognize it right away as Milt’n or Swant’n. Roberts talked about glottalizing and other unique aspects of regional dialects during her College of Arts and Sciences Full Professor lecture on Jan. 13 in Memorial Lounge, Waterman. Author: Jon C. Reidel
Roberts, whose talk was titled “Disappearing or Only Different: Vermont Speech in the 21st Century,” gave a brief summary of speech in America including its three primary dialects: The Southern Shift; The Northern Cities Shift and rest of the country’s dialects, defined by the presence or absence of what is referred to in linguistics as the low-back merger or cot-caught merger — a phonemic merger in which some vowels in words are pronounced identically, making words like “cot” and “caught” homophones.
Roberts said a number of factors have contributed to the loss of Vermont’s folksy dialect among younger residents, including the influx of new residents from other states and countries. More exposure to other accents due to new media and technology such as the internet has also contributed to a flattening of the classic Vermont accent. “Changes in the demographics of the state have definitely had an effect,” Roberts said.
Roberts also discussed the phonetic, historical and sociocultural aspects of speech in America and the stigmatization of certain groups based on the way they speak. She also talked about how language changed in America over time, with pre-World War II speech marking a change from post-war dialects that tended to have less of a vaguely British sound. She played a number of audio clips of pre-war movie stars and some of older Vermonters to illustrate her points.