Well, now I have been mentioned on three of my favorite blogs: In Mol Araan, Langauge Log, and, as of yesterday, Language Hat. Pretty flattering, all told. Anyways, just wanted to brag.
What kind of responsible American dialectology blogger would I be if I didn't post on the latest round of publicity for William Labov's new groundbreaking (and still unseen by me) Atlas of North American English Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change? This latest bout of media attention was spurred, as far as I can tell, by a NYT article in Friday's travel section, describing a dialectological roadtrip in which Tim Sultan heads northwest from New York City, in pursuit of dialectological diversity. Guided by the atlas and by Labov himself, Sultan drives towards Rochester, listening for evidence of the Northern cities vowel shift.
In interviews, Labov has been touting this vowel change as the most interesting ongoing development in American speech, and as evidence for his general yet counterintuitive theory about increasing diversification among American dialects. Labov often describes this vowel change, and the Inland Northern dialect that it typifies, as the "Chicago Dialect." As a Chicagoan, I was a bit surprised by this. Sure, I thought, Rochesterians may raise /ae/ and front /ah/, and they may not have the low-back merger, but that doesn't mean they sound like Chicagoans, does it?
Well, apparently it does. Perhaps you've encountered the gooey feel-good story that's been in the news recently about the autistic high-school basketball player making six 3-point shots in one game. I saw this CNN clip on the story, and when the coach started talking midway through, I thought, oh, they must be in the Chicago suburbs.
Of course, they're in Rochester. Go know. I must point out that this supports the theory I mentioned earlier about gym coaches tending to exhibit the local dialect.
Two postscripts: First off, notice the distinctly midland dialect of the CNN reporter. Growing up in the Inland North, I repeatedly heard that broadcasters tried to sound like they were from Michigan. This is based somewhat in reality - another version I heard was that there was conflict between those who favored Midland and those who favores Inland Northern. Given that Inland Northern is now changing, maybe Midland is ascendant again. If you want to hear good old Inland Northern broadcasters, though, check out Rochester's WROC news report on the same story.
Secondly, when we say "Chicago dialect," we generally mean the general dialect of the Chicagoland region. I still maintain that the dialect of the city itself is quite distinct from that of the suburbs. On the one hand, the stereotypical Chicago trait of /dis/ for "this" and so on, is not really found in the suburbs. Also, the vowel system in the city is a bit different; along with Rochester, Labov has been talking a lot about Pittsburg, giving as the shibboleth the monophthongized /dahntahn/ pronunciation of "downtown." There's a similar monophthongization in Chicago, though it's a bit further back, more like /donton/. These two traits, though certainly not unique to Chicago, make the dialect of the city distinct from general Inland Northern.