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   Short Front Vowel Lowering

The lowering of the vowel in the DRESS lexical set and the lowering plus retraction of that in the TRAP lexical set is the most prominent development in Dublin English since the vowel shifts of the 1990s (see Dublin Vowel Shift). According to my annual recordings of Dublin English, this lowering seems to have emerged in Dublin English around 2010 or 2011, certainly not much earlier to any appreciable extent. At the end of 2014 (the period for which the latest recordings are available the lowering is now well established with young females who do not speak vernacular Dublin English. The following recording of a 20-year female from November 2014 illustrates the phenomenon clearly.

  Advanced Short Front Vowel Lowering   (text read by speaker)

Note: the DRESS vowel (as in yes) is greatly lowered; the TRAP vowel (as in back) is lowered and retracted; the KIT vowel (as in sick) shows no lowering. This is the general pattern in advanced Dublin English, see section on most recent changes.

In Dublin English there is no internal precedent for Short Front Vowel Lowering. Traditionally, a similar type of lowering exists in Belfast English (and in Ulster Scots in general), but an influence of the local vernacular of this city on non-vernacular speech in Dublin can hardly be postulated. What is much more likely is that Short Front Vowel Lowering entered from outside, most likely from North America where it is quite widespread. It is true that Dubliners do not have a very differentiated view of varieties of American English, but for the transfer of Short Front Vowel Lowering it is sufficient that it be (unconsciously) perceived as a cool pronunciation in the USA and Canada. It is not possible to say whether the original contact between Dubliners and North Americans was in North America or in Ireland – there are many young American women living in Ireland, specifically in Dublin, and they would have formed an interface with young Dublin females. The shift then spread within the latter group with some members pushing the shift further with extreme lowering of the DRESS vowel in particular (as can be heard clearly with the speaker in the above sound file). This pushing has provided a trajectory for the shift. Whether this clear trend will become an established instance of language change in the coming years is as yet uncertain. Speakers over 30, and males in general, do not show Short Front Vowel Lowering, but they may do in future in which case the shift will become firmly entrenched in Dublin English. Given the dominance of Dublin over the rest of (the Republic of) Ireland, this new pronunciation would spread to the rest of the country, indeed Short Front Vowel Lowering is found with many young females in the cities around Ireland already. This may have happened via television and radio because in Ireland virtually all the young female presenters and announcers have Short Front Vowel Lowering to a greater or lesser extent.

The following is a presentation from the NWAV 43 conference held in University of Illinois, Chicago in October 2014. It contains a description and analysis of Short Front Vowel Lowering in Dublin English and uses a number of recent sound files as illustrations. The presentation is a PDF file, the sound files referred to are also contained on the present website, see “Most recent changes in the tree on the left”.

Sentences and words read by speaker in sound file

The bread was really fresh.
She thought about the dance.
Yes, I like the band U2.
Today my friend is sick.
They dressed up for the party.
It almost broke my back.
He’s gone up north for a bit.
Get up and look outside.
You have to keep to the law.
When he asked her she said ‘yes’.
They stayed two nights in the hotel.
They cooked mashed potatoes for lunch.
Kitty and Betty bought a lot of things.
They missed the two-fifty train to Sligo.