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  • Early Development of the Card-Cord Merger in Utah
  • David Bowie

This study is part of the Early Utah English Project, an ongoing investigation into the phonetic form of English as spoken in the Territory of Utah during the last half of the nineteenth century. It reconstructs one aspect of the formation of a new variety (in this case specifically, English as spoken in Utah) by using audio recordings of people born early in the permanent English-speaking settlement of the area (which began in 1847) as data and a variationist approach for analysis. Although several important phonetic features of Utah English1 can be reconstructed along with their changes during the first half-century of permanent English-speaking settlement, this report deals specifically with the feature of Utah English most widely reported on in the scholarly literature: the merger of /ɑr/ and /ɔr/, or the CARD-CORD merger.2 The CARD-CORD merger was found at relatively low levels among native speakers of English born during the first generation of permanent English-speaking settlement in Utah, and it rapidly expanded during the next decades of the nineteenth century. This article examines the factors that conditioned the merger as it developed and discusses directions for further investigation.

The Formation of New Varieties

Field reports of the formation of new varieties have emerged as an important set of data for linguistics, providing important information for dialectological studies as well as studies of language change generally. In most cases, these studies deal with new cities that fall within a preexisting dialect region, as with King of Prussia, Pennsylvania (Payne 1976); Høyanger, Norway (Trudgill 1986); and Milton Keynes, England (Kerswill 1994, 1996c; Kerswill and Williams 2000); or existing cities that face massive immigration, as with Bergen, Norway (Kerswill 1996a), and urbanized areas of Texas (Thomas 1997).

There is, however, another obvious possible situation for the formation of a new variety: speakers of a language settling an area that lies outside any previously existing dialect region of that language. This is a common [End Page 31] occurrence historically, but in most cases recorded speech is not available to give direct evidence of speech patterns among the earliest natives of the area, whether because the area was settled long before audio recording equipment existed or because enough recordings were not made. This is particularly problematic for studies of the development of new varieties in recent settlements of this type, as standardization of spelling and increasing levels of full literacy often mask the variants someone using written forms would be able to find in older texts.

English in Utah

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Figure 1.

Population of Utah and Percentage of Foreign-Born Population, 1850-1900

Fortunately, in at least one place where such settlement has occurred since standardized spellings became widespread, audio recordings exist of representatives of the first generations of speakers of the settlement language to be born there: Utah. English-speaking settlement of the Salt Lake Valley in what would later become Utah began in 1847 with the founding of Great Salt Lake City (now Salt Lake City), quite distant from any other existing English-speaking regions. Massive in-migration from the United States and Europe resulted in a rapid population climb. The 1870 census showed that at its peak more than 35% of Utah residents were foreign-born (see fig. 1). The vast majority of this foreign-born population came from England, Scotland, and "British America," the latter generally meaning English-speaking Canada (for more discussion of foreign immigration to Utah in a linguistic context, see Di Paolo 1993). By 1880, 55.63% of Utah's population [End Page 32] was born in Utah (80.28% of the U.S.-born population of Utah). Natives of every other state and territory of the United States except Alaska were represented in Utah in 1880; the 13 states providing more than 2% of Utah's U.S.-born population by that time (excluding natives of Utah from the count) are shown in table 1 (based on data extracted from the 1880 census). As a result of these migration patterns, the vast majority of the residents of Utah in the latter...


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pp. 31-51
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2005
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