Monday, 11 July 2011

a rud druss?

In yesterday’s (London) Sunday Times, on the comment page, Rod Liddle had a short piece about a tape allegedly implicating “cuddly, bearded, man of peace” Gerry Adams as boss of a former IRA death squad. The tape is currently in the custody of (‘in the clutches of’) an unnamed Massachusetts university. According to Liddle, the taped interviews were recorded by students, ‘presumably as part of a degree in one thousand years of “Bruddish upprussion”’.

Forget the politics. What’s going on with this jocular respelling? It’s intended, of course, to convey an American accent to a British readership. We all know that Americans voice intervocalic t, making it sound like d, and that their KIT vowel tends to be rather laxer or opener than the BrE mainstream. So “Bruddish” for British is fair enough.

But what about “upprussion” for oppression?

This is the first time that I remember having seen a jocular respelling relating to AmE DRESS.

There’s a complex set of vowel sound changes currently in progress in part of the United States, known as the Northern Cities Shift. It was first sketched out by Labov over thirty years ago. There’s an account written by Labov here, or a simpler one in Wikipedia.
What is happening in places like Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago is that the TRAP vowel is getting tenser and closer (but that’s happening in other places, too). This encroachment on the territory of the DRESS vowel is compensated by the lowering and backing of DRESS. The LOT(-PALM) vowel moves forward to take over some of the space vacated by TRAP.

The consequence is that NCS LOT may sound like other people’s TRAP, while NCS DRESS may sound like other people’s STRUT. Hence Liddle’s respelling upprussion.

lexical set example RP etc other AmE NCS
LOT a bottle of Scotch ə bɒtl̩ əv skɒtʃ ə bɑdl̩ əv skɑtʃ ə badl̩ əv skatʃ
DRESS a red dress ə red dres ə rɛd drɛs ə rɐd drɐs


  1. Are you sure it's not a reference to Adams' accent? He has a tap for intervocalic /t/, a very central KIT vowel, a lowered and centralised DRESS vowel, and an over-all retracted/velarised vocal quality, all of which are (stereo)typical of vernacular Belfast English and imitations of it.

  2. Could well be. In that case. no one in the UK has yet noticed the NCS.

  3. My first thought was that it's about Gerry Adams' accent, but both seem possible, and it's an interesting issue anyway.

    But I'm afraid, particularly when it's about shifts like these, the matter isn't made clearer by using signs that suggest pre-war RP ɒ and e.

  4. Surely it's meant to be Adams' accent. "Bruddish" 'brʌdɪʃ is an almost perfect imitation of a Northern Irish accent, and in many parts of NI this word really does have the ultra-lax KIT vowel in the first syllable but a very tense vowel in the second. This split is found in Derry anyway, but I'm not sure about Belfast (where Adams is from).

    "Upprussion" is just caricature, though.


  5. Not that it's concerning the same accents of English, but my 3-year-old daughter Anna, who is bilingual in Scottish English and Danish, has made an equivalence between Danish /æ/ (which is raised to a point where it's perhaps better written as /ɛ/) and Scottish /ɪ/, which is lowered and centralised like in NI and NCS.

  6. John, it seems obvious to me that he's attempting to caricature Gerry Adams's accent. /ɪ/and (non-lengthened) /ɛ/ are both more open and more retracted than in SSBE, and that's what the orthographic 'u' is meant to signify.

  7. Yes that's meant to be Adams's accent. seems a fair enough caricature for a generic Northern Ireland accent to me, but not for a generic Republic of Ireland one: seems Liddle has used the terms before to mean the latter (see about 9 lines into: which doesn't work as an accent caricature for me!

  8. The Belfast developments do share a few things in common with the NCS (not that I think they are historically connected): KIT is centralised, the short allophone of DRESS is lowered and a bit centralised, STRUT is near to [ɔ], and LOT is often [ɑ] and can be further front. TRAP doesn't match the NCS development though (being either raised towards [ɛ] or retracted to [ɑ] depending upon surrounding consonants), although centring diphthongs are found in FACE and long allophones of DRESS.

  9. @Gerald Kelly: I doubt that Spectator link intends to represent a specifically *southern* Irish accent, notwithstanding that "Ireland" in the Eurovision Song Context means the state rather than the island.

    I Googled one southern Irish use of "Bruddish" to indicate a Northern (unionist) accent.

    The usual target word for southern parodies of Norn Irish accent is "situation", with fronted northern GOOSE travestied by southern FLEECE. This because "moving the situation forward" was an irritatingly common refrain of the peace process.

  10. I would be very impressed (and surprised) if a British newspaper commenter were aware of the NCVS (apart perhaps from TRAP-BATH-raising).