Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Check It Out, Dude

Posted by Neal on December 9, 2004

For the readers of this blog who haven’t already heard about Scott Kiesling‘s Dude paper via Language Log or seen this AP article about it that an anonymous commentator gave the link to, I recommend reading the whole thing. It’s only 20-some pages, and is entertaining and pretty easy to understand (except for the stuff about “poststructuralism” and “cultural Discourses,” but you can skim over that and still get the main points). If you liked reading about yuh-huh, like, and duh, definitely check this one out.

One interesting fact Kiesling discusses is that the /u/ in dude is usually fronted. That is, it’s actually pronounced like [i] (aka “long e”), except that you still have your lips rounded as if for [u]. (It’s the same sound as ü in German.) This is the pronunciation sometimes transcribed as “Dewd!” Kiesling has some comments about why this happens, but it reminded me of another marked fronting of /u/ for stylistic effect that I heard a few years ago…

My wife and I lived in an urban neighborhood down the street from a corner grocery. When we’d drive or walk by, there would often be a black and white cat in the window. My wife, naturally, had to ask the store’s proprietor the cat’s name. It was Bloomers. After that, every time we saw Bloomers in the window, my wife would say, “Aw, look! It’s Blümers!”

“Oh, yeah, Bloomers!” I’d agree, making sure I backed the hell out of my /u/.

“No, it’s Blümers!” she insisted. “It’s cuter that way!”


7 Responses to “Check It Out, Dude”

  1. Anonymous said

    Don’t argue with the wife!

  2. Anonymous said

    Gotta admit. Blmers is cuter.

  3. Anonymous said

    Blewmers doesn’t sound cuter to me. It’s weird to say after the L. Bloomers flows better.

  4. Neal said

    I should have been more explicit: She pronounced ‘Bloomers’ with a fronted /u/ AND a clear /l/ instead of a dark /l/. If you start to say ‘Bloomers’ as if you’re going to say it with a backed /u/, then you say it with a dark /l/, with the back of your tongue raised. Going from there to raise the front of your tongue for the fronted /u/ is difficult, as you say. But if you know right off you’re going to say it with a fronted /u/, you automatically adjust the /l/ accordingly, and say a clear /l/.

  5. […] However, you can hear authentic rolled /r/’s, fronted /u/’s (like those I wrote about here), the lowered /ɪ/’s (as in weth, defferent, and lesteners), and other phonetic properties […]

  6. […] vowels: The [u] of juice and the [i] of cheese. Even so, they’re both high vowels, and for some speakers they’re even both front vowels, differing only in roundness — lips rounded for the […]

  7. dainichi said

    “… /u/ in dude is usually fronted. That is, it’s actually pronounced like [i] (aka “long e”), except that you still have your lips rounded as if for [u].”

    I don’t think the second sentence follows from the first, and I’d need more proof to be convinced about the truth of the second sentence. I mean, a regular, monophthong [y]? I’ve heard something along the lines of [iw] or maybe [ʉ]. I might even agree on [yw] with anticipatory rounding on the [i], but [y] as in German, really?

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