"Why does Jeff Sessions talk like that?"

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  1. Laura Morland said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 1:57 pm

    Love this video!

    My father grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1920s and 30s, but his parents were from Selma (which I just discovered is in the SW quadrant of Alabama). His speech exhibited post-vocalic "R-dropping" (but not, as I recall, consistently). He also produced final Rs where there should be none, as in "Marther," for "Martha."

  2. Arthur Baker said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 2:19 pm

    This is all very interesting, but why oh why do they have to have that irritating muzak playing in the background? When your pitch is about phonetics and accent, and you'd think the major purpose of it is to allow people to focus on the sounds of speech, why would you add this other distracting noise in the background? Why would you do that?

  3. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 3:44 pm

    I'm quite puzzled by Reed's characterization of Sessions's FACE diphthong in participation as "breaking". It's a diphthong, so the quality changes by definition. What I would say is that it's unusually broad for American English (=it has more movement than is usual). But it's still just a diphthong.

    As I understand it, "breaking" is more or less equivalent to "diphthongization", and the "-ization" suffix of course means that the change in quality affects a vowel that is normally considered a monophthong. In particular, I would think "breaking" implies a centring (not closing) offglide, e.g. KIT realized as [ɪə] or FLEECE as [iə], as often happens before a dark /l/; or TRAP as [eə].

    So it would mean that Reed takes FACE to be /e/. Hmmm.

  4. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

    Also, constriction after the /r/?

  5. cameron said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 4:25 pm

    Aside from Mr Sessions's accent, I was also intrigued by the narrator's unusual pronunciation of the name "Cambridge" when he mentions Cambridge University Press towards the end of the video.

  6. Viseguy said,

    October 14, 2017 @ 7:05 pm

    Yes, sounded like ˈkæmbrɪʤ instead of ˈkeɪmbrɪʤ (if I'm not mauling the IPA).

  7. Bloix said,

    October 15, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

    IANAL(inguist), but it's my observation that for most Americans the "CAKE" diphthong is something like eh^ee (eh as in "bet"), but for many southerners, including Sessions, it's a^ee (a is in "fat").

  8. Paul Kay said,

    October 15, 2017 @ 3:24 pm

    Laura Moreland, did you notice the surrounding sounds when your father pronounced an r in the 'wrong' place? In many UK and some North American r-less dialects, a so-called epenthetic r is pronounced at the end of a word ending with a vowel when the next word starts with a vowel and there is no pause between words. You may not be old enough to remember the presidency of John F. Kennedy (and surely that's true of many readers), but it was particularly noticed in the media at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis that Kennedy pronounced Cuba with an r on the end. What many in the media and the public didn't notice was that he did it only when the next word started with a vowel and there was no pause in between. You can listen to Kennedy's r-less Boston speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgdUgzAWcrw. You can hear "Cuba" without final r in phrase final position at about 0:37, "Cuba-r-and" at about 5:08, and, interestingly, "Cuba [pause, no R] into" somewhere in between that I'm too lazy to go back and find the time of.

  9. Coby Lubliner said,

    October 15, 2017 @ 3:42 pm

    If Alabamans pronounce Birmingham as Birming-ham, then it's reasonable that they would say Cam-bridge for Cambridge.

  10. Rodger C said,

    October 17, 2017 @ 7:11 am

    I wonder if he's hypercorrecting for the Southern tendency to pronounce the vowel in "ham" as a diphthong or triphthong.

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    October 18, 2017 @ 9:20 pm

    The narrator does not seem to have any distinct Southern accent, and surely his pronunciation of 'Cambridge' is just a mistake – i.e. he didn't know, or didn't recall, the correct way, and guessed – thus he would correct it if it were pointed out.

    This video is a mess, as others have pointed out. No linguistic terminology is used, nor is any explanation offered for why Jeff Sessions is being singled out (political opposition to him?). To me, he doesn't sound unusual for a Southerner, and it's not surprising that he isn't completely rhotic given his age and origin, though even from the video one can tell that few r's are totally absent. I certainly wouldn't call this an 'aristocratic' accent as some said of Buckley.

    The issue of the so-called 'breaking' in 'participation' is sillier – the vowel does sound odd by American standards (though perhaps it would not in England or Australia), but doesn't seem to have a centering offglide that would justify the term – that is the 'Southern drawl' that normally applies to lax vowels. I would say that the monophthong is the default pronunciation for GA, before a consonant at least, or something that is little enough diphthongised that it can be grouped with the monophthongs. And of course the length mark _should not be used_ for American English although it's a hopeless cause because I've seen time and time again that people can't see past conventional transcriptions to what one actually hears.

    In my own 'participation', I think the actual longest vowel is in the first syllable – 'par' – unless I choose to reduce it to schwa (not usual in this word, I don't think). So the FACE vowel is not only monophthongal but actually pretty short, and yet it sounds completely normal. I also realised, by the way, that the third vowel can be devoiced – partic'pation – though vowel devoicing is not normally mentioned as possible in English. So [päɹˌtʰɪsə̥ˈpʰeʃn̩] is my best transcription.

    The other thing of especial linguistic interest here is that the professor announced himself as 'PAUL Reed' rather than 'Paul REED', which struck me. Is this an accent thing or just a random goof?

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

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