I notice this in some people from Northern Illinois and Iowa and am wondering if this is a well documented phenomenon.

What most Americans would pronounce as "ar" is instead pronounced as something like "err" or "ærr". This applies to words like are, car, card, hard, barn, yard, etc.

Edit: I do not mean to imply that this phenomenon is exclusive to Illinois and Iowa.


That's probably a symptom of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift.

Wikipedia (see link above) says that in the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, /kɑr/ can shift to /kɐr/ or /kär/; /kɐr/ is halfway to being /kɜr/, as in cur. And since there isn't any other r-influenced vowel around /kɐr/, one might easily hear it as cur. (Or maybe it goes farther than /kɐr/ in some regions.)

The Northern Cities Vowel Shift isn't generally believed to merge car and cur, so probably either car isn't shifted all the way to cur, or the vowel in cur itself moves to get out of its way. Or both.

When it's not before a vowel, as in pot, /pɑt/, the vowel /ɑ/ goes to /a/ or /æ/, that is, pot is pronounced more like pat.

  • I don't think "pot" and "car" normally have the same vowel, not in my pronunciation at least (Gen. Am., Northern VA). In the shift that I'm talking about, car becomes something like "curr" or "kerr". I read about the Northern Cities shift before and couldn't find anything on this. – Sasha Trubetskoy Jan 27 '19 at 23:17
  • 1
    Merriam Webster: pot: /ˈpät/; car: / ˈkär/. Of course, being followed by an /r/ can change a vowel somewhat. – Peter Shor Jan 27 '19 at 23:19
  • I don't think it's the Northern Vowel shift. Iowa doesn't generally have that, and Oklahomans have apparently been saying "they've gone about as fer as they can go" for a long time, at least stereotypically. – 1006a Jan 28 '19 at 6:16
  • @1006a: This map identifies parts of iowa as having the Northern Vowel shift. – Peter Shor Jan 28 '19 at 12:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.