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Roof (and the Californian accent)
Posted: 28 March 2007 08:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Idly watching an old episode of Diagnosis Murder I noted that when two of the characters were speaking to each other, one spoke of the roof (pronounced ruhf, with a schwa in the middle) while the other pronounced it (as I do) roof, with the middle sound rhyming with too, through, etc.

One of the speakers was Dick Van Dyke’s son, presumably California born and bred, the other unknown, although his accent sounded very similar. What is the general pronunciation of roof in the US, or is it a regional thing.

And, speaking of California, my English ear can’t detect anything which I might term a Californian accent, as compared to a mid-Western one, Texan, New York, etc. People from California just sound, well, American. Is this because I’m English and lack an ear for these things? Can other Americans hear someone from LA speaking and say, “He’s from California!”.

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Posted: 28 March 2007 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A schwa sound is unusual, but in the part of the midwest I come from, pronouncing roof with a “short” oo, as in “book”, “cook”, and “foot”, is not uncommon.

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Posted: 28 March 2007 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, the book, cook sound is nearer the mark to what I heard, actually. Not regional then, I’m assuming, but more along the lines of ee-ther/eye-ther, ie a matter of personal preference?

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Posted: 28 March 2007 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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According to this Wikipedia article, it is a regional feature; it would be nice to see the isoglosses in a dialect atlas, but I don’t have one.

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Posted: 28 March 2007 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Native Californian here. For me, roof rhymes with aloof, but I wouldn’t notice anything odd if someone said it as Dr. T. suggests. This isn’t really surprising as most people in any given group are probably not natives.

I’ve never had much of an ear for accents, but my British friends who have visited have remarked that Californians speak “television presenter” American. Perhaps the equivalent of the old school “BBC English.”

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Posted: 28 March 2007 09:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Non-native Californian here (and my dad was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley) and the Californian accent is pretty much a standard American one. There are some distinct styles of speech among subgroups, famously surfer-speak and Valley Girl speak, but outside of these few Americans can identify a Californian by his or her accent.

Allan Metcalf in his book How We Talk describes some pronunciation characteristics of younger Californians, but these are pretty subtle. These include pronunciation of the vowels in unstressed syllables: garden is /GAR-den/ instead of the usual /GAR-duhn/ or /GARD-n/. The suffix -ing is pronounced /een/: going is /go-een/ instead of /go-ing/ or /go-in/. Also the letter T is reduced to a stop when it’s between vowels: whatever becomes /wha-ev-er/.

There definitely are usage differences though that people can recognize. Highways are freeways in California. And in southern California, or the Southland, freeways with numbers get a definite article: route 101 is the 101. This usage is creeping northwards and you are now starting to hear it in the San Francisco Bay Area. In California kids ditch school, instead of skip.

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Posted: 29 March 2007 05:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Gawd, she was beautiful. Long dark hair down to her waist, huge brown eyes that sparkled with the knowledge that she could get away with anything, and a smile that dared you to deny it. Her bikini was powder blue and just being next to her defined excitement. Her name was Barbara and she wasn’t just the center of my universe, she was every bright thing in it. The sun was hot, the sand was smooth, and her laughter washed over me like the waves crashing on the beach. We talked and joked and walked hand in hand. It was perfect.

Senior ditch day, 1969, Newport Beach

Thanks for the memory.

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Posted: 29 March 2007 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dave Wilton - 28 March 2007 09:16 PM

There definitely are usage differences though that people can recognize. Highways are freeways in California. And in southern California, or the Southland, freeways with numbers get a definite article: route 101 is the 101. This usage is creeping northwards and you are now starting to hear it in the San Francisco Bay Area. In California kids ditch school, instead of skip.

Native Californian here, living elsewhere for the past ten years or so.  “The 101” sounds right to me, but I’m not sure that it can be generalized.  “The 5” sounds wrong.  I would expect “I-5” or perhaps “Interstate 5”.  In the Los Angeles area freeways are also named, so depending on which stretch of that road we are talking about it might be “the Golden State Freeway”.  This usage does not extend to San Diego (or at least didn’t a quarter century ago when I lived there).  The freeways had names on the map but nobody used them.

And yes, we definitely ditched school, rather than skipping it.  Well, I didn’t:  I was a goody two shoes.  But those other, less studious kids ditched.

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Posted: 29 March 2007 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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We also had senior ditch day and ditched school in the Ancient Mid West (60-64).  I’ll try to check HDAS, but by the 60s at least, I think this one was pretty wide-spread.

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Posted: 29 March 2007 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Fred Herzog - 29 March 2007 06:35 AM

We also had senior ditch day and ditched school in the Ancient Mid West (60-64).  I’ll try to check HDAS, but by the 60s at least, I think this one was pretty wide-spread.

In 1982 for senior ditch day in New Orleans, LA, my friends and I went to the Audubon zoo. 

I’ve had both freeways and highways in NM, TX, and LA.  Freeways and highways have a difference in meaning to me, though.  I lived in San Diego for six months a few years ago and they do say “the 5”, but 101 is usually PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) which is a normal two-lane street throughout that area (full of traffic lights and not a freeway at all).  I’m not sure they ever said the 805, and I’m pretty sure they never said the 8, the 15, the 163, etc.  Also, I’ve never heard a Californian call any numbered road outside CA “the”, i.e. they don’t come to Dallas and say the 75 and the 20 and the 35, so I’m not sure I’d classify it as a pattern of their speech as much as a name for 5 and 101 much as we call 190 “the Bush” (it’s the George H W Bush Turnpike).

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Posted: 30 March 2007 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I grew up in San Diego (Pacific Beach to be exact) and was provincial enough that the closest I ever got to LA until I was thirty was driving through it, to get to the Bay Area for holidays as a kid. However, a good friend of mine is a real Angeleno. I met him when he lived in the Bay Area for a couple of years. In San Diego I was largely unaware of the “the” usage for freeways though I must have heard it. My friend, however, uses it all the time for just about every freeway. I think he makes a point of doing so as a point of LA pride.

It’s true, there isn’t really a California accent, perhaps a style of speaking. In the 60’s, most of San Diego was filling quickly with people from out of state. Most of them were distinguishable by their accents; most were midwestern or southern, heavily weighted towards military backgrounds. Their kids mainly dropped the accents. The hip and sophisticated crowd adopted certain inflections from elsewhere, definitely elsewhere. The surfers were very distinct, obviously. The Bay Area, OTOH, saw its roots as being more from the northeast of the country and that gave a certain different affect to their speech patterns. My extended family lives in the San Joaquin Valley (Stockton) and they had other idiosyncracies, such as pronouncing “almonds” as “ammonds”. Basically, if you spoke in a somewhat traditional way according to your region of California, people were likely to identify you as being from somewhere else if you went outside your region. Again, however, there were always certain traditionalists who as second, third, or fourth generation Californians still talked like Southerners or New Englanders or whatever.  My freshman linguistics professor at UC Santa Barbara (who has since become famous, having had something to do with creating Klingonese) commented to me about a classmate of mine whose accent would have identified him as being from a rural region in the South. No, he grew up a block from State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. A Irish electrician from San Francisco once commented to me, around 1993, about these sheetrock tapers who talked, looked, and acted as if it was still 1955. They were classics and had grown up about five or ten miles north of Berkeley. Not that they were unaware of TV and radio, they just saw no need to change from how they were raised.

As to the two different pronunciations of “roof” in California, I’d say it depends on where your parents were from.

[ Edited: 30 March 2007 07:15 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 30 March 2007 11:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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That sounds close to reality to me, Foolscap. I spent some time in San Diego while in the service. I couldn’t detect any particular accent while out and about there. But that was back in the mid-60’s, so what do I know about California today?

As an aside, I’m originally from Iowa, and I say “almond” with the “l” pronounced, as most of the Iowans I associated with did. I was taught by my folks to say it the other way, though. They were both English teachers at one point in their lives. I suppose I was simply trying to fit in with my peers.

Even today, knowing that I should eliminate the “l” sound, I still won’t do it. Everyone I know today voices the “l”, so I follow, right or wrong. It is one area where I have compromised, but refuse to in other areas.

And thus, our language changes one generation at a time.

[ Edited: 30 March 2007 11:36 PM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 31 March 2007 02:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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What are “sheetrock tapers”?  Are they what we would call “dry liners” here in the UK?

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Posted: 31 March 2007 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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bayard - 31 March 2007 02:44 AM

What are “sheetrock tapers”?  Are they what we would call “dry liners” here in the UK?

I don’t know about the UK terms, but sheetrock is also called wallboard or drywall. Tapers apply the paper tape used to cover the joints between sheets.

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Posted: 31 March 2007 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Everyone I know today voices the ā€œlā€

Huh.  Well, I don’t, but I’m old-fashioned.

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Posted: 31 March 2007 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Eyehawk-

Now I have to admit we don’t really pronounce the “l” as stated. Subconciously I’m aware of it and kind of hear it, but in fact the word is pronounced more like “ahmonds” with just a hint of an “l” in the back of the throat, in contradistinction to the “l” in, say, the Allman Brothers which I pronounce with an “l” at the front of the mouth. So I guess I should have said the San Joaquin Valley pronunciation is a short or flat “a” versus a long “a” sound.

That short versus long “a” sound causes a lot of difficulty out here for people who are trying to escape their erstwhile regionalisms. Nowadays people just copy TV pronunciations but back in the 70’s I remember lots of attempts to urbanize speech patterns or to become less American. For about two months I insisted on pronouncing all the Spanish place names as I thought they might be pronounced in Spanish. Then in one day I heard two interviews on the radio. The first was with an acupuncturist woman who steadily pronounced it “ahcupuncture” which made me think of “ocupuncture”, the practice of piercing or gouging the eyeball I guess. Then there was a pilot guy who pronounced “aviation” as “avviation” (short “a"). It got so irritating I quit trying to alter my speech habits. (Though checking the AHD just now I see it is an accepted pronunciation.)

Bayard-

Sheetrock is also gypsum board. I’m not sure what the British or Aussie word for it is but in Spain and other parts of Europe they call it “pladur” for interior walls. As you probably know, It’s the sheet of compressed gypsum with paper covering, here usually 1/2 or 5/8 inch thick and four feet by eight feet. The “tapers” literally are the guys who apply the tape, either paper or mesh, over the joints, the part where the two sheets meet side by side, which may be what you mean by “dry line”. The tape is applied with a paste-like compound which we affectionately call “mud”.  The taper’s job is done when the walls are sanded and smooth. Texturing or painting would be the next step.  (pipped by Happydog)

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