I recently had a long conversation with Dan Nosowitz at Atlas Obscura about the Philly word jawn. The full article is here.
I want to take a second to expand on a couple of points, and make a few things more precise:
- linguists will notice I simplified the (extremely) complicated situation with regards to tense /æ/ in Philadelphia. In particular, depending on the speaker, the direct comparison with bag may or may not be valid. The general point I was getting at was that white and black tense /æ/ systems are diverging in Philadelphia. Relevant work by Bill Labov here.
- The by-line is sensational, but I definitely did insinuate as much. I absolutely welcome any examples from linguists of generic nouns that can be count/noncount, human/nonhuman, concrete/abstract, etc. Jawn seems to be radically unspecified.
- I can't remember my exact words, but I'm pretty sure I said I suspect/hope/think Bill is enjoying his retirement. He's still doing a lot of work (we discussed a couple of forthcoming papers and a forthcoming book earlier today). I don't want to give the impression that he's dropped everything -- the context was specifically discussing talking to journalists, and whether he was currently available.
- With regards to diphthongs, specifically the sound in joint, here's wikipedia on English diphthongs. Words like joint, boy, toy, etc. are generally taken to have [ɔɪ̯]. More generally, here's jawn: With regards to diphthongs, specifically the sound in joint, here's wikipedia on English diphthongs. Words like joint, boy, toy, etc. are generally taken to have [ɔɪ̯]. More generally, here's jawn: /d͡ʒɔ:n/; and here's joint /d͡ʒɔɪ̯nt/ -- which is realized in the song discussed in the article as [d͡ʒɔ::ɪ̯nʔ].
- Finally, the PNC is not outdated, but the speakers I currently have access to, who would be relevant to AAE use of jawn are not recent.
I'm starting to think it's time to sit down with everyone who's worked on jawn and write a definitive paper, especially given the radical semantic unspecification that seems to be at play here.
A few more points:
- Plural is jawns, however, plural -s is often deleted in AAE, leaving you with just jawn. White Philadelphians have been very, very upset by plural jawn in the article. Black Philadelphians have been very upset with some of the white uses of jawn in the article. I'm bringing Philadelphians together!
- "A lot of jawn to do" is not universally liked, and people are very vocal about that as well. That said, I obviously did not make it up (some people think I did -- that's not how linguistics works!), and it's extremely easy to find a few tokens of it on social media, so you don't have to just go by my notes.
©Taylor Jones 2016
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