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Merger reversal in St. Louis: Implementation and implications

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Daniel Duncan



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


While examples have been clearly attested in the literature, the reversal of a merger is an uncommon occurrence that apparently contradicts principles underlying sound change. Understanding the implications of merger reversal therefore requires understanding of their implementation: whether there was a full merger in the first place, the phonetic path taken to separate the merger, and whether there was a social motivation behind the reversal. I take this approach to a case study of the traditional start-north merger of St. Louis English, which has reversed in recent decades. I show that the merger was a most likely a near merger, the reversal was achieved by raising north and fronting start, and that the reversal, at least the raising of north, was socially motivated. I argue that the data highlights the role of perceptual salience in reversing mergers and illustrates that merger reversal can at times be chain shift-like in appearance, if not execution.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Duncan D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of English Linguistics

Year: 2022

Volume: 50

Issue: 1

Pages: 72-105

Print publication date: 01/03/2022

Online publication date: 01/04/2022

Acceptance date: 08/08/2021

Date deposited: 09/08/2021

ISSN (print): 0075-4242

ISSN (electronic): 1552-5457

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/00754242221083648


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Funder referenceFunder name
BCS-1651102 DDRI