† DONALD M.
University of Missouri-Columbia
Why do some people say Missour-ee and others
Which one is “correct”? The
spellings in early documents and comments made in print since the late 1600s
indicate the existence of considerable variation in the pronunciations of all
three vowels and the medial consonant in the word Missouri. An individual
may attempt to account for a particular pronunciation on the basis of spelling
or on “how the Indians said the word.” In answering the opening questions, this
article will take a brief look at “what the Indians said” to early explorers
and how nineteenth-century Missouri Indians said the word and then examine
evidence from several sources, the most important being the Linguistic Atlas
We know that the Siouan tribe living near the Missouri River did
not use the word Missouri before they had borrowed it from the French
voyageurs, because a neighboring tribe from a different language family is the
source of the name. When Jacques
Marquette (1637-75) and Louis Jolliet (1645-1700)
were exploring the Mississippi Vally in 1673, they
visited the Peorias (a group within the Illinois
branch of the Algonquian Indians) near the mouth of the Des Moines River and
asked them “to give us all the information that they had about the sea [Bassin de la Floride, i.e.,
Gulf of Mexico] and about the nations through whom we must pass to reach it”
(Marquette 2001, 23). They stayed with
the Peorias from 25 June until the end of the mount (21,
30). On their voyage, Marquette and Jolliet collected information from a variety of sources,
and Marquette made a map of their journey after
he had returnede to Green Bay following the end of the voyage (Tucker 1942, plate
V). Figure 1 reproduces a portion of Marquette’s map from a facsimile of the original published as a
fold-out appendix in Shea (1852). Marquette drew teepees, each representing approximately 100
inhabitants, to depict Indian villages, commenting that the Peoria village “consists of fully 300 cabins” (2001, 24).
Marquette placed the Missouri Indians southwest of the Peorias on the west side of a tributary of the Mississippi River. He used the
names ɣemessɤrit for the people and R. Pekittanɤi
for the tributary. Marquette was still using a symbol for /u/ and /w/
that Pierre La Ramée had introduced into French
orthography as part of an unsuccessful attempt at spelling reform a century
earlier (Rickard 1968, 46-47). The
symbol was an ɤ with two hornlike protrusions at the top, as shown in figure 1, often
transliterated as ou.
In the Illinois language, the term that Marquette wrote as ɣemessɤrit means ‘one who has a canoe’. It
is often assumed that the Illinois used this term because the Siouan tribes living along the rapidly
River used big
canoes carved from logs, whereas the Peorias used smaller birch-bark canoes (cf. Lance
1999 and sources cited therein). The Algonquianist Michael McCafferty (pers.com.,
2002) at Indiana University points out, however, that the Illinois used dugout canoes similar to those of the
Siouan tribes after migrating to the Illinois and Mississippi River area.
Though the missour- part of the word Missouri consists of a deep-structure lexical roots
that may be translated as ‘big’ + ‘watercraft’, this Illinois composite (always accompanied by a suffix)
simply refers to a canoe as opposed to smaller watercraft. The name given for the river (Pekittanɤi) was
an Illinois term meaning ‘muddy water’ (literally, ‘it
Early explorers in the Mississippi Valley used a variety of spellings of the
Algonquian name for the Missouri Indians, the earliest of which are as follows
(Hodge 1907; Harrington 1951):
1673 Marquette-Jolliet ɣemessɤrit
1681 Thévenot ɣmissouri
1684 Tonty-La Salle Emissourita
1687 Tonty Missourita
1687 Tonty Missouris
1693 St. Cosme Missouris
1697 Hennepin Massorites
1697 Hennepin Messorite(s)
Though the suffixes –ite and –ita,
and perhaps Marquette’s –it,
may look suspiciously Latinate, they are Algonqiuan
grammatical markers. According to
McCafferty (pers.com., 2002), the root of ɣemessɤrit is a composite consisting of /mihs/ ‘big’ and /uːr/
‘watercraft’, and the spoken form would have ended with /i/,
indicating an inanimate noun, thus /mi’hsuːri/. Jesuits working with the Illinois language typically wrote <ss> for Illinois /hs/. Hennepin’s spelling
with -o- in the second syllable also
is accurate. The underlying Algonquian
phoneme in this syllable, /uː/, varies between mid and high tongue
positions (i.e., [o] ~ [u]), though with the death of the last native speaker
in the 1960s, we are left with only fragmentary information about the
phonological conditions associated with the [o] ~ [u] variation. The ɣe- prefix
is an Illinois morpheme indicating ‘one who possesses X’, and this prefix
occurs in expressions with the participial suffix /ita/,
as we see in Marquette’s –it and Tonty’s -ita. Since this final
/a/ tended to be voiceless in the final position after a voiceless consonant, Marquette obviously did not hear it. McCafferty (2003) cites, as a parallel
lexical form, the Indiana
hydronym Lake Wawasee, an
English rendering of Miami /’waawiya’sita/
‘one who is round’, a participle used as a personal name. Thus, the ethnonyms above reveal that some of
the explorers who recorded them—notably Marquette and Tonty—were
quite familiar with the lexico-syntax of the Illinois dialects and provided trustworthy records of
“how the Indians said these words.” For
etymological information on the other three tribal names in figure 1, see Costa
History records that many
contemporary ethnonyms were coined not by the people to whom they refer but by
their neighbors. In time, the Missouri
Indians, through verbal intercourse with the French, adopted the Illinois neighbors’ name as a means of
self-reference. Truman W. Dailey
(1898-1996), elder of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe in Oklahome—who was half Missouri, a quarter Oto, and a quarter “Ioway”—served
as a primary informant for a project on endangered languages directed by Louanna Furbee at the University
of Missouri from 1988 to 1994. When I
asked him about the spelling and pronunciation of the tribal name, he said that
his father “always said [mi,zƱri’ei]”
(Dailey, interviews by author, Columbia, Mo., and Red Rock, Okla., 1992, 1994,
1997, 1998). This pronunciation very
likely developed as an Oto and/or English rendering
of the French ethnonym Missouriais, parallel to Français.
We now know “how the Indians said
the work,” but this knowledge offers no means of answering our opening
questions. We not turn to what we know about how Euro-Americans said the word
when they were interviewed by field-workers for the Linguistic Atlas of the United States.
Dialect scholars have found the schwa pronunciation in 15 other words
with final unstressed syllables spelled with -i or -y: Naomi, Cincinnati, Miami, Ypsilanti, Potosi (Mo.), Okoboji
(Iowa), Mississippi, spaghetti, macaroni, ravioli, gladioli, prairie, Dorothy, and doily (Read 1933, 32-33; Pace 1960,
175-76, 183-84). To their list we might
and Corpus Chrischa
The pronunciation information on Missouri in the Dictionary
of American Regional English (DARE
1985-), representing 1,002 locations, with speakers
born between the 1880s and the 1950s, is as follows:
note in the “Guide to Pronunciation” in DARE
Missouri, Cincinnati, etc. Both /i/
and /ə/ occur in these place names, with widely mixed usage. In general, natives of these places tend to
have /ə/, while outsiders tend to use spelling-pronunciations with /i/.
The various strands of evidence considered in this article
challenge the accuracy of the pronunciation editor’s claims about the nature of
the final vowel in Missouri. The complications involved in the
chronological and regional distributions of the feather show the DARE statement to be great
Table 1 is
a tabulation of variant pronunciations of the final vowel in the word Missouri as recorded by field-workers in
the interviews for the Linguistic Atlas Projects, including only the informants
born before 1930 (total N = 2,169).1
One of the striking results of this tabulation is the prevalence of the schwa
form, which is by far the most common variant, accounting for nearly 48% of the
total. This is a considerably higher
incidence than one would expect from present-day pronunciations, particularly
in Northern states. Regarding the
variants with high vowels, interesting questions arise from the low frequency
of /i/ and /i/ and
the high frequency of “barred i,” [
i]. The remainder of this article will consist of
brief explanations of possible historical sources of the schwa pronunciation,
followed by detailed analyses of the data reported in table 1 and in other
There are two possible
linguistic explanations for the development of the schwa pronunciation of the
final syllable of Missouri—from historical “short i” and from historical “long i.”
The case for “short i” origin rests on a general tendency observed in the
nineteenth century to retract and lower an unstressed syllable spelled with i, resulting in a
schwa rather than a “short i.” Grandgent (1894,
321-22) suggested that the final schwa sound in Missouri derives from this tendency, which he
associated with Irish English:
Irish generally substitute ə for ǐ [in unstressed syllables, e.g., courage, ditches]; this substitution is a peculiarity, also, of a very large
proportion of the cultivated American inhabitants of Philadelphia, New York
City, and some parts of the South and West.*
familiar instance is the Western pronunciation Mizûrə for Missouri.
The other phonological explanation for the final schwa
sound is that, when Americans first saw the word in print, they interpreted the
final spelled –i
as a “long i,”
and then as the syllable weakened in stress, the vowel was reduced to a schwa
(Pace 1960, 184-87). Early
English-speaking Americans with a few years of education would have had some
familiarity with schoolbook rules for pronouncing words of Latin or Greek
origin with final –i,
such as names in the Bible (e.g., Philippi). The
schoolbook rules call for [ai], not /i/ or /i/, as in alumni, alibi, rabbi, or Magi.
The map displaying variants of Missouri
in the Linguistic Atlas of New England (LANE) includes two individuals in
northeastern Massachusetts and one in southeastern New Hampshire who said the
word with diphthongs that may have been instances of a “long i” pronunciation
(Kurath, Hanley, et al. 1939, 190, 216; Kurath, Hansen, et al. 1939, 1: map 17).
misiˇzsƱˆʷṛei [informant 316.1; male, 79, farmer, 2 years academy;
Deerfield, Rickingham Co., N.H.]
məˇzoˆɚrʲ [informant 200.1; male, 44, farmer, landscape
gardener, school until 12; Rockport, Essex Co., Mass]
iˇzƱˆəṛ [informant 196.1; male, 89, shoemaker, road
commissioner, school until 14; Rowley, Essex Co., Mass.]
The onsets in these
three diphthongs are credible developments in the phonology of conservative
speakers whose “long i”
represents an intermediate stage in the development of the Middle English /i/ to [ii]
and eventually to [ai]—that is, [mә'zƱ,rәi]. Subsequently (according to this
hypothesis), the [әi] developed into [ә] with
further reduction in stress on the final syllable. Only three examples of the “long i” in a total of
over 2,000 records can hardly be offered as proof of anything, but because of
the potential connection to other words spelled with final -i, they should not be ignored.
schwa pronunciation developed through leveling of unstressed syllables, whether
from “short i”
or “long I,” one would also expect to
find instances of loss of the schwa, leaving two syllables: [mә'zƱr]. This pronunciation does indeed exist. I have heard it numerous times from native
Missourians, usually of rural origins, born before 1940, and we see in table 1
that it was recorded three times (all males) in LANE, spoken by a mechanic in
northeastern central Maine, a lumberman in southeastern New Hampshire, and a
gardener in western Connecticut. Five
speakers in the Linguistic Atlas of Middle and South Atlantic State (LAMSAS)
files, four of them with limited education, pronounced the word as two syllables. The 15 individuals from the Linguistic Atlas
of the Gulf States (LAGS) files counted for table 1 as using the two-syllable
pronunciation were born between 1890 and 1925 and were considered to have fold
(10) or common (5) speech.
argued that the schwa pronunciation resulted from hypercorrection as rustic
speakers were aware that words like sody and Marthy should be pronounced with a schwa, and in their
attempt to correct these rusticisms they also
inappropriately changed legitimate final -y
pronunciations to schwa (e.g., Cohen 1992; also see Lance 1993 for a
rebuttal.) Though many scholars have
proposed this explanation, no one has provided empirical evidence of either
actual usage of sociolinguistic tendencies to support such a claim.
pronunciation is popularly thought to be of Southern origin, but this
perception is not supported by data from linguistic atlas surveys. We see in figures 2 and 3 that a century ago
the schwa pronunciation was a feature of the speck of Western New
England and the Middle Atlantic States. Figure 2 displays occurrences (in
percentages) of the schwa pronunciation versus a high vowel in the final
syllable of Missouri
in each state from Maine to Georgia
(based on the relevant sources from table 1).
In figure 2 and the subsequent discussion, “high vowel” refers to phones
that field-workers and editors transcribed with [i], [i],
i], often with diacritics for raising, fronting, and so on. The distribution in figure 2 is particularly
surprising for those who assume the schwa pronunciation to be of Southern
origin. We see majority use of the schwa
in the Northern states of Vermont,
Jersey, and Pennsylvania
and majority use of a high vowel in the Southern states of South
Carolina and Georgia.
Figure 2 is based on map 150 from Kurath
and Mc David (1961). I have superimposed
the dialectal divisions in the eastern states (the network of lines with
numbers 1-18) as determined by Kurath 1949). The circles and dots in figure 3 display data
from individual speakers, with larger circles and dots representing exclusive
use in an area. I have added shading to
indicate predominance of the schwa pronunciation in western New England, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and in the portions of Virginia and North Carolina between plantation settlement areas and the Appalachian Mountains.
The interviewing for LANE was conducted in 1931-33, with
informants born between 1833 and 1912, representing four generations. Interviewing for LAMSAS began in 1933 and
continued until the death of the principle field-worker, Guy Loman, in 1941 (842 interviews). Raven I. McDavid, Jr., and
several colleagues resumed interviewing in 1945 and continued until 1949 (283
interviews), and McDavid directed 63 additional
interviews from 1965 to 1974. The LAMSAS
informants were born between 1841 and 1948 and represent four generations
slightly later than those in LANE. Table
1 and figure 2 display data from all LAMSAS informants except the two born
after 1930. Thus, the pronunciations in
figures 2 and 3 represent American English from the second quarter of the
nineteenth century into the first third of the twentieth century.
If Grandgent (1894) was
accurate in attributing the schwa pronunciation of unstressed syllables to
Irish Americans, perhaps some information on settlement patterns will help
explain the distribution we see in figure 3.
Figure 4, adapted from Gischer (1989), shows
areas in Great Britain from which four regional cultures were
transferred to the colonies. The
earliest Puritan settlers in eastern Massachusetts came from East Anglia in the 1620s and 1630s but were soon joined by
Puritans from the southwest in the 1640s, the latter spreading from the Bay
Colony south to Nantucket, west to Connecticut, and north to Maine (34). In
the 1650s, following the Revolution in 1649, Royalist families, many of whom
became rich during the Civil War, would not have been welcome in Puritan New
England and thus joined others who had settled along both shores of Chesapeake
Bay in the late 1640s. Two-thirds of the
upper class emigrants were from the area from Kent to Devon and north to
Warwickshire and from northeastern counties (219, 238). Servants who were brought to Virginia by Royalists came from London and Bristol and surrounding areas, including southern Wales (237).
When Quakers began coming to the colonies in small
numbers in the 1650s, they were not welcome in either New England or Virginia, but many felt safe settling in Rhode Island (Hansen 1940, 35). As Quakers emigrated in larger numbers in the
1670s, they settled along the Delaware Valley in eastern Pennsylvania, western New
northern Delaware. The
Quaker immigrants came mostly from the northern midlands of England, but many also came from the southwestern
midlands, Wales, and the London area (Fischer 1989, 440). One should bear in mind that they represented
a population fully two generations later than the earliest settlers in New England. Thus,
generational as well as geographic and social factors contributed to
differences in the early American dialects in New England and in the Middle Atlantic States.
By the 1680s, New England was
making little effort to increase its inhabitants (Hansen, 1940, 36). Most of the productive farm lands and fishing
areas were already populated, so new immigrants settled in western New England. Kurath (1928, 18) suggested that many of these immigrants
were Scotch-Irish, though this view has been challenged (see discussion in Boberg 2001, 9-10).
According to Fischer (1989, 606-9), immigration from northern parts of
the British Isles increased dramatically after 1715, with at least 275,000
arriving from Northern Ireland, the western Scottish Lowlands, and northern
England by 1775; other estimates are as high as 400,000. As these new immigrants came into Pennsylvania, the Quakers, well established in the Philadelphia area, encouraged them to settle in the “back
parts” of the colony, and from there they “drifted south and west along the
mountains of Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas.” By the time of the first national census in
1790, Scottish and Irish surnames constituted over 30% of the population in the
states from Pennsylvania to South Carolina (633-34).
After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, wealthy
English emigrants settled in the lowlands of the Carolinas and soon were followed by Scots and Quakers. Both plantation
owners and small farmers, as well as numerous slaves, immigrated from Barbados. As early
as 1660, French Huguenots began settling in all the colonies from Massachusetts to South Carolina, and by 1710 German Protestants began coming from
the Palatine. Between
1720 and 1740 other German Protestant groups immigrated to frontier areas from New York State to Georgia (Hansen 1940, 49-50).
As we can see from the preceding discussion, for several
generations prior to the American Revolution, in all parts of the colonies
except eastern New England, the language of longtime residents and later
immigrants consisted of a mix of British dialects and English as a second
language. Also, after the American and
French Revolutions, immigrants came from all parts of the British Isles rather than primarily from one area. It is not surprising, therefore, that Kurath (1928) found only one feather of regional dialect to
have been exported successfully from England to the United States—“r-lessness” in
areas of eastern New England and the Plantation South that were originally
settled by emigrants from southeastern England, where this feature was
common. In a later article, Kurath (1964) further suggested that continued contact
between Americans in both Northern and Southern port areas and speakers of
southeastern British dialects may have played a role in the persistence of this
feature in coastal settlement areas, in contrast to the more rapidly growing
inland parts of the colonies, where postvocalic [r] was maintained. In one of his attempts to find other
correlations, Kurath commented, “To trace specific
regional variants of AE to particular British sources will remain hazardous
until we are better informed about the English dialects” (270).
In spite of Kurath’s
reservation, the shading in figure 4 and Grandgent’s
observation about the phonology of Irish Americans encourage us to examine how
distributions in figure 2 fated as the Americans population spread westward in
the Northern, Midland, and Southern regions of the country. Figure 5, from Lance (1994, 352-53), was
designed specifically to examine such questions. It is based on research reported from seven
regional studies that were designed as continuations of the Linguistic Atlas
Projects begun in the early 1930s. The
discussion that follows will make references to the numbered and lettered
divisions in figures 3 and 5.
Thought figure 5 may suggest the dialectologists have
analyzed data from the Atlantic coast into the American Great Plains, data
collected in the Old
Northwest (Ohio, Ind., Ill., Mich., Wisc.)
and in the “border
states” of Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma are available only in articles, monographs, and
dissertations. Researchers interested in
the data from the Linguistic Atlas of the North Central States (LANCS) must
consult the original field records on microfilm. When more of these data have been analyzed,
dialectologists will have a better sense of the manner in which dialect items
in areas 3-5 and 7-11 in the Atlantic States divisions spread into the Old Northwest and the Great Lake States. In figure
3 we see a continuation of the use of the schwa from Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia into Ohio, suggesting that this feather should be
classified as North
Midland. Areas 4 and 5, in which a high vowel
predominates in figure 3 (62% in N.Y.), supplied much of the emigration into
the Inland North dialect areas from the Great Lakes to Washington State. Marckwardt
(1957) and Allen (1964) used bundles of selected isoglosses to posit the
boundary (A-B/C in fig. 5) between the Inland North and North Midland dialect areas.
Unfortunately, LANCS data from the Inland North were not examined for
the present study. Still, in table 1 we
see that 51 % of the Linguistic Atlas of the Upper Midwest (LAUM) informants
and 71% of the Linguistic Atlas of the Pacific Northwest (LAPNW) informants,
born between 1867 and 1930, used a high vowel.
These findings suggest a westward continuation of upstate and western New York usage across the Great Lakes region, the Northern Plains, and the Pacific Northwest.
Allen’s (1964) analysis of LAUM data is reflected in
figure 6 and indicates majority use of a high vowel in Minnesota, North Dakota, and northern South Dakota, with majority use of the schwa in Iowa, Nebraska, and southern South Dakota. The
latter are North Midland areas, a continuation of area C in figure 5. Data from LAUM represent speakers who were
born between 1859 and 1912, roughly the same generations as the LAMSAS
informants. The frequency of the use of
[ә] was about evenly divided between males and females and among all
levels of education (Allen 1958; Allen 1973-76, 3: 292). Allen makes only a binary distinction in the
vowels used in the final syllable of Missouri,
transcribing them as [i] and [ә], and does not
discuss alternate pronunciations with lax [i] or the high central variant [
Figure 3 shows majority use of the schwa in Missouri in area 15, in the Virginia Piedmont, in eastern
portions of South Midland areas 12 and 13, and in the Yadkin watershed of
area 17. Though one might be tempted to
classify the distribution of this particular feature as a combination of the
Southern and Midland divisions established by Kurath
(1946), it is too limited in its distribution in Midland and Southern areas to
warrant a definitive regional label on the basis of data discussed so far. Mapping its distribution yields a map not
even slightly similar to any of the 161 maps of regional items in Kurath (1949) or the other 176 regional maps in Kurath and McDavid (1961). Even though this particular pattern is
difficult to classify dialectally, it reflects early settlement as described by
Pederson (1983, 9-13). A treaty with the
Cherokees in 1763 halted settlement south of the Kanawha River and west of the
New River and along the divide of the Blue Ridge Mountains forming the boundary
between North Carolina and Tennessee (fig. 7).
This barrier forced settlers to turn east rather than continuing to the
southwest along the Great Valley into Tennessee. Prior to
1763, earlier settlers had discovered the Cumberland Gap between Tennessee and Kentucky at the western tip of Virginia and begun migrating into Kentucky. Within a
few years after the treaty was signed, however, migration into eastern Tennessee was well under way. According to Fischer (1989, 606-8),
“Two-thirds of [the] traffic [from North Britain] was
concentrated in the decade from 1765 to 1775.”
By taking a cue from Grandgent (1894), one
might speculate that the incidence of the schwa in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina is a reflex of Scotch-Irish immigration into this
Data in LAGS have enabled dialectologists to examine
variation in southern settlement areas of the United States to the west and south of the area covered by
LAMSAS. Figure 8, derived from LAGS
files (downloadable from http://hyde.park.uga.edu/lags), displays
data representing the LAGS informants born between 1875 and 1930, a generation
later than the LAUM informants. (Data from those born after 1930 will be included in later
discussions.) Interviews for LAGS
were conducted in the 1970s, after the South had become less rural than it was
at the time of the LAMSAS interviews. We
see in figure 8 majority use of the schwa only in Tennessee, Mississippi, and northern Texas, which may in part reflect the migrations through
western Virginia mentioned above.
Lower Alabama, western Louisiana, and Arkansas may be similarly classified. Pederson (1983, 13-14) points out that the Cumberland Mountains delayed the settlement of middle Tennessee. The area
did not establish a stable economic base until after Union veterans settled
there and coalfields were opened in the latter nineteenth century. Thus, we see differences, though minor, in
the speech of the three parts of Tennessee. The
piedmont areas of Georgia and Alabama in figure 8 appear to be extensions of the South
Carolina Piedmont in figure 3. The lower
incidence of the schwa in Florida may reflect settlement from Georgia, but may as easily be attributed to a more mixed
population, as is the case of areas along the Gulf Coast and in south Texas.
As a summary of the findings discussed so far, figure 9
displays areas where dialectologists have found prominent (at least 48%) use of
the schwa in the last syllable of Missouri
in atlas studies from which data were available to the author. We see that this particular pronunciation
should be classified as Midland
and western New England for Americans born before 1930. (The lack of shading in Ohio indicates a lack of data rather than the use of a
high vowel.) My hunch is that data from
LANCS interviews and data collected in Missouri by Udell,
in Kansas by Cook and Engler, and in Oklahoma by Van
Riper would complete the Midland shading in figure 9—but only for speakers born
before 1930. It is interesting that the
incidence of the schwa is higher in North Midland areas
than in the South Midland areas in figures 3 and 8, but neither historical
nor linguistic sources used in this study offer an explanation for this
If Grandgent was on the right
track in associating this schwa with the portion of “accent” association with
unstressed vowels, it seems reasonable to assume that the ubiquitous
“Scotch-Irish,” who are mentioned so often in studies
of American dialectology, played some part in establishing and spreading this
feature of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American English. It is also interesting, though probably only
coincidental, that the shaded areas in figure 9 are also “r-full” as opposed to “r-less.” The Inland North area from New York State through North
both “r-full” and “schwa-less.” My claim of Midlandness
for this feature should not be taken as a refutation of the claims made by
Davis and Houck (1992) in their insightful article “Is There a Midland Dialect
Area?—Again.” Their main conclusion was
that, rather than being a “dialect area,” Midland is a transition area between
the dialectal North and the dialectal South, such that “as we move southward,
the dialects become more Southern and, conversely, as we move more northward,
dialects become more Northern” (68).
Using recordings of native speakers, Preston (1997) found that residents of Michigan and Indiana had little difficulty in arranging ten dialect
speakers in a north-to-south line from northern Michigan to southern Alabama. Frazer
(1997), also using recordings by native speakers, found Southern-sounding
speech farther north in the LANCS area than the line between Carver’s “Lower
North” and “Upper South” dialect areas (1987, 248). Preston’s (1997)
figures 29 and 30 show that Indiana respondents distinguished major boundaries below
areas A and C and a mind boundary below area D in figure 5, whereas Michigan respondents distinguished a major boundary below
area D and a minor boundary at the Tennessee-Kentucky line. Thus, the Indianans made distinctions within
the Midland area (A, C, D, in figure 5), and Michiganders
made distinctions between North and South Midland and
between South Midland and Southern (A + C, D + KY, H in figure 5). It is possible that Kurath
and others were familiar with regional phonological variations such as the
final vowel in Missouri and that such
knowledge is what led them to the tripartite division of the eastern United
States rather than, as Davis and Houck (1992, 68) speculate, their
“expectations about what they would find south and west of New England.”
The preceding discussion has given some attention to variation across
geographic areas but not across time divisions.
Figure 10 shows the proportional distribution of the schwa and high
vowel pronunciations of all interviews in LANE, LAMSAS, LANCS, LAUM, and LAGS,
including those born after 1930. The
time divisions for figure 10 were chosen to determine whether major changes in
American history had an effect on this particular pronunciation item. For much of the nineteenth century, the United States was an agrarian nation that was still expanding
westward (1833-49). After mid-century,
rapidly expanding industry affected the daily lives of urban Americans
(1850-69). Society in the South changed
substantially after the Civil War (1870-89), and industrialization continued as
railroads enhanced movement around the country and factories lured more and
more people into urban areas (1890-1909).
We see that there was relatively little change in the
incidence of these vowels from the second quarter of the nineteenth century
until the beginning of the twentieth century, when the automobile, telephone,
and other conveniences began to enhance communication (1910-29). A substantial rise in the use of the high
vowel began during the generation of the automobile, World War I, and the
“Roaring Twenties.” As the old adage
says, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” The Great Depression and droughts in the
1930s drove many rural people off the farms in the central part of the country,
leading to large-scale migration to industrial cities and to the West. Rural post offices closed, and schools were
consolidated to provide better education for all children. More widespread education seems to have led
to an increase in the spelling pronunciation of the final vowel in Missouri at the expense of folk speech. The World War II and defense industries made
the country even more of a single community (1930-49). After World War II, continuing urbanization,
integration, and increased attention to the rights of minority groups seem to
have led to even more dilution of this item of folk speech (1950-67).
Through the seven time periods, the females’ frequency of
use of a high vowel was the same as or higher than the males’ in six time
periods, but overall differences are not great.
For “cultured speakers,” the percentage of use of the high vowel from
1833 through 1909 was 72%, which is ten percentage points higher than that of
the rest of the sample, and after 1910 we see no instances of cultured speakers
using the schwa. During the three time
periods from 1870 to 1929, African Americans’ using is similar to that of
cultured white speakers. Only two of the
ten cultured African Americans used the schwa.
These sociolinguist variations may be interpreted as enhancing the
hypothesis suggested by the geographic distribution of schwa and Grandgent’s comments about Irish Americans. Specifically, the speech of the Scotch-Irish
and their descendants, many of whom were poor and less well educated than other
socioethnic groups, very likely was not influenced by
spelling pronunciations until after they “melted” into the general culture of North America.
We now turn to a discussion of data collected by less
formal means than the Linguistic Atlas Projects. In 1976 a journalist from Kansas City and one from St. Louis conducted a survey for the Midwest Motorist, the magazine of the Midwest Division of
Automobile Association of America (AAA) (Vaughn and Quigley 1976a, 1976b). Quigley (1989) repeated the surveys in 1988
to determine whether changes had occurred in the intervening 12 years—in honor
of the memory of the schwa-using journalist-colleague from Kansas City, who was no longer around to engage in the friendly
banter that frequently fills voids in conversations between residents of Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas. Table 2 displays the age-grated distribution
of data in the two studies. The authors
tabulated the data on the basis of the age of the respondents (> 45, 21-45,
< 21), and these divisions have been converted to year-of-birth groupings
here. The 1976 report included the raw
numbers, but Quigley’s 1989 article reported only percentages. The general pattern illustrated by these
surveys conforms to that suggested by the atlas data in figure 10: a steady
decrease in the use of the schwa pronunciation (or, conversely, an increase in
the use of the high vowel) throughout the twentieth century.
The two AAA reports included maps showing the distribution
of vowel use by zip code areas. The data
from the two surveys have been combined and simplified for the presentation in
figure 11, which shows that majority use of the schwa was found in northwestern
Missouri including Kansas City. Breaking down
this general picture, we note that in the intervening dozen years, the
percentage of reported schwa usage in the Kansas City area dropped from 58% to 46% and in neighboring
areas of northwestern Missouri from 62% to 58%. Furthermore, 75%
of the AAA members in nearby Kansas used the schwa in both polls, whereas nearby
residents in Illinois and Arkansas preferred a high vowel. Since the respondents to the Midwest Motorist surveys not only owned
cars but also belonged to a travel club, these data do no represent a
cross-section of the population. An
atlas type of survey of this region would probably have yielded different
statistical results, but with similar regional tendencies.
Faries and Lance (1993)
reported on research from a checklist survey of lexical data in a dissertation
study of Missourians born between 1865 and 1900 (Faries
1967). Figure 12 shows the areas where
dialect items classified by Kurath (1949) as having
Southern or South Midland distributions outnumber Northern and North Midland items in Missouri. The
surveys used in Faries (1967) were conducted from the
mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, when Missouri was a more rural state than it is now. The population of the state rose from
3,954,653 in 1950 to 5,117,073 in 1990 (Missouri 1999) as the number of counties with more than
75% of their areas in farm land fell from 86 (75%) to 46 (40%) (University of Missouri-Columbia 2002).
The earliest European settlers in Missouri were French-speaking Canadians, who entered the
lead-mining area of eastern Missouri south of present-day St. Louis by the early 1700s. French-speaking hunters and trappers also
plied the tributaries of the Mississippi River
throughout the eighteenth century. Realizing the France was about to lose its
North American holdings in the French and Indian War, the French king ceded the
area west of the Mississippi to Spain in 1762.
In the 1790s the Spanish governor began allowing Americans to settle
west of the Mississippi, and then in 1800 the Spanish king ceded the
territory back to France.
By 1803, half of the non-Indian population along the Mississippi River in St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve Counties were Americans
(Schroeder 2002, 12, 14-16). The
earliest American settlers in Missouri, including Daniel Boone (father from Devonshire; Daniel, Pa. > N.C. > Ky. > Mo.) and Moses Austin (Conn. > Pa. > Va. > Mo. > Tex.), came from or through Virginia and Kentucky when the Louisiana Territory was under Spanish rule (1763-1800).
After the Louisiana
Purchase in 1803 and the
Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-6 and after American ownership
of the region was clarified by the War of 1812, settlers came into Missouri in large numbers, primarily settling close to
major rivers. As the historian William
E. Foley (1989, 238) has observed, “The newcomers were a cross section of
humanity, predominantly from lowland regions in the upper South, especially the
Tidewater and Piedmont areas of Virginia and the Carolinas, the Kentucky
Bluegrass region, and the Nashville Basin.”
As Lance and Faries (1997,
369-75) point out, most of Missouri had a largely Southern population in its first few decades. Early immigrants did not come from the Old Northwest states because they too were being settled at the
same time. The shaded area in the middle
of the state in figure 12, known as Little Dixie, was settled in the 1820s by
Southerners from Virginia and Kentucky. The areas
in the central part of eastern Missouri along the Mississippi River and along the Missouri River to Little Dixie were settled by French before the
Americans arrived and by Germans in the 1830s to 1850s. South Midlanders from Tennessee settled in the Ozarks after mid-century, and
second-generation Midwesterners began moving into other parts of the
state. After the Civil War, Union soldiers
who had seen the prairies and rich bottomlands of northern and western Missouri began to fill the countryside, casting a layer of
North Midland dialect features over the Southern base. The North Midland
migration into northwestern Missouri and eastern Kansas is reflected in the findings of the AAA survey
shown in figure 12 and in my student data from the counties in northern and
western Missouri in table 3.
From 1969 until 1994, I collected dialect data at the
University of Missouri-Columbia by means of student questionnaires, and I have
tabulated the data on he pronunciation of Missouri. For one
survey, students administered a lengthy questionnaire to family members, thus
providing data representing more than one generation, but most of the data on Missouri are from short questionnaires that students
administered to at least ten males and ten females, usually other
students. The questionnaire asked
whether the respondent said “Missour-ee” or “Missour-uh” and why people tend to say each one. The form also solicited year of birth and
enough personaldata to eliminate non-Missourians from
the tabulations. In table 3, the first
two pairs of columns are from the longer questionnaire and include only
individuals whose families had lived in the same area for three generations,
and the other columns are from the short student questionnaires administered in
1985, 1992, and 1994. For the generation
of Missourians born after World War II, the only area of the state with a
majority pronunciation of [ә] is the Northwest, the same area of strength
shown in the AAA surveys. Table 3 shows
that the use of [i] has almost completely replaced
[ә] among Missourians born during the 1960s, even in earlier strongholds
of the nineteenth-century pronunciation.
To what may the drastic loss of the incidence of the
schwa pronunciation after World War II be attributed? Young people often show irritation when asked
why anyone would use the schwa pronunciation for the final spelled -i. Though the /i/ is
now almost universal in the speech of young people in words like Missouri, it is clear from Linguistic Atlas interviews that
in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the common pronunciation of the
final vowel spelled with -i or -y was /i/, often centralized in syllables with
weakened stress (i.e., [
i]). In preparing their AAA surveys, Vaughan and
Quigley assumed that the final vowel was “long e” rather than “short i,” that is, “Missour-ee,” but one
of the respondents said, “I think both of these jokers are wrong. The proper pronunciation is a short i, as in bit, bitter, bivouac, etc.” (Vaughan and Quigley 1976b,
12). Table 1 indicates that
field-workers recorded relatively few high front tense vowels for LANE, LAMSAS,
and LAGS, but all of the LAUM high vowels high 75% of the LAPNW high vowels
were transcribed as tense vowels. Allen
(1973-76) mentions that centralized lower high front vowels occur occasionally
in the Upper Midwest in the stressed syllable of sister and the unstressed syllable of waited and horses, but he
makes no mention of this vowel in the last syllable of Missouri. Since
many of his informants’ parents were born in Scandinavia, some of them
immigrating as children themselves, it is possible that Scandinavian phonology
influenced their pronunciation, but the LAPNW data argue for this tense vowel
being a more general feature of Inland North dialects in the latter half of the
nineteenth century and into the twentieth.
Early dictionaries listed only the [i] pronunciation. Not until the third edition in 1971 did the
Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionaries list /i/ as
an alternate pronunciation: “\mә-‘zu-rә,
-zür-, -rē, ri\.” Before the
1960s there were relatively few words in English that were spelled with a final
personal names with a final high front vowel sound were generally spelled with
–y or –ie. Now we have added words like bikini, maxi, and mini, and
female names with final -i
Toni, Patii, Judi.
The change discussed here is not just a decrease in
frequency of pronunciations like Missoura, Cincinnata, and Miama. Our spelling
practices, our lexicon, and our perceptions of spelled forms have changed. Walker’s Rhyming
Dictionary (1924, 1983)—actually a listing of words, with brief
definitions, alphabetized from the end of the word rather than from the
beginning (from A and Baa to Fuzz)—documents the fact that final spelled -i, dramatically increased during
the twentieth century. Walker (1732--1807) published his first dictionary in
1775, and it has undergone numerous revisions and expansions since then. In an undated editor’s preface, probably for
the 1936 edition, Lawrence Dawson states that he had expanded an earlier
edition from 20,000 words to 34,000. Of
these 34,000 words on 540 pages, 144 end with the letter -i, including many borrowed words
with specialized references, such as obi
‘a Japanese colored sash’ and a priori
‘from cause to effect, deductively’. The
only ones that seemed to be “everyday” words for me were alibi, alumni, broccoli, confetti, hi, I, khaki,
macaroni, rabbi, ski, spaghetti, and taxi. A supplement prepared
for the 1983 edition by Michael B. Freeman, in a mere 32 pages, lists 174 words
ending with i,
with somewhat common words being bikini,
daiquiri, kabuki, Nazi, origami, ravioli, safari, sari, semi, scampi, sukiyaki, swami, tsunami, and zucchini. These two lists testify not only to the
increase in final spelled -i but also to the internationalization of American culture
and the American lexicon. Also
noteworthy is that the only words listed here that end with the “long i” sound have
been in everyday language the longest (alumni,
hi, I, rabbi).
Since World War II, not only has a high vowel replaced
the schwa, but that high vowel has morphed itself into a high front tense
vowel. One might attribute Minnesotans’
tense vowel to Scandinavian influence, but all
of my students used the tense vowel, and they and most of their parents were
monolingual speakers of American English.
Some want to credit the media for promoting one pronunciation of the
other, but comments made in the AAA survey and in my classroom surveys were
negative more often than supportive of pronunciations by public figures. Others want to credit teachers for the shift
from the folk pronunciation to the spelling pronunciation, but why would the
massive shift have taken place in the laid-back instructional atmosphere of the
latter twentieth century and not in the nineteenth century, when instruction
was much more heavily regulated?
Young people who don’t like the schwa pronunciation are
very caustic in their comments, and one student even said it is “unnatural,”
unknowingly but fortuitously choosing a term that is meaning for to
linguists. The schwa and front and
central variants of the lax /i/
might be considered a natural set of phones for unstressed syllables, but lax
/ә/ and tense /i/ in present-day American
English would not be a natural set. This
change in the final high front unstressed vowel has developed alongside other
changes, such as widespread merging of /a/ and /Ɔ/, raising of /æ/, loss of
initial /h/ before /w/ and /j/, centering and unrounding
of back vowels, and others. I am not
proposing that this tensing of final /i/
is directly related to any other specific phonological or phonetic changes
discussed by other linguists, because I have not investigated possible
relationships between this item and other changes. Labov (1972) (as
well as other linguists) has pointed out that phonological change are systemic,
not just systematic, so I am throwing another item into the phonology hopper
rather than claiming to have solved a puzzle.
What starts these changes? Labov, who has closely examined a great many
twentieth-century vowel changes, comments that he does not have “an answer to the
riddle of actuation” (1980, 263).
At this point in my quest, I must admit that I have some
partial answers to the first opening question (“Why do some people say Missour-ee and others say Missour-ah?),
and I know the answer to the second question (“Which one is ‘right’?”):
Both! Well, actually, all four are
“correct”—[mәzƱri], [mәzƱrә], [mәzƱr], [mәzƱri]. At least, all four can be explained within
the parameters of the development of American English dialects. With reference to the Irish provenance of the
schwa pronunciation of vowels in weakly stressed syllables, and thus Missoura, I must
point out and underscore that I have merely presented some circumstantial
Scotch-Irish immigrants in western New England and in the Midland dialect areas
of the Colonies introduced this feature to American English. Further research may “prove me wrong,” but I
suspect that spellings in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century documents will
support my hypothesis.
Other details that could be added to this discussion of
the pronunciation of Missouri have not attracted as much public or professional
attention as the final vowel. I close by
proposing three other vowel puzzles and an interesting in the medial consonant:
(1) There may be a slight (vowel harmony) correlation
between the quality of the first and final vowels in some regions. (2) In the LANE records, the second vowel
manifests the interesting variants /u/ ~ /Ʊ/ ~ /o/. (3) Present-day
young people who pronounce sure like shirr have the shirr vowel in the second syllable of Missouri. (4) The
medial consonant is occasionally pronounced as the /s/ of missive rather than the usual /z/ of misery; this variation was frequent in the LANE records, with
almost 40% of the speakers using a voiceless fricative.
Donald M. Lance passed away on 22 October 2002. He had been writing about the pronunciation
of Missouri for
almost two decades (Lance 1985) and had made completing this article for American Speech one of the goals of his
retirement years. He submitted the
manuscript in August 2002 and was notified of its acceptance on 7 October. He went to work right away to prepare the
final version and e-mailed the editor about how pleased he was with the helpful
comments of the two American Speech
referees. The version that appears here
was prepared by Matthew Gordon of the University of Missouri from
Lance’s computer files and printouts.
Lance had not yet drafted a note of acknowledgments, but he likely would
have thanked Michael McCafferty for his generous assistance in sorting out the
Algonquian facts. Special thanks go to
his longtime friend Becky Schroeder and to his niece Jo Ann Stevenson for
retrieving his computer files and papers and to Matthew Gordon for preparing
the article for publication. Ed.
data in table 1 and in the discussion are based on the following
sources. For the New
England states, the transcriptions come from map 17
in the Linguistic Atlas of New England (LANE; Kurath,
Hanley, et al. 1939) and biographical information on the informants is
taken from Kurath, Hanson, et al. (1939). Professor Kretzschmar
of the University
provided me with electronic copies of pronunciation data for the
Linguistic Atlas of the Middle and South Atlantic States (LAMSAS) and the
Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States (LAGS) as he was preparing materials
for the Web site on Linguistic Atlas Projects (http://hyde.park.uga.edu). Data on the informants and geography in
the southern states are from Pederson et al. (1988-92). Data for the Upper
Midwest are from Allen (1958, 1973-76). David Carlson (pers.com., 1997) at
Springfield College in Massachusetts, the current director of the
Linguistic Atlas of the Pacific Northwest (LAPNW), sent me informant data
and a tabulation of pronunciations collected in the Pacific Northwest,
with 42 informants from Washington, 7 from Idaho, 2 from Oregon, and 1
from Montana. For the Linguistic
Atlas of the North-Central States (LANCS), I used a limited number of
field records representing 16 locations in Ohio, which Professor Terry L.
Irons (pers.com., 1997) of Morehead State University was kind enough to
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