Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 December 2016
The complex series of vowel changes known as the Northern Cities Shift has been extensively documented over the last four decades across the broad territory of the Inland North dialect region. Little is known, however, about the origins of the shift, and there remain open questions about where the changes began and which vowel initiated the process. This paper examines such questions by analyzing the speech of several people born in the late 19th and early 20th centuries using archival recordings of oral history interviews. Drawing on acoustic data we identify what appear to be early stages of the Northern Cities Shift in some individual speakers though many in the sample give no evidence of participating in the changes. We consider the implications of these findings for accounts of how the shift began with particular focus on Labov’s (2010) proposal.