Contextualizing reversal: Local dynamics of the Northern Cities Shift in a Chicago community

Annette D'Onofrio*, Jaime Benheim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This paper examines the apparent time evolution of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift among 42 White speakers in one Chicago community. We analyse quantitative patterns of community-wide vocalic change alongside individual speakers’ lived experiences and attitudes. We find that some features of the Shift are dramatically reversing at the community level, and that changing demographics and social concerns across the community’s history condition which speakers are likely to advance or reverse the Shift. Although some have argued that regionalized sound change reversals reflect speakers’ increasing extra-local orientations, in this community, we suggest that reversal reflects shifting definitions of racialized localness, including younger speakers’ orientation away from particular emblematic local personae that have become linked with the Shift. We argue that sound changes must be understood in their evolving local contexts, as they can be driven by shifts in the social meanings attached to place-linked features and in definitions of localness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)469-491
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Northern Cities Shift
  • personae
  • place
  • race
  • sociohistorical context
  • sound change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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