Consonantal Drift Theory

A mysterious phenomenon in which certain consonants move — or drift — out of their correct lexical order. This phenomenon is responsible for most regional accents in North America.

Also referred to as R migration, this occurs when the letter R moves southwest across the continent. This effect is most prominent in the United States, where it causes New Englanders to “pahk” their “cahs” and Texans to “warsh” their clothes and own “erl” wells. The effect is particularly visible in Mexico and parts southern, where the R surplus is such that they must be rolled to use as many as possible per pronunciation.

Vorbis suggests that R migration occurs due to warmer climate. The theory that preferred climate of letters has to do with their position in the alphabet deserves consideration, if for no other reason than to explain why Canadians are always saying “eh”.

Consonantal drift appears to strike certain words more often than others — mostly in oral communication. The word ‘ask’ is a frequent victim. The word often comes out as ‘aks’ — i.e., “don’t axe me again”.

Sometimes the drift rate is so high that the consonant disappears from the word altogether, such as in ‘library’ – whose virulent form is ‘lie- berry’ with the first ‘r’ having moved on to parts unknown.

Linguists have long wondered where these missing consonants have moved on to – they’re getting a bit annoyed by having to say ‘parts unknown’ all the time. Researcher Nivek Llieno of the Finnish Institute for English Studies believes he’s found a clue: the word ‘renown’. Says Llieno, “In ‘renown’ we have one of the first documented cases of a consonant not disappearing, but showing up unexpectedly. Everywhere we look we’re seeing ‘reknown’. It’s exciting.”

Dr. Herman Shore, lexicographer emeritus at MIT and co-author of Loss of Vowel Control:A Messy Problem, disagrees. “It’s an interesting hypothesis, but it doesn’t explain Hawaii – where consonants are practically extinct. We call this the Hawaii Test.”

To meet the ‘Hawaii Test’, Dr. Shore and others believe that a grand unified theory of vowels and consonants is needed. “Until we have one theory that can explain both ‘pu’u huluhulu’ from Hawaii and ‘Wrthawrthmlml’ from Ojibwa, we’re just pissing in the wind.”

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Nope! I didn’t come up with it, but as a writer it had me howling. I first heard the R part of this years and years ago on something like Saturday Night Live…or a comedy variety series. Looked for it for years. Then suddenly I found this version online and had to share it! I hope it gave you as much joy and laughter as it did me!

You can find the original (what has been cobbled together that is) by Clicking Right Here.

Peace! And have a hilarious day!
BG “Ben” Thomas

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