The pin-pen merger

Today’s Bizarro:

A pun on Wendy’s (the name of the fast-food chain), but more than that.

For many Americans, Windy’s vs. Wendy’s is an imperfect pun, with the two words differing in their accented vowels. But for many other Americans, the pun is perfect; these are people who have the pin-pen merger:

The pin–pen merger is a conditional merger of /ɪ/ and /ɛ/ before the nasal stops [m], [n], and [ŋ]. The merged vowel is usually closer to [ɪ] than to [ɛ] (examples include: kin-ken, bin-ben, and him-hem). The merger is widespread in Southern American English, and is also found in many speakers in the Midland region immediately north of the South, and in less densely populated inland areas of the Western United States… It is also a characteristic of African American Vernacular English. (link)

The pin-pen merger is alive and well in Columbus OH, where Wendy’s started in 1969.

4 Responses to “The pin-pen merger”

  1. the ridger Says:

    I’ve learned to differentiate those sounds, but I’m a native speaker of the pin-pen merger.

  2. non Says:

    I Haven’t learned to differentiate, and never realized other people could until I moved away from home. People will look straight at me and say they are saying them (pen/pin) differently, but I still can’t tell. Guess I’ll have to give up on a career in linguistics 🙁

  3. stavinchain Says:

    If I listen closely, I can hear this unnecessary phonetic distinction, but I don’t bother to try to internalize it into my own phonology. If a distinction NEEDS to be made, we mergerers have had at our disposal, over the years”

    “aink-pin,” “fountain-pin,” and “ballpoint(-pin).”

  4. John Lawler Says:

    A look a the menu on the wall is instructive, too, though not so sociophonological.

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