Back in my musical theatre days, I couldn’t get enough of Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic melodrama Carousel. I’m still a fan, but wish somebody would retool the libretto; many of the show’s lyrics and dialogue are penned in a goofy pseudo-New England accent, as evinced by this gem:
Carrie: You been actin’ most peculiar,
Every morning you’re awake ahead of me,
Always settin’ by the winder.
Julie: I like to watch the river meet the sea.
With the orthographic oddity ‘winder,’ Mr. Hammerstein indicates what might be called ‘-ow reduction.’ In various accents, when the vowel in ‘flow‘ occurs at the end of a multi-syllablic word (as in ‘window‘), it is reduced to a schwa (the little ‘uh’ sound in ‘comma,’ represented by ə). Hence ‘window’ becomes ‘winda‘ or ‘winder,’ ‘pillow’ becomes ‘pilla,‘ and ‘fellow’ becomes ‘fella.’
This feature is often attributed to Cockney, Irish, American Southern, and New England English. Like many other ‘pan-dialectical’ features, this one most likely involves ease of articulation. Words like ‘fellow’ and ‘window’ are a tad clunky because they feature a stressed short vowel followed by an unstressed long vowel, possibly creating the urge to render that final /o/ a schwa.
Here’s another literary example, from The Red Badge of Courage, this time with the word ‘tomorrow:’
“We’re goin’ t’ move t’morrah–sure,” he said pompously to a group in the company street. “We’re goin’ ‘way up the river, cut across, an’ come around in behint ’em.”
What’s odd, though, is that despite this feature’s attestation in so many Englishes, I’ve rarely encountered a spoken example. I see two possible reasons for this. On the one hand, the feature may have simply receded in contemporary speech. On the other, it possibly never spread beyond the broadest vernaculars in the first place.
Either way, it’s something of a puzzle: why did such a ‘useful’ feature never really become a part of ‘mainstream’ English?