It has recently come to my attention that my vowels are weird. This was pointed out to me by a fellow American colleague who declared that, unexpectedly, we do not say Surrey the same way, and that my pronunciation has a “weird” vowel. I’ve already experienced confusion more than once from locals when I utter the word, and it’s enough to make me a little self-conscious.
I was already vaguely aware that Californians do some strange things with vowels. A bit of online digging revealed that as a San Francisco Bay Area native, I can blame my weird vowels on the Northern California vowel shift (outlined by Penny Eckert here). This sound change is what makes the surfer’s (and my) way of saying duuuude so distinctive (the vowel is fronted). My international friends make fun of the way I say “aw, man!”. Here, man for me becomes something like /miyn/. Even I have to admit it sounds pretty funny.
I like to think I am relatively aware of linguistic behavior, but as this experience showed me, we as linguists may not be as well-equipped as we think to recognize our own quirks.