A SOFT A.

I try not to waste too much mental energy or blog space on the silly ways people find to talk about linguistic phenomena, because after all, not having had any education whatever in linguistics (which would provide them with non-silly ways), what are they going to do but fall back on the inaccurate? But this one really baffles me. From “The Great Pasty Debate” by John Willoughby (part of the NY Times Magazine “Food” issue, which has some very nice pieces): “As is so often the case, food is the last tradition left from those glory days, and I returned to Copper Harbor this summer in search of pasties (properly pronounced with a soft “a”).” Now, I happen to know that pasty, as in “Cornish pasty,” is traditionally pronounced with the low front vowel of pat or at, and that’s a useful fact to pass on to the reading public, but why not do it the way I just did? For an American audience, you could simply say it rhymes with nasty (adding “not with hasty” if you wanted to really drive the point home). But what is anyone supposed to get out of “a soft ‘a’”? In what conceivable way is the a of pat softer than any other kind? To make things even worse, when I googled the phrase I found this: “Soft A Sound ɑː (arm, father).” It’s like the very subject of language makes people unable to write sensibly.

Comments

  1. In recent years I’ve noticed people talking about hard and soft vowels in the same way that I was taught to talk about long and short vowels in elementary school. Thus “hate” has a hard “a” and “hat” has a soft “a”. I don’t know if it’s actually recent or if I just started noticing it in the last few years.
    At least the so-called long/short distinction has some roots in the history of English vowels. I don’t understand the motivation for replacing those labels with hard/soft, since they’re no more accurate or descriptive, and they leave you just as unable to talk about the differences between /ei/, /æ/, /a/, and /ɑ/.

  2. Garrigus Carraig says:

    If there’s a good way to teach the issues surrounding the differences between English spelling and English pronunciation to non-linguists, it hasn’t spread very widely. That being said, you would think newspaper editors would be aware of the issues, because pronunciation clarification is going to come up all the time.
    Recently I saw a tweet from a software firm called Abine: “Our name rhymes with ‘online’. People struggle with this.” Not so helpful, because the stress of ‘online’ varies. So I tweeted back, “Because it doesn’t follow the weird rules of English phonology. Is it “uh-BINE” or “AY-bine” or something else?” To which they responded, “AY-bine. Emphasis on the ‘i’.”

  3. I heard a soft ‘a’ is a distinctive trait of the nasal drawl.

  4. If, as Jonathon says, the terms hard/soft are taking the place of long/short, I have to say that I applaud. Long/short has its roots in historical English phonology, but it’s a nonsense pair when applied to the way that English is spoken today. Hard/soft doesn’t mean anything if you’re not familiar with the terms—but unlike long/short at least it won’t mislead you into thinking that the distinction has something to do with vowel length.

  5. Read this aloud to my wife, who has little linguistic training, and she said she knew what “soft A” meant right away. When I said, “really? pasty is softer than pasty?” she said, “sure. You know, soft and short. Opposite of long and hard.” And blushed, but stuck to it. So there you go.

  6. Some people pronounce the “a” differently in ‘arm’ and ‘father’. (I don’t.)

  7. @JS Bangs:
    Hard/soft doesn’t mean anything if you’re not familiar with the terms—but unlike long/short at least it won’t mislead you into thinking that the distinction has something to do with vowel length.
    Does long/short really have nothing to do with vowel length? Short a, e, i, o, u (as in bat, bet, bit, hot, hut) are all lax vowels. Long a, e, o, and u (as in hate, mete, vote, flute) are tense vowels, and long i (as in mine) is a diphthong. It seems to me that there’s both a historical sense to the terms (in why “long e” and “short e” are both written with the symbol “e,” when other languages might use the symbol “i” for “long e”) and a synchronic phonological sense (in that tense vowels and diphthongs really are longer in duration than lax vowels).
    I wish everyone would learn the IPA, but until then, speaking of long and short vowels seems like one of the more useful descriptions of phonology known to non-linguists.

  8. > “Soft A Sound ɑː (arm, father).”
    Yup, that’s exactly what “soft ‘a’” means to me. Glad to know I agree with a random person on the Internet. :-)

  9. Tom Recht says:

    tense vowels and diphthongs really are longer in duration than lax vowels
    For this California English speaker, the vowels of bat, bot are longer than the diphthongs of bait, boat.
    The impressionistic use of ‘hard/soft’ as phonetic terms has annoyed me ever since the day I discovered (at age 12 or so) that ‘hard G’ and ‘soft G’ mean the opposite of what they obviously should. Of course the affricate in ‘gin’ is ‘harder’ than the stop in ‘get’! Isn’t this obvious to everyone? But no, the conventionalized synesthesia has it the other way around.

  10. Just wanted to say that “soft and hard” haven’t replaced “long and short” in California public schools, at least. And “ah”, “aw”, and “ay” are how I’d represent the “A” sounds if I couldn’t use IPA. Are they just as liable to be misinterpreted?
    Tom, stops are obviously “harder” than fricatives or affricates! They’re like a rap or punch as opposed to a rub or vibration. I’m alarmed anyone could think differently. You must experience a whole different phonetic world from me.

  11. mollymooly says:

    It bothers me that in English, “lax” vowels are “checked” and “tense” vowels are “free” rather than vice versa.

  12. Joe R, what about /æ/?
    “Ay” may be misinterpreted as another way to spell “aye”. And of course there’s not much to be done for those who don’t distinguish between “ah” and “aw”, but certainly “ah” is much better than the “ar” too many nonrhotic speakers use.

  13. Garrigus Carraig says:

    @xixvek: Does long/short really have nothing to do with vowel length? Short a, e, i, o, u (as in bat, bet, bit, hot, hut) are all lax vowels. Long a, e, o, and u (as in hate, mete, vote, flute) are tense vowels, and long i (as in mine) is a diphthong.
    The distinction between those vowels used to be length in the Middle Ages. Due to the Great Vowel Shift, the long vowels evolved from literally long vowels to the current pronunciations.
    Long a, long o, and long u (in abuse, cute, duty, fuse, huge, &c.) are also diphthongs btw.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    mollymooly: It bothers me that in English, “lax” vowels are “checked” and “tense” vowels are “free” rather than vice versa.
    “Checked” means that they are always followed by a consonant which “cuts them off”, while tense vowels can be at the end of a word.

  15. Tom Recht says:

    Tom, stops are obviously “harder” than fricatives or affricates!
    Who’d win in a fight, someone named Gavin or someone named Jevon? QED.

  16. If Pasty = nasty for Americans, which I hadn’t realised, I did at least notice in the car today that:
    You never do what you know you oughta
    Something tells me you’re a devil’s daughter
    Sorrow
    probably wouldn’t rhyme for most people.

  17. Although apparently the song was written by three Americans.

  18. Just remember
    Give to me a Cornish lass to make a tatie pasty
    And if it’s most all beef inside I will not find it nasty

    Haul away Joe!

  19. Of course, I’ve heard it pronounced (and pronounced it) three ways: /pa:sti/, /peisti/, and /pæsti/, so I haven’t got the faintest idea what a ‘soft a’ is.

  20. mollymooly says:

    @marie-lucie: I understand the meaning of checked and free; it’s tense and lax that are problematic. Maybe I have an unusually low degree of physiological self-awareness (but cf. the smile-frown debate), but I can’t tell which muscles in my vocal apparatus are meant to be “tenser” for tense vowels than for lax vowels. (Wikipedia is unhelpful, and seems even to cast doubt on the objective reality of the basis for a distinction. But then, Wikipedia.) Since these are arbitrary labels for me, the fact that “lax” does not pair with “free” makes it hard for me to get them straight.

  21. Macmillan’s dictionary has a page where you can listen to the British English pronunciation of pasty, and another where you can listen to the American pronunciation.
    The British pronunciation is given in IPA as /ˈpæsti/, but in the audio it is definitely /’pasti/. The American pronunciation is given as /ˈpæsti/ also, but a somewhat British-sounding voice gives the pronunciation as /’pa:sti/.
    For Cornish pasty (British English), the lady’s pronunciation is /ˈpæsti/, but it sounds regional and could easily be taken as /’pa:sti/.

  22. While I’m not sure I understand the hard/soft vowel distinction, it is pretty clear to me to me why Willoughby didn’t say that pasty rhymes with nasty.

  23. “For an American audience, you could simply say it rhymes with nasty (adding “not with hasty” if you wanted to really drive the point home..”
    Aw hell no! Mispronunciation of “pasty” is one way to identify non-Californians and have the police check their papers. BTW some of the best pasties are at that place, forget exactly what the street name is, in Grass Valley.
    “Of course, I’ve heard it pronounced (and pronounced it) three ways: /pa:sti/, /peisti/, and /pæsti/, so I haven’t got the faintest idea what a ‘soft a’ is.”
    Bathrobe, at least in California /peisti/ refers to those little paste-on nipple covers pole dancers have to wear.

  24. John dos Passos a few times has American characters “learn to speak with a broad A”, and I always have to remind myself this is the father vowel resulting from the trap-bath split, not an unmerged caught vowel.
    Not sure why I would think a rounded vowel would be impressionistically described as “broad”, but there it is.

  25. The phonological analysis of English in SPE (The Sound Pattern of English, by Chomsky and Halle) is probably not subscribed to by many phonologists, but even if you don’t believe it, it has much to recommend it as a convenient way of describing English. For one thing, there is a really handy informal notation which uses conventional English spelling, but modified by writing the tense vowels with capital letters: A E I O U, as in cAke, serEne, mIne, bOne, tUne. So, for instance, in my pronunciations, pasty is the food, and pAsty is a whiteish complexion. I’m surprised this notation has never become popular.
    By “tense” vowels, SPE means, essentially, the vowels which were or would have been long in Middle English, but “tense” is used in a phonetically abstract way, to mean a quality of articulation which may be manifested as length or diphthongization. And a phonologically lax vowel may perfectly well be phonetically tense, as it is words with historical short (lax) o, like “stock”, with phonetically tense [a]. In the informal notation, “stock” would be written stock and “stoke” would be stOke.

  26. Wonderful comments. And I have been putting up with all this nonsense for so many years. I haven’t the foggiest what ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ vowels are, but I know people go on about them. I can grasp the idea of ‘front’ and ‘back’ vowels, where ‘soft might be ‘front’ and ‘back’ be ‘hard’, but myself I put the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ in the consonants – even there it might be a bit ‘loose’. Within themselves (whatever that means). The ‘frontness’ of vowels like ‘i’ and ‘e’ makes sense in vowel harmony, as in ‘standard’ (whatever that is) Finnish, though vowel harmony does tend to ‘have a rest’ in certain phonological positions. There’s so much good in the ‘science’, and I believe in it (as banging away at it might get us further, of course), but I was so heartened the other day when reading Charles Eliot’s ‘Finnish Grammar’ of 1890 in the London Library, where he reckoned that the idea that the stress was always word-initial in Finnish just didn’t make sense, as if there was a long vowel elsewhere in the word, it seemed to attract some sort of stress. All that to say that ‘soft a’, and so on, just irritates me (though I know what’s meant). I also find ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ in reference to consonants can be fun.

  27. I also don’t have the faintest idea what a “soft” and a “hard” A would be.
    But then I’m not a linguist, and I also don’t know what a “low front” vowel is meant to be either. Or rather I do know what the words are supposed to mean – because I can look them up in books or online – but it corresponds to nothing that I am trained to hear when listening to speech. If you said some different vowels to me and asked me which were “fronter” or “backer” I wouldn’t be able to give an answer. And if you asked which were “lower” or “higher” the first thing I’d think of would be a low frequency or tone, musical pitch, which isn’t what’s being talked about here. And second would be quiet as opposed to loud. I suspect most non-linguists would be in the same boat, so you can’t really blame a journalist for not using those technical terms which would mislead the majority of readers.
    On the other hand “long” and “short” and “broad” have generally accepted meanings, at least for the vowels commonly represented by the letter “A” in England. A “short A” is the TRAP vowel, a “broad A” the BATH/PALM vowel, and a “long A” the FACE vowel. We’re used to making the distinction because the choice of short vs broad A is a shibboleth of northern vs southern accents. If you wrote that the word pasty has a “short A” that would be generally understood in Britain. “Pasty” has the vowel that almost all of us use in “cat” or “trap” and that northerners (and some Americans) use in “dance” or “bath”
    But then I’m from the south east of England. So for me “pasty” does not rhyme with “nasty” or “vasty” (though it might for a northerner) any more than it rhymes with “hasty” or “tasty” (though “pastry” almost does). And “daughter” is a perfect rhyme with “oughta”. ;-)
    @Bathrobe: “Of course, I’ve heard it pronounced (and pronounced it) three ways: /pa:sti/, /peisti/, and /pæsti/”
    In England the food item is (almost) always /pæsti/ but the adjective meaning pale-faced or wan or soft is /peisti/ – that is, like paste. (And yes I know that the word “pasty” was originally the same as “pastry” and “paste” and even “pasta” but there you go)
    “The British pronunciation is given in IPA as /’pæsti/, but in the audio it is definitely /’pasti/.”
    I’m afraid that to this not linguistically-trained Brit /æ/ and /a/ sound the same. Or rather they sound like individual variation in pronouncing the same vowel, the difference has no lexical meaning. I’m not even sure which I use when, or if I could consistently tell them apart in someone else’s speach. /a:/ on the other hand is signifcantly contrasted with both of them. Which is one reason why the unscientific terms “short A” and “long A” make sense, specifically in the contect of English.

  28. Joe R,
    “And “ah”, “aw”, and “ay” are how I’d represent the “A” sounds if I couldn’t use IPA. Are they just as liable to be misinterpreted?”
    Aren’t “ah” and “aw” pronounced the same? As in ah-ha, saw, or bot? Or the longer version in bought?
    And how would you write the a in at or apple? Or the longer version in laugh? Or the a in what? I can’t think of anything else with quite the same vowel – it’s halfway between the a in ah and the oo in foot.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Aren’t “ah” and “aw” pronounced the same?
    It depends where you come from or live. In Canada they are the same, but not in England, for instance.

  30. The Trager-Smith theory of English vowels represents the long/tense vowels as combinations of a simple vowel plus one of the semivowels y, w, h. It’s very elegant, in my opinion. To the extent there is a direct phonetic reference here, the y, w, h are palatal, labial, and centralizing glides. The h representing a central glide is inspired, I guess, by the observation that [h] and schwa are in complementary distribution in English, and so in classical phonemics are, oddly, candidates for grouping together to count as allophones of a single phoneme.

  31. @Joe R – “ah” and “aw” don’t really work across accents. I think its IPA or nothing!
    I’d read “ah” as /a:/ that is the vowel in southern English (& old-fashioned New England?) “class”, “dance”, “bath”. That’s what most of us here would use in “laugh” and “father” as well.
    But “aw” for me would be the /ɔː/ vowel in “pawn” or “porn” – which are exact homophones round here.
    And neither of them is the short A /æ/ in “apple” or “at” or “cat” or “bat”.
    “What” is the short-O sound of “pot” or “lot” or “hot”. Again, for me here in the south of England. Maybe North Americans have merged it with “aw” – in which case they might say “what” the way I say “wart” which sounds unlikely to me!

  32. mollymooly says:

    A broad vowel is a back vowel; but a broad accent doesn’t mean backer vowels. A broad northern English accent uses broad A less than a southern English accent.

  33. Some people use that other system, in which the large vowels are ascending, tranverse, descending, and sigmoid and the small vowels are duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.

  34. I guess my sense of “ah” isn’t universal. It was supposed to be the IPA ash. I don’t think I have a:

  35. Here’s a collection of words which can be used to characterize (as far as I can determine) all the different possible stressed vowel sounds of the living accents of English with no reference to IPA. (I say “possible” because in some or even many accents, one or more of these words have the same vowels, and in no accent are they all different.) These are the Wells-Mills-Cowan-Rosta lexical sets, an extension of the much better known Wells lexical sets:
    KIT, DRESS, TRAP, BAD, LOT, STRUT, FOOT, BATH, DANCE, CLOTH, NURSE, TERM, DIRT, FLEECE, BEAM, FACE, TRAIL, FREIGHT, PALM, THOUGHT, GOAT, SNOW, GOOSE, THREW, PRICE, CHOICE, MOUTH, NEAR, SQUARE, START, NORTH, FORCE, CURE.
    The lexical sets specified by these words are phonologically rather than phonetically equivalent. Thus in England the difference between TRAP and BAD is vowel length, whereas in NCS American it’s vowel quality. Similarly, MOUTH in Australia is very different from in England, but the two sounds play the same phonological role. The Scottish Vowel Length Rule and its American analogue means that trap has a shorter vowel than bad does, but the difference is entirely predictable, so it does not count as a lexical-set difference.
    Each accent can furthermore be characterized by which sounds are merged. Mine, for example, is a LOT=PALM, TRAP=BAD=BATH=DANCE, CLOTH=THOUGHT, NORTH=FORCE, NURSE=TERM=DIRT, FLEECE=BEAM, FACE=TRAIL=FREIGHT, GOAT=SNOW, GOOSE=THREW accent like that of many Eastern Americans. The RP accent has TRAP=BAD, BATH=DANCE=PALM=START, CLOTH=LOT, NORTH=FORCE, NURSE=TERM=DIRT, FLEECE=BEAM, FACE=TRAIL=FREIGHT, GOAT=SNOW, GOOSE=THREW. (The last five mergers are now almost universal, but not quite.)
    However, some words don’t belong to the same lexical set in all varieties of English. In particular, what belongs to STRUT in North America, where there is no distinctive LOT vowel (it’s merged with THOUGHT or PALM or both), but LOT elsewhere.
    As far as I can tell, “broad accent” in the U.K. just means any British accent remote from RP. Foreigners mostly talk broad, as the saying is.

  36. Having spent too much time studying Slavic languages, I would assume a “soft a” palatalizes or softens the preceding consonant and we are supposed to say something like “pyasty”.

  37. I agree with Ken Brown that /æ/ and /a/ sound the same – at least they’re close enough to be treated the same as far as language learners are concerned. The Macmillan Dictionary is aimed at general learners of English, not specialst phoneticians.
    @Bathrobe: The Dictionary doesn’t use the symbol /a/ in either its British or American transcriptions, nor does it use /a:/ in any American transcriptions. And to me, the American voice sounds American (I’m British), and clearly says /’pæsti/.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    One problem with the short-long tradition is that it presupposes ten vowel sounds (5 x 2), which is inadequate for most/all varieties of English. And since almost everyone has three “a” sounds (PALM v TRAP v FACE), there’s obviously another adjective needed there, which is perhaps where “broad” fills in out of desperation. Of course, for those with the LOT-PALM merger, the “broad a” may just be a variant spelling of “short o,” but that may be too confusing a way to teach it to elementary school kids. I agree that hard/soft metaphors do not seem to advance the ball.

  39. I believe /pa:sti/ is more typical of Australia.

  40. The American pronunciation for pasty is found here.
    I agree that the voice doesn’t sound totally British, but it doesn’t sound very American, either. And the vowel certainly doesn’t sound like a North American /æ/, either.
    I guess that the difference between /a/ and /æ/ is not totally clear in many British dialects. For me, the difference between the vowels in, say, ‘Aston’ and ‘ask’ is as clear as day. The first syllable in ‘Aston’ sounds like ‘ass’, whereas ‘ask’ without its ‘k’ sounds like ‘arse’. Or you could substitute the vowels in ‘pat’ and ‘part’ if you prefer.

  41. I have a mixed-regional American accent, in which, I think:
    KIT,
    DRESS,
    TRAP = BAD = BATH,
    LOT = CLOTH = PALM = or ~~ START ~~ THOUGHT,
    STRUT ~~ and also WHAT,
    FOOT,
    DANCE,
    NURSE = TERM = DIRT,
    FLEECE = BEAM = or ~~ NEAR,
    FACE ~~ FREIGHT,
    TRAIL ~~ SQUARE,
    GOAT = SNOW,
    GOOSE = THREW,
    PRICE,
    CHOICE,
    MOUTH,
    NORTH = FORCE,
    CURE,
    and also EWW,
    = Should be clear. ~~ Indicates that I think there might be minor variations in timing or the like. It’s possible that I have similar variations within each = group.

  42. vrau,cabecou says:

    Ken Brown: But “aw” for me would be the /ɔː/ vowel in “pawn” or “porn” – which are exact homophones round here.
    Where’s here? For me, the pronunciation of those two words is so different that I can’t fathom how they can be homophones. There’s an ad in the NYC subway that plays on their similarity, but I’ve never actually heard anyone pronounce them the same.

  43. @Garrigus Carraig The distinction between those vowels used to be length in the Middle Ages. Due to the Great Vowel Shift, the long vowels evolved from literally long vowels to the current pronunciations.
    Long a, long o, and long u (in abuse, cute, duty, fuse, huge, &c.) are also diphthongs btw.
    I pronounce “duty” with my long u /u:/ rather than your long u /ju:/.
    I think you mean the off-glide at the end of /eɪ/ /oʊ/ and /u:/ when you call them diphthongs, yet I was taught to call those sounds tense vowels and refer only to /aɪ/ /aʊ/ and /oɪ/ as diphthongs. It’s harder than I thought to find terminological common ground. At least you’re only taking issue with what I call things, rather than being unsure which sound I’m talking about, as you might have been if I’d said “soft a.”

  44. For my brother-in-law “can” the container and “can” the auxiliary verb have different vowels, but I don’t hear the difference when he says them. I should try again.

  45. Whether a vowel is phonetically a diphthong is a matter of fact: does the tongue change in position appreciably as the vowel is said. When you use slashes in referring to the vowel, meaning you’re talking about a phoneme rather than the actual pronunciation, that sort of fuzzes things up. It could be phonemically a diphthong, but phonetically a tense monophthong, e.g. I might write “East” as /iyst/ and [i:st], thinking that the /y/ glide is absorbed by the following [s] (with compensatory lengthening of the [i]).
    I think there is a lot of variability about whether the phonemic vowel diphthongs are pronounced as phonetic diphthongs or as monophthongs, even in the speech of a single speaker.
    (IPAists should please consider my notation “y” to mean “j”.)

  46. Cornish pasty is pretty common in southern England. I’ve always heard & said it pas as in ‘Cass Technical High School’, ty as in ‘tea’. Stress on the pas.

  47. ‘for an American audience, you could simply say it rhymes with nasty (adding “not with hasty” if you wanted to really drive the point home).’
    Just to confirm what other Anglos have said, for this southern Englishman, “pasty”(the Cornish food) has the “TRAP” vowel, “nasty”has the “BATH” vowel and “hasty” has the “FACE” vowel. But I’d disagree with “Jill” Sans over the “ty as tea” in “pasty” – for me there’s definite voicing, so that it’s more like “pas-di”

  48. You also need GOAL for what Wikipedia calls the wholly-holy split. GOAL only occurs before /l/ in the same syllable, and that /l/ is consequently a dark [ɫ]. But it is not predictable from context whether a vowel will be LOT, GOAL or GOAT; I have them as 3 separate phonemes, with a minimal triple holly (LOT), wholly (GOAL), holy (GOAT).
    For me, “goal” and “holy” are something like [gɒuɫ] and [ˈhouli], with diphthongs, whereas “doll” is [dɒɫ].
    Why also TRAIL? Is this to distinguish accents where [ei] breaks before [ɫ] (so FACE!=TRAIL) and those where it doesn’t (so FACE=TRAIL)? If so, don’t you also want e.g. BILE and OIL, seeing as PRICE and CHOICE can also break?

  49. @vrau,cabecou: “Where’s here? For me, the pronunciation of those two words is so different that I can’t fathom how they can be homophones.”
    “Here” for me is the urban south east of England. I’m from Brighton and in my 50s so I’m a native speaker of what journalists call “Estuary English”. But “pawn” and “porn” are homophones in RP as well – the Queen would probably say them the same way – not that you are likely to hear her say those words. Hugh Grant maybe. Or Hugh Laurie when he’s not trying to be American. And many, probably most, other English English accents. I’d guess the same is true of pretty much all the non-rhotic ones outside North America. (And maybe old-fashioned east-coast American as well? Or even some varieties of African-American?)
    For me (and I think nearly everyone with a similar accent) all these word pairs are homophones in ordinary casual speech:
    caught/court, caw/core, cause/cores, daw/door, father/farther. flaw/floor. fought/fort. gnaw/nore [a place], haw/whore, law/lore, lawn/[for]lorn, maw/more, paw/pore, pawn/porn, saw/soar/sore, saught/sort, taught/taut/tort, yaw/yore.

  50. for this southern Englishman, “pasty”(the Cornish food) has the “TRAP” vowel, “nasty”has the “BATH” vowel and “hasty” has the “FACE” vowel.
    Which is why I said “for an American audience.”

  51. “pawn” and “porn” are homophones in RP as well – the Queen would probably say them the same way
    Do you consider what the queen speaks to be RP? Isn’t there some other name for the accent of people who say “hice” for house? By the way, what would she say for mouse? “Mice”?

  52. Mouse is probably a word that comes up a lot at places like Buckingham Palace and Balmoral and Sandringham and Windsor.

  53. vrai.cabecou says:

    Ken Brown: Ah, I should have guessed that, thanks.
    As it turns out, I grew up in the South among r-droppers, but on reflection, I have to say that neither “pawn” nor “porn” would have been considered polite topics of conversation.

  54. J.W. Brewer says:

    For me (and I’m rhotic), “porn” has the NORTH/FORCE vowel, whereas “pawn” has the CLOTH/THOUGHT vowel Does non-rhotic NORTH/FORCE really consistently merge with CLOTH/THOUGHT or end up as something else slightly different?

  55. I’m not quite sure how Americans say these words, but in Britain CLOTH pronounced with the vowel of NORTH/FORCE is a a cliche of strongly marked RP (which is what I would think the queen speaks) Its been a subject of mockery for decades. Over a century – there is the often/orphan joke in “Pirates of Penzance” that depends on it. It also might have been part of of a very old-fashioned – extinct probably – kind of London accent that you might call “posh cockney” that you sometimes hear in old films. Most of us have the LOT vowel in CLOTH (and “often”).
    On the other hand for most of us THOUGHT does have the same vowel as NORTH and FORCE. (As Joihn Cowan wrote earlier)

  56. Red Ken: (Cloth pronounced like north) is a cliche of strongly marked RP (which is what I would think the queen speaks)
    But I thought RP was what used to be called BBC English. I’m pretty sure Alvar Liddell and Richard Baker never said “clawth”.

  57. J.W. Brewer says:

    OK, well since I (in accord w/ John Cowan) seem to have a CLOTH-THOUGHT merger, I don’t have a particularly useful intuition as to which way “pawn” would go if I demerged them.

  58. When I wrote strongly marked RP I meant really, really, really, STRONGLY marked ;-)
    Like Alex Glasgow’s parody song about a “Little cloth cap” where the mine-owner he’s mocking says “clawth kep”. The auditory equivalent of a cartoon where all capitalists are huge fat bankers with top hats and cigars who carry around bags of dollar bills and sit on piles of gold.

  59. I made a comment earlier, in between the spam, but it’s gawn. Doesn’t matter, it was just to say the queen’s accent has changed over the years.

  60. Sorry about that. When floods of spam come in, dozens and dozens of spam comments, I get into a state of mind that makes me less diligent about making sure no real ones get caught up in the mass slaughter, even though I try to double-check.

  61. zythophile,
    But I’d disagree with “Jill” Sans over the “ty as tea” in “pasty” – for me there’s definite voicing, so that it’s more like “pas-di”
    Is it voicing or loss of aspiration?
    It’s hard to imagine a voiceless consonant (s) and a voiced one (d) next to each other.
    3 Loss of aspiration: Aspirated stops (i.e., voiceless stops) become unaspirated after [s]

  62. Don’t worry. It was one of those comments that wasn’t much better than spam. It would be nice if the commenters could police the spam, though there might be some accidentally-on-purpose deletions that way.

  63. The movement of CLOTH words from LOT to THOUGHT came into English at about the same time as the movement of BATH words from TRAP to PALM. However, it had a different fate: after many decades of CLOTH=THOUGHT, it was finally undone throughout the U.K., while remaining current in the Eastern U.S, whereas BATH=PALM remains current in RP and related accents but only in a few places in the U.S., most notably Eastern New England. CLOTH=THOUGHT is still underlyingly present in LOT=THOUGHT merger territory (Canada and the Western U.S.), but it’s impossible to determine that without looking at the history, since all three are now the same. If it weren’t for us pesky Eastern Americans, there would be no need to recognize a CLOTH lexical set at all.
    RS: No, TRAIL has nothing to do with l-breaking, and probably there’s a better choice than TRAIL for this set. It reflects the failure to merge Middle English /ai/ with /a:/, so that pain and pane don’t sound the same. This feature is found (but disappearing) in East Anglia, South Wales, and Newfoundland. Typically in these accents, pain is a diphthong, pane a monophthong.
    Currently, the above list of lexical sets does not recognize the effects of /l/ at all.

Speak Your Mind

*