Mark Liberman at Language Log has a post on the plural of the word dwarf, in the course of which he quotes a truly impressive range of spellings from the OED and a substantial chunk of Tolkien. What I want to address here, however, is his Update, wherein he quotes his fellow Logger Bill Poser as follows:
For me the plural of “dwarf” is [dworvz], no two ways about it. I consider [dworfs] outright error, even in other people’s speech. (Of course I acknowledge that there may be other dialects. What I mean is that I will not accept [dworfs] as a possible variant within what I consider my own dialect of English. This contrasts with, e.g., [rufs]. I myself have both [rufs] and [rUvz] and somebody ceteris paribus consider someone who has either one to be a speaker of my own dialect.)
When I read your most recent post, at first I didn’t get it. The reason is that I read “dwarfs” as [dworvz]. For me, the “fs” spelling doesn’t necessarily indicate that the word is to be pronounced [fs]. In some cases, I consider both spellings acceptable, e.g. “dwarfs” or “dwarves.” In others, I use only one spelling but still have both pronounciations. I write only “roofs,” *”rooves”, but still say both [rufs] and [rUvz].
(I note that I have changed his angle brackets for written forms to quotes, since the blog takes angle brackets as signals of HTML, and that by I write only “roofs,” *”rooves”, he means I write only “roofs,” and never “rooves”; furthermore, I suspect the word somebody in the first paragraph should be deleted.) Now, this seems bizarre to me. I can’t imagine looking at “dwarfs” (say, in the phrase red dwarfs) and pronouncing it [dworvz], as if it were spelled “dwarves.” And I further can’t imagine using the form dwarves in the astronomical sense; it’s a basic feature of English that extended/metaphorical senses of words commonly take regular forms when the literal senses have irregular ones: cf “He flied out” (in baseball) vs “He flew to New York.” To me, “red dwarves” would imply ruddy small people. I’d be interested in what readers think about all this.