I was listening to NPR news this morning, as is my wont (a word, incidentally, that I pronounce identically to the contraction won’t, one of three or four versions current in the US), when a newscaster made me exclaim in astonishment: she pronounced the plural deaths with a voiced -th-, as /dɛðz/. Wikipedia explains the phenomenon involved, a historical process of voicing stem-final fricatives:
The voicing alternation found in plural formation is losing ground in the modern language, and of the alternations listed below many speakers retain only the [f-v] pattern, which is supported by the orthography. This voicing is a relic of Old English, the unvoiced consonants between voiced vowels were ‘colored’ with voicing. As the language became more analytic and less inflectional, final vowels/syllables stopped being pronounced. For example, modern knives is a one syllable word instead of a two syllable word, with the vowel ‘e’ not being pronounced. However, the voicing alternation between [f] and [v] still occurs.
As examples of optional voicing with -th- (which is, of course, not indicated by English spelling), they give ba[θ] – ba[ð]s, mou[θ] – mou[ð]s, oa[θ] – oa[ð]s, pa[θ] – pa[ð]s, and you[θ] – you[ð]s. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never before heard it with death.
Totally unrelated, but I want to get it on record: I occasionally mutter to myself a couplet from the deep recesses of my memory, “Keats had TB, Shelley drowned, Shakespeare lies in the cold, cold ground.” I vaguely assumed it was well known, part of everyone’s cultural detritus, but when I googled it to find out its origin, I discovered it’s from a forgotten science fiction story by a forgotten author, Winona McClintic’s “In the Days of Our Fathers.” It was first published in the inaugural (Fall 1949) issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, back when it was still called The Magazine of Fantasy, and apparently has only been reprinted once, in The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction (1952), so I may be one of the few people on earth who keep it ready to the mind’s hand. Since I think it’s striking (and a useful memory aid), I’m putting it here so it can infect more people. And one of these days I’ll have to do a thorough search of the cellar and find the box containing the first issues of F&SF, always my favorite sf magazine; I haven’t seen it since we moved into this house almost a decade ago, and I’d like to wallow in nostalgia for a while.