Date: Sun, 2 Jan 1994 14:46:17 -0700


Subject: Headache

For: Gwyn Williams and anyone else interested in Aches (Happy New Year!)

Gwyn asked on Dec. 23 re a Thai pronunciation of ache and stomach

with [tS] rather than [k]. As in all such issues, I followed the example set

by my mentor in Old English (at UTexas), Rudolph Willard, and consulted the

venerable OED. A good habit to cultivate. It makes clear that the /k/ in the

verb is original from OE acan , but the noun is derivative and was OE ace .

The latter palatalized in the South, as expected (cf. church, ditch -- note not

only before a front vowel), and in Shakespeare is clearly pronounced that way,

even punning with the name of the letter H. However, for whatever reason,

the unpalatalized Northern /k/ form spread south, and replaced the palatal /C/,

which remained reflected in the spelling. Somehow the Southern spelling for

the noun spread to the verb, which had always been /k/. So the spelling is

now a fossil of a reversed (or better, overrun) sound-change. stomach was

originally spelled with k or ck , having been borrowed through Latin and

Old French, but apparently the change in spelling to ch resulted from the

Renaissance re-introduction to Greek, and the realization that the trans-

literation ch should represent the Greek /x/, proving of course that a

little learning is a dangerous thing.

A colleague of mine, who is a near-native speaker of OE, Carl Berkhout,

says that he occasionally hears the palatized pronunciation in England, but

has the impression that it is more idiolectal than regional or social. This

strengthens the probability that it is just a spelling-pronunciation. Even

by OED times, the palatalized pronunciation was reported as highly marginalized

and had become voiced, with head-ache becoming "eddage". It is possible,

of course, that some early British expatriate who had this idiosyncratic usage

was, like Anna, the founder of a tradition that has been passed down in the

system. Such things do happen.

The moral is, keep your OED handy; you never know when it will be

useful in settling a question. And condition your students to do likewise

(supplemented where appropriate by DARE, of course).

Otra vez, Happy New Year and Xin Nian Kwai Le, you-all.

--Rudy Troike