Date: Sun, 21 Jul 1996 21:17:24 EDT


Subject: Re: waft

Lynne Murphy writes:

peter patrick asks:

Can anyone think of common words ending in "-aft" which take

the /ah/ vowel in American English? I'm stumped. Which suggests that

anyone who gets their spelling pronunciation by analogy is very likely

to end up with the /ae/ one, like me; cf. "craft, daft, haft, aft" etc.

everytime i think i've thought of one i realize how unamericanised

i've become lately. (i keep thinking "draft!--there's one!") what

about quaff? (not -aft, but i'm not sure the 't' is relevant.) do

southerners have an [ae] there too? (waft and quaff'd rhyme for me.)

my question is: what explains that the "ah" sound was either kept

or (re-)introduced in northern u.s. english, when other "ah"s before

[f]s weren't (draft, laugh)? my feeling is that the "ah" is more

sound-symbolic for the meaning than the [ae] is.

My own pronunciation similarly rhymes 'waft' with 'quaffed' (not to mention

'boffed', which I won't in polite company), and I think the crucial aspect

here, although I'm no phonologist, is the labial /w/, not only in these cases

but also in 'wan' (mentioned by Dale Coye). /waeC-/, i.e. /w/ followed by low

front vowel followed by coronal OR labiovelar consonant is out (for the

relevant dialect) or contraindicated. Other consonants are just fine in this

sequence: swam, wap, w(h)ac(k), wag, quack. But coronals force the vowel

back not only in the above cases (waft, quaff(ed), wan) but others conforming

to the pattern (quantum, wad, what, squat). I'm sure there are good phonetic

reasons why a short A between W and a coronal comes out "ah", although I don't

have the slightest idea what it might be. But as to why that process should

generalize to labiovelars I have no idea. Yet clearly, at least for what I

somewhat hesitantly call the dominant dialect, it does: [waeft] is certainly

a possible pronunciation for me, but only if it represents Elmer Fudd

describing a means of river transport. And [waen] is what dat cwazy wabbit