Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 11:33:27 -0400

From: Ron Butters RonButters[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM

Subject: Re: WAFT and the Principle of Linguistic Entropy


Yes, but doesn't this [i.e., the fact that dictionary makers list two

pronunciations] just beg the question (in the original meaning of

that phrase)? The lexicographers who put the two pronunciations in the

dictionary got them from SOMEWHERE. And where they got them, ultimately,

as you point out, was from informants. Even if some of these informants

were influenced by a dictionary entry, at some point we still get back to

such things as, yes, perhaps psycholinguistic and geosocial factors, but

certainly to plain old phonology and regional variation.

Well, no, it doesn't "beg the question" (which I take to mean 'take the

argument for granted without proof; assert the argument as proof of the

argument)'. The argument that I was trying to make is that there are

pronunciational variants that (1) do not correlate with social or

geographical variables and (2) do not necessarily arise for most speakers by

"analogy" in any very interesting sense of the term. E.g., the two

pronunciations of ECONOMICS. Given the normal operation of the English

spelling system, WAFT is either going to rime with FATHER (however one says

it) or RAFT (however one says it)--so much for analogy (which is not to say

that Peter Patrick doesn't have a point in saying that WAFT looks more like

RAFT, etc., than it does like words with the A of FATHER, only that Patrick

is sort of wrong in say;ing that there is no analogical basis for

/wahft/--FATHER is an analogial basis!). Given the relative rareness of the

term, most people will have rarely heard it pronounced, and will not be

likely to have strong opinions about it if they do--so much for important

geosocial factors. Moreover, dictionaries list both pronunciations without

comment or real judgment, and people (in this modern world of today) do look

up pronunciations in dictionaries for unfamiliar words and try to be guided

by them--so dictionaries would further diminish any analogical or geosocial

factors. So, I disagree soewhat with Peter Patrick when hesays that " you'd

have to get /wahft/ elsewhere, eg by direct aural

evidence." You get /wahft/ from FATHER and you get /wahft/ from dictionaries.

If there really IS a geographical distirbution of the two pronunciations,

THAT would be interesting, since such a distribution seems contraary to what

one would predict.

It is also an interesting question just where the dictionary makers come up

with the two pronunciations for odd words. In many cases, I'm afraid, the

source is just other, older dictionaries. Look up THEW in your nearest

dictionary, for example, and you will find only thyoo , never thoo even

though this is a word that almost nobody uses, and even though thy- is a

hghly unusual--unique?--way to begin an English word. Where could a

dictionary maker possibly hear the word pronounced by a native speaker under

natural circumstances, let alone a native speaker who had learned the word

from speech rather than writing? As for /waeft/ versus /wahft/ in

dictionaries, who knows if this isn't just mostly something that dictionaries

have been carrying along for eons with the ultimate historical origin being

(at least in part) the general variation in low vowels in American English

rather than a true doublet --there are, after all, Amercans who pronounce

RAFT in what sounds (to me) more like /rahft/ than /raeft/, but my dictionary

doesn't note that because RAFT ls a comon word, not a poetical one.