Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 15:15:48 -0400
From: "Peter L. Patrick" PPATRICK[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]GUVAX.ACC.GEORGETOWN.EDU
Subject: Re: WAFT and the Principle of Linguistic Entropy
Hmm. Ron Butters and ellen Johnson are right, of course, that some
people DO get their pronunciations of rare words from dictionaries. I
guess I didn't think of that, because I don't think I ever have
myself-- I just make a spelling guess and go with it. (That's in real
life, of course-- as a linguist I DO use dictionaries!) Perhaps I'm
strange, or perhaps most people are like me-- any guesses?
But my point was valid for spelling pronunciations, the
context in which I made it, I think. Some people might get /wahft/
from dictionaries; and linguists might get ./wahft/ from "father". But
I don't think the average guesser will get anything but /waeft/ from
any of the words ending in "-aft" in American English, unless I've
missed one-- and spelling pronunciations are, after all, based on the
regularities in spelling, and links between spelling and pronunciation...
Otherwise, as Ron noted, you have a choice of only a few low vowels
(2, 3 or 4 depending on your system).
But given that choice, isn't it remarkable that all the
Southern pronunciations noted so far do seem to be /waeft/? Maybe
there IS a regional pattern here-- based not on spelling analogy (as
I wouldn't predict) but perhaps on common use, as Ellen and Lynne
suggested. In that case, where "waft" is perceived as literary, I'd
predict you'd be more likely to get /wahft/ guesses, just because
literary = prestigious = British standard, and the only permitted
pronunciation in the OED is the FATHER rime. Maybe it's those insecure
non-Southerners that have introduced variation into an otherwise
homogeneous AmEng word-class!