Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 15:15:48 -0400


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!