Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 15:51:56 -0400
From: "M. Lynne Murphy" 104LYN[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MUSE.ARTS.WITS.AC.ZA
Subject: Re: WAFT and the Principle of Linguistic Entropy
P.S. Why are we all assuming that the only possible spelling pronounciation of
"waft" would be the one used for "raft"? Given the existence of those other
"wa" words (and "qua" words) with "broad a", e.g. "wad", "what", "wasp",
"quaff", "waffle", etc., wouldn't it be possible that someone seeing "waft"
would look at the beginning as well as the end and guess that it would be pro-
nounced "wahft"? Would a Southerner unfamiliar with waffles (but familiar with
raffles) come up with "waeffle" as opposed to "wahffle" as the spelling pro-
nunciation? I'm not sure how explanatory this particular line of explanation
i'm with larry on this one. but this whole string has me worried
about my ability to follow arguments or our ability to communicate
with each other.
peter's suggestion that it should be "wahft" where it's perceived as
a literary item seems to go against the facts (of our own
speech/attitudes) that ellen and i presented:
- ellen pronounces it "waeft" and suggested in her post that it's an
-i pronounce it "wahft" and alleged that it's a common word. (or at
least not rare and certainly not "literary"--though i'm really
starting to wonder what other people mean by this. i think waft is not
a word that i read more often than i hear.)
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!
i didn't see any evidence that _waft_ is more literary in the north
than in the south here. if anything, there is evidence to the
contrary, though certainly not enough to base any conclusions on.
one problem in the discussion seems to be that there are two kinds of
thinking on what the issue is. peter, and some others i think, is
talking about how you'd guess it's pronounced. whereas i'm thinking
about how people learn to pronounce it (from hearing it in their
environment). since all the southerners have reported "waeft"
pronunciations and the northerners who aren't guessing (who
presumably learned it from other northerners) report using "wahft", i
don't think we have a pattern of guessing. i think we have a real
now, i did ask before how it might have come to be that those who say
"waeft" do so, since "wahft" seems to be the older form (and without,
i presume, coming to say "swaen" [swan] and "waeffle"), which
might've brought up the guessing thing. i have a hard time believing
that "somebody along the way guessed 'waft'" as an explanation for a
form that is so widespread and (as larry noted) contrary to the usual
pronunciation of wa-.