Date: Thu, 25 Jul 1996 15:51:48 -0600


Subject: Re: Who owns literary words? was waft

I rest my case. Ellen

From: IN%"ADS-L[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]" "American Dialect Society" 25-JUL-1996 15:42:54.41

Subj: RE: Who owns literary words? was waft

The waft discussion raises a number of questions for me. First I'm surprised

that some people think it's not a literary word, but let that go. If we all

agree that there are standards of pronunciation (and do we?) how do we

determine them if they're literary or specialized words that are rarely used?

I would say, you go to the people who still do use them. If you want to know

how to pronounce boatswain, topsail, forecastle, ask a sailor. If you want

to know how to pronounce marmoset, ask a zoologist. And if you want to know

how to pronounce waft, wan, thew, bade, slough (as in bog), saith, contumely,

quietus, then ask the professors of English or others people who still trade

in these words and ask them for their recommendations. Presumably they will

have had the pronunciations handed down to them by their professors. And if

the lexicographers have done their jobs, these pronunciations, and no others,

will appear in dictionaries. Someone suggested it doesn't really matter how

they're pronounced, but surely that is heresy! It matters very much in poetry

readings, Shakespeare plays, etc. We can't just say anything goes. The study

I referred to when I kicked off the waft discussion was a study of

professors of Shakespeare who, presumably, will have heard waft used more

than the average person. If anyone owns the word, that is, knows for sure

how its pronounced, they do. And as I suggested earlier, if a person haven't

heard the word spoken, they should defer to those who "own" it. If my

history teacher told me Anne Boleyn was pronounced BULL in, I'd believe her.

Dale Coye

The Carnegie Foundation (Our late president said car NEG ee)