Date: Sat, 22 Nov 1997 15:38:22 -0500

From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU

Subject: Re: pragmatic change in progress?

Well, I'm older than 54 and this discoursal or exlamatopry 'why' is

completely native to me.

Here's a funny fact about it though.

I'm a /hw/-/w/ distinguisher; that is, 'whale' and 'wail' are not

homophones for me.

BUT - interrogative why ('Why did you do that?') is always /hw/ in my

speech, and the discourse marker 'why' ('Why, it's on the the other side of

the room') is invariably /w/.

Any other standard speakers out there like me who have this distinction

(not /hw/ - /w/ in general; lots of us old codgers from some places have

that, but this specific sepaation of the two 'whys')?


PS: Of course, if you don't have the distinction at all, then you're just

not a speaker of standard American English. The best proof of that I can

think of right off the top of my head (where such comments all seem to come

from) is that you don't sound like me.

At 10:55 PM 11/21/97 -0500, Ron Butters wrote:

I had a lot of trouble getting my students to focus on the meaning

differences between WELL and WHY in these environments. Though they

understood the differences, they kept saying, "But nobody under age

50 would

ever use WHY in that way--only old people talk that way!" This was

not the

answer I expected. Has anybody else had this reaction from students

about WHY

in this usage? What are the reactions of y'all? Is there a change

in progress


I'm 54, and I'm sure I've never used "why" this way except when

conciously imitating someone else's style. I perceive it as both

older generation and predominately female. Instead of "why" I'd use

either "of course" or an intonation pattern that indicates "I'm

surprised you asked".

David Johns

Waycross College

Waycross, GA 31501


Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


Office: (517)353-0740

Fax: (517)432-2736