cunning, hawk-hock, pop-soda, etc

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Fri Jul 19 16:00:52 UTC 2002

Gordon, Matthew J. said:
>The variation you describe is all subphonemic. The Northern Cities
>Shift, which gives fronting of the vowel in 'hockey', does not alter
>phonemic categories, just how they're produced. Shifters and
>nonshifters have the same number of phonemes.
>The back vowel thing is different. The question is whether you
>(generic) have 2 phonemes or one. Those of us who are blessed with a
>single low back vowel have the freedom to use a range of forms from
>[a] to 'open o' in 'hock' as well as 'hawk'. Those of you still
>saddled with the phonemic distinction don't have such freedom. Sure,
>there'll be some influence of phonetic context so that you may have
>a rounder and backer vowel in 'bought' , b/c of the lip rounding of
>/b/, than in 'taught', but that range of variation should be smaller
>than for us, mergeratti.
>If someone really has a phonemic distinction, it seems unlikely to
>me that 10% of the time (and I recognize this is not an empirical
>finding) they would 'mispeak' to the point of confusing the
>distinction. After all, if this is a performance error (a term
>variationists despise), it should be random. Do they confuse the
>distinction between 'bought' and 'boat' also? As you know, phonemic
>distinctions are phonemic b/c they matter to comprehension, unlike
>most allophonic differences (e.g., [haki] v. [hAki]).

There's another possibility. As part of her study that I referred to
earlier in this thread, Marianna Di Paolo collected a whole bunch of
/a/-/ao/ minimal pair data (cot-caught, hock-hawk, wok-walk,
tock-talk [her subjects weren't linguistics students so she couldn't
use my favorite, ox-AUX], etc.). There were subjects who
distinguished all, or most of the minimal pairs, but with some of
them reversed, so, say tock and hawk had the same vowel and talk and
hock had the same vowel. Assigning an individual lexical item to the
etymologically incorrect category could be perceived as an
inconsistent use of the distinction.

And while we're on this theme, a datum that I'm not sure what to make
of: on one of the usenet groups I read, a poster was talking about
baby names and said "we named her Laurel Dawn, Laurel after my
grandmother and Dawn after my husband, Don". (I have no clues where
in the US this poster is from, and she didn't have a valid email
address, so I couldn't ask.)

Alice Faber                                             faber at
Haskins Laboratories                                  tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
New Haven, CT 06511 USA                                     fax (203) 865-8963

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