wheel barrels?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Aug 11 15:17:07 UTC 2004

At 10:41 AM -0400 8/11/04, Thomas Paikeday wrote:
>FWIW, here is my explanation of why you hear "wheel barrow" as "wheel
>The "l" sound in that position is rounded, so is "w". The "-ow"/"-el"
>confusion, I believe, is borne out in similar phonetic contexts including
>"-al", "-il", "-ol", -"ul", and "-yl" if someone will supply examples in
>support of or against this claim by a non-phonetician.

Tom, I'm not sure I buy this, however persuasive the phonetic argumentation.

My wife purchased a wheelbarrow earlier this summer and since then
has referred to it consistently as a wheelbarrel.  (This surprised me
because she's from Greenwich, CT and doesn't have all that many
"folk" pronunciations in her dialect.)  I just checked and she
confirmed that she (like others who have commented) would always
*spell* it as "wheelbarrow" but usually *pronounces* it as
wheelbarrel.  She claims (essentially like Tom) that it's "easier to
say" as 'barrel", but when I grilled her on whether she'd say "bow
and arrel" because it's easier than saying "bow and arrow", she
acknowledged she'd be extremely unlikely to do so.  So I think the
folk etymological link with "barrel" is crucial in the former case,
whatever the phonetic motivation.


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