Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Jul 23 16:51:26 UTC 2004

On Jul 22, 2004, at 3:52 PM, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

> You obviously belong to a younger Louisville generation; those taking
> the language to hell in a handbasket. At one time the hoarse-horse
> (or four-for) distinction was alive and well in Louisville. "Hoarse"
> was long-o, the vowel of "coat"; "horse" was open o, the vowel of
> "caught."
> Yes, people who don't have the distinction find it hard to imagine...

heh, heh.

i used to use this contrast in the writing systems section of intro
linguistics courses, just after the cot-caught contrast (or lack of
it), the point being that the conservatism of english orthography leads
to situations in which the orthography is arbitrary from the point of
view of many (or most) current speakers, but explicable historically.
(if there's time, we go on to meet-meat.)  my classes would always have
some people who distinguish cot-caught and some who don't, and the
latter students would be astonished to discover that there was
something systematic in the spelling (even if it was useless for them).

horse-hoarse is trickier, though.  it's ok if i stick to these two
words; <or> spells open o, <oar> spells long o (when the vowel and the
[r] are tautosyllabic, of course), and i believe that those
generalizations are essentially perfect.  i almost never had a
horse-hoarse distinguisher in my classes (even at ohio state, with lots
of southern midlands speakers, and some from the upper south), so the
spelling point was a kind of aha experience for the students.

but in the horse-hoarse variety most familiar to me (ann daingerfield
zwicky's -- born in 1937, early years mostly in lexington, ky. --
identical to dInIs's with respect to this distinction, i think), the
spelling <our> goes both ways: open o in <course>, long o in <four>.
this is something i'd prefer to conceal from students in an intro

(let me point out that i'm posting from home, so that i'm away from all
the sources that have actual historical information on this topic.  i
am moved to wonder about different words spelled <course>, and whether
they're all in the open-o set, or whether there's variation, and
similarly for other <our> spellings.)

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

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