Hypercorrection of /w/-/hw/

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Sun May 23 01:24:52 UTC 2004

On May 22, 2004, at 2:48 PM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote, replying to
dennis preston (below) replying to geoff nunberg:

>> Nothing informal about it. I am a native speaker of wh-, and I cannot
>> utter exclamatory 'why' with wh-. Now you have elicited data (albeit
>> reported) from an native respondent.
> Me too. That's two natives.
>> Why is this? (By the way, plenty of wh-ers agree with me; well, maybe
>> not plenty, we are fading fast.) Could it be the date? Apparently
>> not; the first OED exclamatory use is cited from the early 16th C.,
>> well before the loss, even in the south of England.
> In my own speech (and experience, I think) "whoa" (for the horse, etc.)
> also has "w-" pronunciation rather than "wh-".

there's certainly been at least one previous discussion of this, a
while back, but whether it was on ADS-L, OutIL, or sci.lang, i don't

"sincere" hw- users (like me and dennis) are, so far as i know, all
variable in their use of hw- vs. w-, with the latter tending to appear
in unaccented positions and in casual speech.  presumably, the w- in
exclamatory "why" and in "whoa" represents a lexicalization of the
casual speech variant -- or at least that's what i've been saying in
classes since the 60s.  (one or both of them might even be in my '72
paper "On Casual Speech".  but i don't think the observation was
particularly novel even then.)

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

More information about the Ads-l mailing list