Hypercorrection of /w/-/hw/

Geoff Nathan an6993 at WAYNE.EDU
Wed May 26 16:02:11 UTC 2004

At 10:51 AM 5/26/2004, you wrote:
>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       David Bergdahl <einstein at FROGNET.NET>
>Subject:      Re: Hypercorrection of /w/-/hw/
>All of these responses limit the discussion to whether a voiced /w/ or a
>voiceless one preceded by an /h/ -- but some people lack the preceding
>voiceless spirant and only contrast a voiced and voiceless variant.  The
>voiced /w/ follows other h+cons. combinations such as OE hraefn > raven, OE
>hlud > loud &c., where the loss of /h/ resulted in the eventual voicing of
>the initial consonant.  It seems the /ho/ signal to halt as opposed to /wo/
>parallels the development of "whore" with initial /h/ rather than /hw/ or
>/w/.  I can see a historical pattern in which /hw/ was reduced to voiceless
>/w/ and subsequently voiced and that in an attempt to retain the aspiration
>a new form /ho/ derived from "whoa."  A similar thing happened with the
>initial voiceless /l/ of the Welsh Lloyd which became the English Floyd to
>preserve the aspiration.  (Pure conjecture on my part).
>Does anyone know the distribution of /hw/ vs. the 2 variants of /w/?  I'm
>sure that in the US /w/ is winning out all over.

I think we need to think carefully about the phonetics here.  Remember that
/h/ (note phoneme slants) is a sound with a large number of allophones--in
fact exactly as many allophones as it has distinct environments (well,
maybe that's a little strong).  An [h] (phonetic brackets) is a voiceless
copy of a following vowel (or in the non-English case of syllable final
[h], of a preceding vowel).  In some sense, therefore, an [h] isn't
phonetically a consonant at all.  So 'hat' is phonetically [Ææt] (where
upper case=voiceless) and 'hole' is [Ooul].  Since [w] is a non-syllabic
high back rounded vowel (i.e. an [u] in syllable onset), a voiceless [W] is
the same as a non-syllabic voiceless [U].  So it is unlikely in the extreme
that there could be a difference between a voiceless [W] and a sequence of
[h]+[w], since that would  come out as a difference between, say [Uel] and
[Uuel] in 'whale' where both [U] and [Uu] are in an onset.

I agree that the loss of /w/ in 'whore' is attributable to the rounding
being attributed to the following vowel, and hence 'factored out', as John
Ohala has suggested for a number of sound changes (also 'who').  But I
believe the change from [Loid] to [floid] is a language contact case, where
the non-existent voiceless [L] was perceived by English speakers as a
cluster, /fl-/ being the most likely because it is both legal and /f/ is
the quietest of the fricatives, and therefore most likely to have been


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