Re:       are we making since yet?

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Tue Apr 19 02:01:22 UTC 2005

In a message dated 4/18/05 6:59:16 PM, zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU writes:

> my first hypothesis was that this was just ear-spelling from someone
> with the /E/-/I/ neutralization before nasals.  the student grew up in
> california, though.  so i gave her three sentences to read, one with
> "pen", one with "cents", and one (on a separate card) with "sense".
> [E] as clear as anything.  i then asked her if she found anything odd
> about sentence #3, and, with some hesitation, she suggested that it
> might be spelled wrong.  which word?  "sense", of course.

Wouldn't it have made more sense to ask her if she found anything wrong with 
ANY of the sentences? Asking her to focus on #3 would suggest to her that 
there was, indeed, something wrong with #3. So she would try to find SOMETHING 
wrong. She would hestitate, because it didn't look all that "odd." Then she 
"suggested" that SENSE "might" be spelled wrong. What else could she have 

The pin/pen "neutralization" is pretty widespread. In my experience, it is 
not a merger in the sense that one or the other phones is invariably selected 
(as is the case for me for a/o neutralization--though the neutralization is not 
complete for me in potential homonyms, e.g., "Don" and "Dawn"); rather, it is 
realized variably as anything between [I] and {E]. Granted, both SENSE and 
SINCE are realtively high-frequency words; one would expect that a reasonably 
literate person would have mastered the spelling, despite the low-level of 
phonetic difference. On the other hand, if a pair of words is virtually homonymic 
and also high-frequency in speech, the opportunity for confusion is maximized. A 
parallel case for me is "lead" (metal) and "led" (past tense of the verb "to 
lead"). I still mistakenly write "lead" when I should write "led". I have to 
make a conscious effort to keep the two sorted out when I am editing other 
people's work.

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