can( )not (was: cannot: OED pronunciation

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Jan 18 23:51:24 UTC 2005

Just a couple of remarks on *can( )not* from a native speaker of Standard
Southern British English.

1.  INITIAL STRESS:  As Larry and dInIs have said, there are indeed British
dialects that stress the first syllable of *cannot* (note the spelling, and see
point 2).  Personally, though I'm a middle-class speaker from London, I wouldn't
have identified the initial stress as an RP feature, which isn't to say that it
isn't one, of course.  But there definitely are the following:

- the stereotyped Scottish pronunciation ['kaen@], usually rendered <canna>
- Geordie and other dialects of the North-East of England, which have ['kaen@?]
(where [?] is a glottal stop)

2.  SPELLING:  The spelling *can not* has always struck me as an American-only
variant, but that is only anecdotal;  I don't know whether other Brits on the
list would back me up, or whether a Google search for *can not* would show
predominately American sites or posters for it.  As far as teaching goes, all I
can say is that I was probably taught how to spell *cannot* around 1980 and that
I was not aware of *can not* with narrow scope, really, until I came to America,
unless it was from American sources.  Obviously, though, there's now a
generation that has been taught that sort of thing since I was taught it, so
practices may have been widened.

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

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