Ambiguous AHD/AmE pronunciation guides

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Dec 18 00:03:55 UTC 2007

I remember as a child being confused by the pronunciation guide in
dictionaries. To this day (I'm now 41), they are confusing.

A few weeks ago, I finally got my copy of the AHD 4, and remain confused.

For backwards "c" (circumflex o), the words "caught, paw, for, horrid,
hoarse" are provided in the pronunciation key. Since I pronounce the
first two as /a/ and the last three as /o/, I have no leg to stand on
when this symbol is used. My general rule in this case has always been
to guess from the spelling. I guess that's generally all right since if
I don't know the pronunciation already, the word probably isn't
conversational enough to use, anyway. Nevertheless...

AFAIK, at least half of Californians speak like I do (I'm a native
Seattleite), so at least 5% of the US population should have this problem.

Careful notes in the endpapers provide an explanation for people who
split "horse, hoarse" and also special notation for words like "forest".
Both of these careful notation patterns are useless to me, though I'm
sure they are critical for a significant percentage of English speakers.

At least five percent of the population seems sizable enough that this
pronunciation pattern should be addressed. Is this split so intractable
it's ignored, or is there a reason why this pronunciation pattern is
left ambiguous?

Ever-curious about thisly yours

Benjamin Barrett
a cyberbreath for language life

The American Dialect Society -

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