Ambiguous AHD/AmE pronunciation guides

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Tue Dec 18 13:55:41 UTC 2007

Also from grade school (the 1950s): Remember how the old Webster's Collegiate dictionaries gave as the key for an "a" with one dot over it (was it called "short Italian"?) the word "ask"--which clearly ought to have had the little "u"-shaped mark over it instead!


---- Original message ----
>Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2007 22:17:19 -0600
>From: Alan Knutson <boris at TERRACOM.NET>
>Subject: Re: Ambiguous AHD/AmE pronunciation guides
> I can relate, when I was in grade school I was constantly frustated with all the pronunciation guides being from r-less dialects, although it was probably the trigger to my lifelong interest in linguistics (both synchronic and diachronic).
>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
>Of Benjamin Barrett
>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

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