Ambiguous AHD/AmE pronunciation guides

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Dec 18 19:33:54 UTC 2007

Thank you for that explanation. That is the reason why I selected only
the issue that I did: five percent (at an absolute minimum estimate)
seems to be significant enough that it should be taken into account. BB

Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:
> On Dec 18, 2007, at 3:19 AM, dInIs wrote:
>> And imagine how us standard English speakers feel when we encounter
>> in Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams that the key word provided for open-o
>> is "bore." This assumes the conflation of "hoarse" and "horse," a
>> shameful loss! (But see DNAE for evidence of the small and shrinking
>> zone where this distinction persists.) Too much pandering to "caught"
>> - "cot" conflaters!
> yes, it's awful.  why, the distinction between "mad" (with higher and
> tenser vowel) and "glad" is disregarded as well, when au courant
> speakers scrupously distinguish them.
> i suppose there's no real point in saying what most of us here already
> know only too well, but:
> 1.  any pronunciation guide that uses key words ("as in X") will be
> inadequate for a great many speakers.  the only adequate system would
> use phonetic descriptors, but of course that requires that the readers
> understand these descriptors, and anyway:
> 2.  the amount of variation in pronunciation -- even if we just stick
> to distinctions that are phonemic for some speakers in some words --
> is so enormous and so complexly related to geography, social group,
> speaker's age, speech style, etc. that no dictionary could possibly
> list all the variants, much less stipulate who uses them.  a fully
> adequate indication of pronunciations is simply impossible.  the best
> dictionaries can do is list some frequent variants (so that declining
> distinctions and advancing ones will probably both be disregarded).
> this is especially troublesome when a distinction is made by many
> speakers but systematically neutralized by many others (as with
> "cot"/"caught"), or when speakers with a distinction neutralize it in
> certain speech styles (as with /hw/ vs. /w/).  but even sporadic
> alternatives (affecting only certain words) present problems.  (i see
> that AHD4 recognizes two pronunciations for "apricot", but only one
> for "radiator" -- no doubt a reflection of a judgment that the /&/
> variant is much more common for "apricot" than for "radiator".)
> arnold

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