"open o" loss

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Apr 24 14:11:34 UTC 2008

On Thu, Apr 24, 2008 at 9:54 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> At 9:43 AM -0400 4/24/08, Charles Doyle wrote:
> >"Four" would ordinarily have /o/ or /ow/; "for" would have the open
> >o. (The parallel distinction often mentioned in the textbooks is
> >"hoarse" vs. "horse.")
> Yes, but for (*4) me the pun is extremely forced even though I merge
> "horse" and "hoarse".  The preposition "for", unless it's
> contrastively stressed ("Chris is FOR Obama, not aGAINST him"), has
> an extremely bleached out schwaish vowel (if it's a vowel at all, as
> opposed to a syllabic liquid), rather than the open- or closed-o of
> "four".  It's hard for me to tell which vowel I have in the latter
> (or in "horse" and "hoarse") because of the r-coloring.

Well, as we recently learned in another thread, "4" has been a decent
substitution for "for" for writers from Don Marquis ("the simplified
speling bords stand / 4 the shorter and uglier word") to Prince ("I
Would Die 4 U"). In the Prince example it might be easier to deal with
because it receives primary stress due to the song's staccato rhythmic

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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