"Diphthong" in the mouth of the South

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 10 21:22:00 UTC 2008

I was chatting with Carol, a white linguistics prof (phonetics) of
about my age (32) at UC Davis in the late 'Sixties, at a party. In the
course of the conversation, it came out that Carol and I, despite our
respective standard-sounding accents, were natives of the same part of
the country, she from Shreveport, LA, a mere hoot and a holler
(ca.35mi.) from my natal town of Marshall, TX.

Laughing, she pointed out that, despite being a professor of
phonetics, she had only recently come to realize that she had been
mispronouncing a very important term in that field.

C, Yes. After all this time, come to find out that I've been mispronouncing it!

W. Really? Which one?

C. "Di[p]thong."

W. And how were you mispronouncing it?

C. Well, I've always been saying "di[p]thong."

W. [confused] Ah, how should it be pronounced?

C. "Di[p]thong"!

W. [his head bugging] Oh, of course! Uh, you're saying that it should
be "di[p]thong," right? And not "di[p]thong"?

C. Right!

W. Oh, wow! I'm glad that you brought that up! Because I've been using
that same mispronunciation! So, it ought to be "di[p]thong" and not
"di[p]thong," right?

C. Exactly!

W. [wondering, a la Richard Pryor: "Is the gull crayzih?"] Good. I
think I've got it. Well, I'm going to get another beer.

C. Okay.

It was some five or so years later, while I was at M.I.T., that I
*finally* flashed on the fact that the pronunciation is "di[f]thong."

Have any other Southrons had a similar problem?

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

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

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