Moot > mute (point) eggcorn redux

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Mon Aug 31 13:29:16 UTC 2009

Replying to Larry's question about who deletes /j/ anywhere but after
coronals, David Daniel said:

'in fact, the true center of glide deletion weirdness of the universe is
Norwich, England, where the oo's extend (famously) even to booty, as in the
fairy tale, Sleeping Booty.'

I was going to say that! In the UK, the Norfolk turkey farmer Bernard
Matthews is famous for his catchphrase, "(It's) bootiful!", which can be
seen on his own website at the bottom of this page:

(Norwich is the county cown of the county of Norfolk.)

Quoted below is a passage from Wells (_Accents of English_ vol.2, 'The
British Isles', pp338-9, talking about East Anglia (where Norwich is). For
those who don't know it, Wells is still the standard reference work on
accents of English, particularly on British English, but also on other
Englishes (though it's not as detailed on the other ones, granted).

I have 'translated' all the IPA in Wells into something that everyone will
hopefully be able to read; the usual translation of IPA into ASCII usually
works well, but not when there are diacritics!

"Yod Dropping is very widespread, and extends to virtually all environments
except word-initial. Thus the 'y' sound is typically absent not only after
alveolars (_suit, resume, tune, duke, new_) but also after labials (_pure,
beauty, music, few, view_), velars (_accuse_) and 'h' (_huge_). Because, no
doubt, of pressure from British Received Pronunciation, Yod Dropping is
certainly variable; but it is not at all unusual for there to be homophony
in pairs such as _do-dew_ (pronounced 'do' with a fronted vowel; imagine
the stereotypical Valley Girl pronunciation!), _mute-moot_ ('moot' with
fronted vowel), _cute-coot_ ('coot' with fronted vowel). The working-class
pronunciation of Hughes Hall in Cambridge is usually '(h)ooz (h)all',
identical with _whose haul_.

In [words of the same vowel-class as CURE] where historically there was a
'y' sound the Norwich vowel is the same as the vowel in NURSE, e.g. _sure_
'sher'. Yod Dropping therefore makes potential homophones out of pairs such
as _pure-purr_ (both pron. 'purr'), _cure-cur_ ('curr')."

Sorry for the long quote!

Tom: the fact that adding a 'y' sound to 'moot' makes 'mute', which is a
different word with a different meaning, was exactly my point. I was
surprised that a lawyer, a person who would probably know the word 'moot',
still did not pronounce it in the prescriptively-correct way, but instead
said 'mute'. This is a substitution that you might expect people to make if
they were familiar with the word 'mute' but not with the word 'moot', but
you wouldn't expect the substitution from someone who should be familiar
with both. The fact that the use of 'mute' instead of 'moot' has been
discussed as an eggcorn means that very thing: eggcorns are a kind of
innovative behaviour where people use a word with which they are familiar,
but which is prescriptively not the right word to use, instead of a word
with which they are not familiar, but which would have been prescriptively
correct; and they do this on the basis of the two words sounding similar
and having some (possibly imagined) similarity of meaning or use.


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673


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