Odd rhyme claim

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Wed Dec 16 19:29:30 UTC 2009

We're dealing with an America where, Noah Webster notwithstanding,
British English still played a role in shaping linguistic norms,
particularly in New England.  The Boston Brahmins' near-RP recorded
in the film American Tongues, I would think, would be pretty close to
the way a University educated Bostonian might speak at this time--
allowing for changes that were going on in British English as well
(Edward VII, according to Hallam's transcriptions, was variably
rhotic, as were elocutionists following Sheridan or Walker's 18th
century norms).  RP as we know it was probably already formed, or
well along in its development, so the differences in British English
from Gimson's conservative RP would have been minor--upgliding
diphthongs for /e o/, but little or no o-fronting (cf. Batchelor
1809), non-rhoticity already adopted, little smoothing of "fire" or
"flower" to monophthongs, a contrast between an /O:/ ( or maybe a
lower vowel) in NORTH and an /O@/ in FORCE.  The question is: what
about LOT and THOUGHT?  in British RP at this time, LOT was probably
what it is today--a low back rounded vowel, which I will use the
symbol [D] for (I don't know what it is in computer conventions).
Boston speech matches that, both in vernacular and Brahmin
varieties.  So I think that's what Emerson would have had in his
restressed partriOT.  THOUGHT probably was undergoing change,
however, in RP.  The 18th century sources point to a long version of
LOT = [D:] (and late 17th century ones to that, or unrounded [A:].)
This raises to [O:] in the late 18th/early 19th century, tensing (I
would call present-day RP [O:] a tense, or better, a peripheral
vowel) in the 20th.   So it looks like your "thot" spellings reflect
a conservative pronunciation.  The other thing going on is that
Wells's CLOTH class, words like soft, cloth, cross, are also shifting
in RP from THOUGHT words to LOT words, diverging from what Southern
British English vernaculars have--and incidentally, what American
ones underlyingly have.  This process picked up other words on the
way in some areas--my native tongue has THOUGHT in dog and LOT in all
other -og words.

Now in New England, the relationship between LOT, THOUGHT, and NORTH
is a tricky one.  Some dialects (and I'd say Click and Clack's) merge
them all, though FORCE is different.  Others (Providence?) have LOT
as an [D], and at least some THOUGHT words as [O@] to go with FORCE,
and increasingly NORTH.  This last vowel can raise too: my first name
is just as much [po at L~pU at L] in Seekonk, MA as it is back home in New
Jersey.  Boston lies in between, and though LOT is [D], NORTH is
[D:], and FORCE is [O@] (no raising), there seems to be a lot of
lexically-conditioned variation in Boston vernacular in THOUGHT.
Offhand, though, I'd say the older form is [D], though I'm no native
speaker.  There'd be even more variation in Boston Brahmin speech,
and particularly in the 19c. due to the compromise of RP and local
norms this variety is, as well as the above-mentioned variability in
RP.  So I'd say a rhyme on [D], with or without a length difference,
is just fine for Emerson, given the restressing of patriot.

Then again, it could be just a spelling pronunciation.

Paul Johnston

On Dec 16, 2009, at 8:40 AM, Amy West wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Amy West <medievalist at W-STS.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Odd rhyme claim
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---------
> I can't speak to the Magliozzi's accent, but the \pay-tree-ought\
> pron. sounds either like a stage elocution pronunciation to me or a
> (forced) upper-crust pron.
> ---Amy West
> (in Worcester, with Boston relations)
>> Date:    Tue, 15 Dec 2009 23:56:19 -0500
>> From:    "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
>> Subject: Re: Odd rhyme claim
>> At 12/15/2009 11:00 PM, Jerome Foster wrote:
>>> For a current example listen to Click and Clack, the Magliozzi
>>> brothers on
>>> NPR.
>> Do they say "ought" ("awt") -- which I can't relate to "patriot",
>> even in New England, or "ott", as in the baseball player Mel -- which
>> I can imagine in New England for both "patriot" and "thought"
>> ("thott" -- the vowel a little like "cah" for "carr"?)  I'll have to
>> listen next Saturday.
>> Joel
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