<w> as indicator of vowelitude

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Mar 20 15:55:32 UTC 2012

At 3/20/2012 10:07 AM, Ronald Butters wrote:
>Orthographic <w> is a vowel indicator in words such as <awl>,
>distinguishing it from <Al>; and <mew>, distinguishing it from <me>.
>When the old-timers spoke of "w" as a "vowel", they were probably
>not thinking of it as a stand-alone indicator of a unique English
>vowel, but rather as a "letter" that was something added simply to
>indicate vowel quality, as opposed to its function as a consonant
>indicator, in, e.g., <win>.

The above is what my third-grade memory (no jokes, please!) is also
-- the letter w sometimes indicated a vowel.


>If my memory of third grade is correct, they often went on to say
>that it is sometimes indicative of nothing phonological at all, as
>in <two>, pronounced exactly like <to>, and <mow>, where it is
>pronounced exactly  like <Mo>.
>In the footnotes, they might also have indicated that <ow> was not
>unambiguous, e.g., <bow> is pronounced both /bo/ and /baw/.
>On Mar 20, 2012, at 9:12 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> > Is it possible that the vowel classification of "w" was designed to cover
> > these OE exx.?
> >
> > After all, English is English!
> >
> > As for "cwm," it may seem like a cheat to some, but the OED cites show it
> > in English geology discourse, without apology, italics, or quotation marks
> > as far back as 1882.  That would make it no more non-English than a word
> > like "eclair."
> >
> > Nor are cwms restricted to travels in Wales. There's even a cwm on Mount
> > Everest.
> >
> > JL
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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