SLITHER, n.--another word with two (or 1.5) mommies?

W Brewer brewerwa at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 8 07:25:41 UTC 2013

NW:  <<Maybe it's the same phenomenon  "trough" as [trOT].>>
LH:  << cockney (and AAVE?) /T/ > /f/.  ("trough" goes in the other
direction) Maybe hypercorrection ...  semantic blend conditioned by
phonetic proximity.>>
WB:  I have vague memories of child-language acquisition sequences (having
been a key-punch operator for Dan Slobin in my Berkeley days), and IIRC
denti-alveolars are acquired before interdentals by Anglophone kids. The
pronunciation of <bathroom> as [BAFF-room] has a "primitive" (ooh, tabu
word!) or primordial flavor to it (from an SAE standpoint), as if the
[theta] has not yet "evolved" (ontogeny/phylogeny) in the young child's
phonology (due to stages in its physiological development). There must be
some connection between this phenomenon and the merger (or simply lack) of
[theta, thorn] (i.e. [T, D]) in certain dialects < sociolects < idiolects,
resulting in a perceived affinity of the familiar [f, v] with the
extra-lectal [theta, thorn]. In attempting to adapt to a more prestigious
variety of English, such speakers could tend to hypercorrectively, if only
sporadically, substitute [theta, thorn] for [f, v] (troth for trough,
slither for sliver), taking on the form of a different phonemic/graphemic
host, in these two cases without semantic connection whatsoever; Malkiel's
multiple causation, Esper's abduction principles.

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