hw/w in performance

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Tue Jan 29 15:24:35 UTC 2008

As a side note to the recent discussion of isoglosses for hw/w, something on
perception of the (geographical distribution of the) two variants.  In the
choir I sing in, we're currently singing three madrigals by English composers
of the sixteenth-seventeenth century (Dowland and Wilbye).  We are, of course,
doing them in a fairly exaggerated version of English English, and we're being
directed to sing all <wh-> -words with /hw/.  I infer that the director thinks
that <wh> = /hw/ is part of the sort of British accent that you should use when
you want that accent to come across very clearly; in fact, as far as I can see
hw/w is variable there just as it is here, though there I do think there's a
(slight) social component whereby /hw/ is more likely the higher up you go in

Other things we're doing to make ourselves (well, make the rest of them) sound
British are the features you'd expect, like properly-rounded long and short
open-o, and r-lessness.  I pointed out at our last rehearsal, though, that Brits
can/do pronounce word-final /r/ before a word-initial vowel, and the director
said he'd rather people sang such contexts ('here is' is one we have) with a
slight hiatus rather than with an 'excessively American r', as he put it.  I
won't labour the point, as the hiatus is also acceptable in BrE, and I also
think that putting a hiatus in even when you don't strictly need one is part of
doing the *exaggeratedly* British performance that is necessary from the singers
if the audience are to perceive a performance of *normal* Britishness.  (This is
always true in performance:  if you do stuff that seems to you to be exaggerated
to silly levels, the audience will perceive it at normal levels.)

Has anyone (non-British) on here every had to act or otherwise perform a Brit?
Was <wh> = /hw/ one of the features you chose to adopt?  What other ones are

Incidentally, anyone in the Philadelphia area on the weekend of 12-13 April is
welcome to come and hear us do our British thing.  The main draw of the concert
(for me) is the Tallis *Lamentations*.  12 April in Paoli, 13 April in
Philadelphia.  E-mail me for details!

Damien Hall
University of Philadelphia

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

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