often / sophomore (was: Pronuncations)

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Thu Jan 15 18:52:01 UTC 2009

A couple of responses to Robert Lawless' earlier questions about _often_
and _sophomore_, which I posted here:

>From Chad Nilep:

There is variation in the pronunciation of 'often', but I'm not aware of
arguments that this is age-related. Some suggest the t-full version is an
Americanism, other that it is a Briticism, but both variants seem to exist
in the USA, Scotland and Ireland (not sure about England nor other
Anglophone countries).

(On the other hand, it appears to be age linked in the Lawless household.
Personally, I think my own pronunciation varies, but recollection for such
things is notoriously unreliable.)

The variation seems to go quite far back in history. The American Heritage
Book of English Usage (1996) suggests that the /t/ was lost in the 15th
century, but that "Because of the influence of spelling," often "is now
commonly pronounced with the t." http://www.bartleby.com/64/C007/0141.html
That would, as Robert suggests, make the t-full version a spelling

In contrast, though, Oxford English Dictionary notes, "Several orthoepists
of the 16th and 17th centuries, including Hart, Bullokar, Robinson, Gil,
and Hodges, give a pronunciation with medial -t-. Others, including Coles,
Young, Strong, and Brown, record a pronunciation without -t-, which,
despite its use in the 16th cent. by Elizabeth I, seems to have been
avoided by careful speakers in the 17th cent." OED goes on to note that
twentieth century usage guides, including Modern English Usage (Fowler
1926) call pronunciation with /t/ a hypercorrection.

I note, too, that OED lists spellings with and without <t> going all the
way back to Middle English. The first spelling OED lists is <offen> (dated
simply "ME" Middle English), but their earliest literary citation (dated
1325) spells it <often>. Etymologically, it is thought to derive from 'oft'
(which appears unchanged since Old English), with the final syllable
probably added by analogy to 'seldom' (also Old English; earliest spelling
in OED <seldun>, c897).

Chad D. Nilep
University of Colorado at Boulder


>From Alex King:

I am not sure if this is generational so much as regional, although
change happens, of course. I don't pronounce the t in often or the
middle o in sophomore. I am from western WA state, born 1968. I first
encountered the ofTen pronunciation while living in Virginia. A fellow
grad student, about my age but from Baltimore, consistently said
ofTen. Struck me as weird, but I was getting a lot of weird-sounding
accents at the time, so I didn't think that much of it. I hear it a
lot in Scotland, too, even BBC radio Scotland.

Quick quiz of two Canadians on my hallway (both from Edmonton, both
mid-40s) one says 'ofTen' (but slightly voiced, unaspirated) and the
other says 'offen'. Jokes about north vs. south Edmonton ensued. The
'ofTen' Canadian lives with a Scot, for what that is worth.

I have never been aware of 3-syllable sophomore, and that
pronunciation has always been a joke in my circle of family/friends of
general NWC provenance, but including parents born 1940. I must
confess that it sounds stupid (writing as a native, no offense meant!).


Any more replies, still to Robert Lawless (<robert.lawless at WICHITA.EDU>) as
well as here.


Damien Hall

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

Tel. (office) 01904 432665
     (mobile) 0771 853 5634
Fax  01904 432673

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

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