How to say "either" and "neither"

Paul Johnston paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Mon Apr 22 22:19:15 UTC 2013

He probably meant "ather" with /e/, attested in Older Scots, and derived from a related, but originally separate word (in OED:  OUTHER-- the /e/ is a Scots/Northern English trait, like stane for stone) that got pulled into the EITHER paradigm in a whole lot of Scots, Northern and North Midland dialects.  I've heard plenty of Scots use /a.e/, which comes in via British StdE, and oh, yes, /i/ occurs too, and could come natively via one of two pathways.

First:  the OE had a long /æ:j/, as does "key" and "grey" (note the variation).  Anglian dialects raise this early to /e:j/, where it falls together with the vowel in words like "die" and "eye".  And yes, this is how you get the "I"ther pronunciation in the input dialects to Standard English.  But in Scots, and in Northern English, the /j/ also disappears early, and the result rhymes with words like "me", "free", etc.  And "die", "eye" do too.  This would give you your "E"ther pronunciation in Scotland.
Second:  Some dialects only raise it to /E:j/, which is what happens to "key".  The /j/ disappears, and the result is in the same class with words like "beat".  This development is shown in Early StdE up to the 18c., and is no doubt what gives you the American English "E"ther.  It also could be the pathway in places like Edinburgh and Glasgow, where most instances of the "beat" and "meet" classes fall together as /i/.

Or: your Scotsman could come from one of the areas where "beat" and "meat" are still separate.  There, if pathway two happened, you'd get an /e/ instead of an /i/, so there are two pathways to that too.  I personally hear this vowel, which you can get in SW Scotland, Perthshire, parts of Fife, and parts of the Northeast as something like our /I/ in "pick", only perhaps longer.

Or--you could have heard the very front, close, very monophthongal /e/ many Scots have as an /i/.  My father used to hear my Scots friend's name Laraine as Ladeen.

Complicated enough for you?  This word gives me a pain when I do Middle English dialect research.

And by the way, OED has an attestation of "I"ther that predates the Georges, if only by a decade--Jones 1701.  It'd be a perfectly fine London English development, by pathway one.

Paul Johnston

On Apr 22, 2013, at 2:52 PM, Tom Zurinskas <truespel at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Tom Zurinskas <truespel at HOTMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: How to say "either" and "neither"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> :-) I once asked a fellow with a Scotch accent which isle had his display.  He said "Isle A"  I repeated "Isle A"  He said "Make that E."  So he realized that I heard "A" when he was trying to say E.  So for "either" I'm sure that when he said "A"-ther he meant "E"-ther rather than "I"-ther.
> On another post point - I don't think the term "phonetically" is the adverb form of "phonics".  Perhaps "phonically" would do.  But you may be right that common core might not know the difference.  This area is so mixed up.
> Tom Zurinskas, Conn 20 yrs, Tenn 3, NJ 33, now Fl 9.
> See how English spelling links to sounds at
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster: W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject: Re: How to say "either" and "neither"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> either [EYE-ther ~ EE-ther]: Probably c. 1962, Brother Regan (EE not AY)
>> told us boys a joke about an Englishman & an American arguing over the
>> pronunciation of <either>, so they asked an Irishman (or maybe Scotsman) to
>> decide: <<[AY-ther] will do>> he says.
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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