rate of language change

Jim Rader jrader at m-w.com
Tue Feb 2 14:06:08 UTC 1999

I think there are actually a number of variables in the loss of [h-]
in [hw-] in North American English, with splits along regional,
class, and educational lines as well as large city/small city/rural

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago.  When I first
became aware of dictionary respelled representations of English
phonetics, as an elementary school student in the 1950's, I found the
representation of <wh> in "where" as [hw] incomprehensible, because
no one I knew, not my parents or grandparents, teachers or
schoolmates, pronounced this with anything but [w].  It was only
after I met a much wider circle of people that I realized some people
actually pronounced the [h]--or at least had something like a
voiceless [w].

In Arthur Bronstein's _The Pronunciation of American English_ (1960),
it is claimed (p. 96) that "/hw/ is actually the older and still
predominant form of most of the country" and that [w] is
characteristic only  of "the speech of most in New York City and in
certain other sections of the East."  Of course, the only survey data
Bronstein cites is from the eastern U.S.  I think the change was very
likely well under way in other areas.  The phoneticians were not
running around in the right places or right social circles.

Jim Rader

[ moderator snip of Larry Trask's post ]

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