Friday, 19 October 2012

with, regretful

I found myself being just a tiny bit querulous when commenting on a posting in Language Log. A reader had asked about the word with, saying

I have always used unvoiced [th] as the pronunciation of that word, and had never noticed anyone doing otherwise.
As for the voiced [ð] in this word,
I'm interested in what the distribution of this variant is, but I'm having a hard time finding it online

In reply Mark Liberman, the usually very knowledgeable writer of the post in question, said just

Short answer: I don't know. I've never heard a discussion of this point of pronunciation variation, except with respect to the varieties of English that have [wɪf] or [wɪv].

There followed a string of commentators reporting what they said or what this or that dictionary reported.

Finally I felt I must chip in:

Doesn't anyone ever consult my Longman Pronunciation Dictionary? There you will find both preference statistics and graphs for wɪθ and wɪð in both American and British English. Also a note mentioning that "in Britain, wɪθ is nevertheless frequent in Scotland" - again, with statistics.
Why do I bother, if no one reads what I write?

I suppose the problem is in the phrase “finding it online”. People now no longer look for information in books, or in libraries: they expect to be able to locate it in in Wikipedia or via Google. They don’t want the inconvenience and expense of buying a book or locating the book in a library.

So the only way I can reasonably expect to disseminate the research I carried out into whether people prefer wɪθ or wɪð is indeed to put it online, which I shall now proceed to do, Here’s the entry for with from LPD.

You’ll see that in Britain taken as a whole we overwhelmingly prefer wɪð, though the Scots, unlike the rest of us, go for wɪθ. In the States most people, like the Scots, prefer wɪθ. The graphs alongside show that the situation is fairly stable over the generations in the US, while in Britain wɪð is gradually increasing in popularity as we move from older speakers to younger.

What the LPD entry doesn’t tell you, because it’s not really germane, is that there is an archaic/dialectal form with no final consonant at all, represented in special spelling as wi’. There are also forms such as wɪv, wɪf, used by TH-fronters in the wɪð and wɪθ areas respectively, and likewise forms such as wɪd, wɪt used by TH-stoppers. So don’t be surprised if a Londoner (probably young, possibly black) says wɪv or even wɪd, or if a similar NooYorker says wɪf or wɪt. But that’s for the sociolinguists.

16 comments:

  1. Is there any research on the pronunciation of the word in Ireland? My impression is that the final consonant is voiceless there as it is in Scotland.

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  2. Language Log doesn't seem to deal much in phonetics or phonology and some of its contributors quite possibly have never consulted pronunciation dictionaries (while making frequent use of online tools such as Google's Ngram Viewer). It's a shame because the pronunciation surveys in the LPD give some really interesting overviews of UK/US and generational differences in pronunciation.

    Jongseong Park

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  3. Certainly where I come from in Tyrone, with has [θ], but can also be [wə] or [we(:)], presumably of Scots origin. Final [h] is also just about possible I think, including in without

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    1. Same in Derry: wɪθ~wəθ or ~we.

      Can't say I've noticed the form with h but I'd say that's underlyingly wɪθ, since θ is regularly replaced with h in N.I. (and Scotland).

      So the voiceless variety seems to be the norm in N.I. If the underlying form were wɪð you'd get l instead, as intervocalic ð often surfaces as l.

      piː mæk ənɛnə

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  4. Jack Windsor Lewis says:
    Like your first commenter I think of /-θ/ as the Irish norm.
    I shd say that in a relaxed casual style you may get /wɪ/ from some GB speakers tho I /kspek/ you won' a`gree /wɪ mi/. That's what I'd call a weakform unlike /wɪ `ðɪs/ that I'd regard as merely an elision.

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  5. In the west of Ireland I usually hear /wɪθ/ from local speakers, and occasionally /wɪt/ or /wɪ/.

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  6. What do Australians and New Zealanders say? I mostly remember the weak form(s) from the southern hemisphere people, and it is really difficult to discern the final consonant (if present at all).

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  7. Amy Stoller says:
    No th-fronting in New York, at least not that I know of. Possibly it has come in with recent immigrant groups and (for all I know) hip-hop influence. I have
    certainly never heard it at the end of a word like with. In a broad Noo Yawk accent, usually /t/ or /d/, often but not always dental.

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    2. Specifically, in the US, th-fronting is essentially exclusive to African-Americans.

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  9. There may be some regional variation within the United States. I once did an informal survey of American friends and relations and noticed a preference for /wɪð/ among people from the Northeast and Inland North, and for /wɪθ/ among people from the South and West. Many people also responded that they'd use /wɪð/ in weak position (e.g. "I went with him") and /wɪθ/ in strong position (e.g. "Who did you go with?"). There's probably a dissertation in here waiting for a graduate student in sociolinguistics to write it.

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  10. See now Mark Liberman here. Thanks!

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  11. I'm afraid I haven't got that book either, Prof Wells, and wonder if it covers the pronunciation of "though" with an unvoiced th? Peter Gibbs' BBC weather forecaster's idiosyncrasy?

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