LS, in Charleston, West Virginia, writes:
I have a question I've thought about for years, and today, when I decided to poke around google, I stumbled upon a blog that had your name. Can you tell me why, in southern dialects where the velar nasal changes to a coronal nasal, there are two exceptions? I know of no dialect that would "drop the g," as it were, in the words
everything and anything?
The being in human being is iffy.
If you can answer this, I'll be able to sleep at night again!
It's easy to explain why every#thing and any#thing are different from work+ing and try+ing: the phenomenon popularly known as "g-dropping" applies only to the ending spelled "-ing", not to words like thing, bring, sing, or compounds made up of them. As for why "human being is iffy", it's because the "-ing" ending in that case is the derivational ending that makes nouns out of verbs, which has had a velar consonant for millennia, rather than the present participle ending, which had a coronal consonant until a few hundred years ago, when some middle-class speakers in the south of England decided to start mispronouncing it with a velar.
As I explained in "The Internet Pilgrim's Guide to g-dropping", 5/10/2004,
The English present participle suffix was originally pronounced with a coronal, not a velar nasal: in early middle English, this inflection was-inde or -ende. There was a derivational ending -ung for making nouns out of verbs, which produced words like present-day "building." These eventually merged into the modern -ing suffix. In 19th- and early 20th-century England, the g-dropping pattern (which really was the [conservative] "not g-adding pattern") marked the rural aristrocracy as well as the lower classes. Thus this passage from John Galsworthy's 1931 novel Maid in Waiting:
'Where on earth did Aunt Em learn to drop her g's?'
'Father told me once that she was at a school where an undropped "g" was worse than a dropped "h". They were bringin' in a country fashion then, huntin' people, you know.'
The velar pronunciation, a middle-class innovation a couple of hundred years ago, has since become the norm for most educated speakers. Note, by the way, note that this is exactly the type of change that many prescriptivist language mavens rail against — an innovation that systematically blurs a distinction between two formerly separate categories of words. Some g-dropping speakers cleanly maintain the old distinction — for my wife, who is from Texas, tryin' or readin' are normal, but weddin' or buildin' are completely wrong.
Variants of the g-dropping pattern are found among English speakers around the world, not just in the American south –though there remain southern varieties where the present participle ending is [ɪn] even in formal settings. (See also "'G-dropping' as 'non-g-adding'", 10/8/2008).
And there's an extra wrinkle caused by the fact that many (American?) speakers pronounce the -ing ending with a coronal nasal but a tense vowel, [in] in IPA, as in the end of a word like keen or mean. This led some journalists to mis-transcribe Sarah Palin's shackling as "shackle-y" ("Is a title and a campaign too WHAT?", 9/29/2011; see also "Symbols and signals in g-dropping", 3/23/2011; etc.).
Finally, common words like anything, everything, something, are also commonly pronounced in a reduced way. Because the initial consonant of thing is also produced with the tip of the tongue, natural assimilatory processes can sometimes lead to productions of anything or everything with final coronal nasals. The assimilatory nature of this process can be seen in the often-different outcome in the case of something, where the labial ending of some can spread throughout a reduced second syllable, producing a pronunciation often written "sump'n". In IPA I guess this is something like [ˈsʌ̃.mʔm̩], where the first syllable has a strongly nasalized low back vowel, and the second syllable is a glottalized [m] released into a syllabic [m̩].
Obviously the various reduced pronunciations of X-thing words are informal; and their distribution probably has geographical and social correlations, though I don't know anything non-impressionistic about this.
Anyhow, I hope that this will be enough to cure relieve LS of metaphorical morpho-phonological insomnia.