Annals of dialect prejudice

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Neetzan Zimmerman, "Pronunciation Nazi Pat Sajak Steals Thousands of Dollars from Wheel of Fortune Contestant Over Dropped ‘G’", Gawker 12/21/2012:

A failure to enunciate to Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak's liking cost a contestant a bundle of money earlier this week along with the rest of the game.

Renee Durette, a Navy Intel Specialist from Merritt Island, Florida, thought she had the puzzle in the bag.

In fact, she did: Durette correctly answered "seven swans a-swimming" with seven missing letters. Except that, in her twang, swimming became "swimmin'," a pronunciation Sajak found unacceptable.

Durette subsequently lost her turn as well as $3,850, and the puzzle was turned over to the next contestant, Amy Vincenti, who promptly solved it.

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30 Comments »

  1. Daniel Ezra Johnson said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    From the comments: "Sajak seems like a nice guy, and if you've watched the show regularly, you know he's actually pretty funny too. He has a quick wit that often goes over people's heads. This article implies that Pat found the pronunciation unacceptable, but it's not up to him. That prolonged "yeeeeah" is him waiting for the judges to tell him what to say. Now Alex Trebek, on the other hand, that guy's an arrogant dick."

  2. Anne said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

    A couple of years ago the puzzle was "Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa," but a contestant mispronounced Ripa and was ruled incorrect, even though all the letters were uncovered. Here is the bulk of the puzzle, but you can jump to 1:30 or so when all the letters are revealed.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bG1cFeMFX6c

  3. Stephen said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    It sure was the wrong decision, but Pat Sajak isn't the decider, so it's probably not appropriate to call him a Nazi of any kind. It's probably not appropriate to call the judges Nazis either.

    Anyway, this is a nice reflection of the absurd notion that "words should be pronounced as they are spelled," as if speech was a representation of written language, rather than the other way around. There's a long history of this, but I forget most of it.

  4. Sid Smith said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    Strange coincidence. Yesterday, while working as a sub in The Times, a senior editor was dictating a sentence for me to input into the paper. He's from the English Midlands, and I teased him by asking whether he wanted me to put a g on the end of 'sporting'. He laughed because we both know that I, a Lancastrian, also skip the final g.

    IOW, this is like penalising a person for not pronouncing the h in 'what'.

  5. Adrian said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

    And, as any linguist will tell you, there's no "g" in the pronunciation of "swimming".

  6. Rod Johnson said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    Adrian: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000878.html

  7. Dw said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 3:57 pm

    Would she have been penalized for pronouncing "seven" monosyllabically as "sev'n" ?

    That's how the word is usually sung in the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

  8. Ellen K. said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

    How does one pronounce sev'n monosyllabically? Or, more importantly, the rhyming work heav'n? I always wind up leaving the v when songs do that, because leaving out the vowel between the v and the n still leaves it two syllables (for me), with a syllabic n. That's always puzzled me.

  9. Jeff Carney said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

    Out of context, it's hard to pronounce sev'n or heav'n as one syllable. But you can render, say, "heaven and angels" (5 syllables) as "heav' nand angels" (4 syllables).

    I personally can't make my mouth do that with "seven swans."

  10. Lazar said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

    @Ellen K.: That's always puzzled me too (I saw it quite a bit when I used to attend an Episcopal church). I've mused that maybe I should treat it like in French – imagine that I'm saying [ˈhɛvnǝ] but with the schwa inaudible – or that I should turn the v into some kind of approximant, yielding [ˈhɛʋn] or [ˈhɛwn]. But this all seems too arcane a thing to be expected of regular hymn-singing anglophones.

    And then my other singing peeve is when a song rhymes "again" with an -/eɪn/ word, but the singer pronounces it /ǝˈgɛn/. Sight rhymes are one thing, but when there's a readily available rhyming pronunciation and they choose not to use it? It always makes me cringe.

  11. MattF said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

    I'm not so sure that the Wheel of Fortune judges were wrong. I agree that written "do not", "is not", and "are not" should be pronounced "don't", "isn't", and "aren't"– but if, e.g., the hidden phrase in the game was "Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200", would a contestant be right to say "Don't pass Go, Don't collect $200"?

  12. RJB said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

    On the other end of the spectrum, I have a student who consistently pronounces a hard g at the end of "ing" words. If he were on WoF, he would say "swimming-guh", with the "uh" almost nonexistent. He is from Utah. Is this a Utah thing (thing-guh), or idiosyncratic?

  13. Lazar said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

    @RJB: Pronouncing a plosive [g] at the end of -ng words (which causes "singer" and "finger" to rhyme) is a feature of New York speech. I don't know whether it's common in any other parts of North America.

  14. Lazar said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    Another interesting point is that some Americans treat the suffix -ing first with pre-[ŋ] tensing, and then with a fronting of the [ŋ] itself, resulting in pronunciations like "swimmeen". Their -ing and -in' forms are thus kept distinct, but only by virtue of the vowel quality.

    [(myl) Indeed.]

  15. Dw said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

    I am one of those curious specimens who never has [n] in -ing words. When I was a child I could never understand what people were referring to when they wrote -in' instead of -ing!

    This is probably due to a combination of my being a somewhat bookish child (hence heavily influenced by spelling) and by growing up in a region (the Midlands of England) when the local dialect has [ɪŋg] or [-ɪŋk] in such words.

  16. Jeff Carney said,

    December 22, 2012 @ 7:48 pm

    @RJB

    I have lived in Utah for 20 years. I assure you that pronunciation is not a Utah thing. There actually is no one Utah thing. Many people in SLC and other cities along the Wasatch Front have no real accent at all (ie, they speak like broadcast TV), and that's about half the population. Folks in rural Utah tend to use varying degrees of a western accent, and that means a lot of g-dropping, and they are quite conscious of it, often in a playful way.

    "Got any hobbies?"
    "Just the usual. Huntin', fishin', four-wheelin'."

    I wonder if you are describing a hyper-correction of some sort.

  17. Rhodent said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 12:53 am

    @RJB/Lazar: I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of D.C., and also have the plosive [g] after the nasal velar. Not sure how common that is in the area, though, as I moved away from there about 30 years ago.

  18. The Ridger said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    @RJB: At the end of the Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang" Amy Pond stand up and summons the Doctor back from oblivion, ending her speech by saying: Raggedy Man, I remember you – and you are late for my wedding!" She very clearly pronounces "wedding" as a three-syllable word (weddinguh) – it's very noticeable due to her emotions and volume. So, no; it's not even remotely close to being "a Utah thing", or even an American thing.

  19. Eugene said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    I would guess that [g] at the end of a nasal velar results from releasing the final consonant – possibly in emphatic pronunciations or careful articulations – similar to producing an aspirated word-final voiceless stop.

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    Another good place to hear "singer" rhyming with "finger" is Pittsburgh.

    Wikipedia says John R. Wells says that this [ŋg] is found in the Manchester accents it and is one distinction from the Leeds accent, which otherwise has many similarities to it.

  21. Larry Anderson said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

    @ Lazar: For what it's worth (if anything), I've heard word final [ɪŋg] from New Englanders too. But I've also heard it from Southerners and a Midwesterner. I'm beginning to wonder if it might be an idiosyncrasy that a some people from all regions have (would it still be an idiosyncrasy then?).

  22. Angus Grieve-Smith said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 5:14 pm

    A-prefixation without |N|-neutralization sounds like it would violate some kind of implicational scale.

  23. Eugene said,

    December 23, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

    @Larry Anderson: I don't think you're suggesting that [ɪŋg] is a general characteristic in those dialects, right?. I'm confident that it's not general among Midwesterners (I grew up there), or New Englanders (I'm there now), or Southerners (I've known a few). So perhaps it's idiosyncratic – some individuals hyper-articulate a bit in general. I have know Midwesterners who do and tend to do so myself. Or perhaps [ɪŋg]-ing is contextual – we all tend to release final consonants when speaking emphatically or in order to distinguish a minimal pair: "I said [sɪŋg], not [sɪŋk].
    Now that I look at it, I think it would have to be [sɪŋgə].

  24. Larry Anderson said,

    December 24, 2012 @ 1:12 am

    Eugene said the following:

    I don't think you're suggesting that [ɪŋg] is a general characteristic in those dialects, right?

    No, I wasn't trying to suggest that. I was just saying that maybe it's one of those things that a few people from every part of America do. For example, I imagine there are a few people from every part of America who pronounce /r/ like [ʋ] (a lot of people would call this a defective pronunciation, but that's another topic).

    I think this use of [ɪŋg] in words like swimming may be due to hypercorrection in some cases, particularly in the South (where I live). "Ng-alveolarization" (huntin' and fishin') seems to be especially common here. So some people here may hypercorrect (verb?) [hʌntɪn] to [hʌntɪŋg] (cf. "standard" [hʌntɪŋ]). At least that's my theory. And, of course, the spelling of the word could lead to the pronunciation with [ɪŋg] too. But I hope no one takes what I say too seriously, as I'm not an actual linguist like some people here. You probably didn't need me to tell you that though :)

  25. Dw said,

    December 24, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

    @Eugene:

    "[g] at the end of a nasal velar" is the historically conservative form, so it could just be a survival.

  26. Eneri Rose said,

    December 26, 2012 @ 9:47 am

    I'd like to know if WoF ever denied a win to a contestant who pronounced an e like an i as many Am. Southerners do (as in saying pin for pen)? Clearly, this would indicate an incorrect letter in the puzzle.

  27. Martha said,

    December 26, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

    I find it interesting that she pronounced it that way in the first place, since people on Wheel of Fortune seem to go out of their way to over-enunciate in a completely unnatural way, apparently in order to avoid situations like that.

  28. Xmun said,

    December 27, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    The Ridger: So, no; it's not even remotely close to being "a Utah thing", or even an American thing.

    Me: Agreed. That's how my mother-in-law, who came from Stoke -on-Trent in the English Midlands, used to speak, and how my wife still does.

  29. Julie said,

    December 29, 2012 @ 12:00 am

    In my childhood in rural northern California, I would have said "swimmeen" if I was being careful, and "swimmin" the rest of the time. [ɪŋ] was reserved for words like "thing" where the "ing" was part of the root. As a young adult, I ran into some painful social stigma. I don't use that pronunciation anymore, or not that I know of.

  30. AG said,

    January 9, 2013 @ 3:17 am

    I think Martin Amis repeatedly mocks a kind of "swimming-kuh" or "think-kuh" (for "think")-type final G/K pronunciation in "Lionel Asbo". I think he calls it a glottal stop, and seems to think it's really lower-class. That novel is crawling with random linguistic rants and snobbery, most of which I could figure out by imagining Guy Ritchie characters' accents, but that one confused me.

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