Eye-dialect in the newspapers

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I don't have time for a full post this morning, but here's the bare bones of one. (In fact, I develop most posts from an annotated series of hyperlinks like this is going to be, whereas bones don't develop before flesh does; so a better metaphor would be "the columns and beams of one".)

Start with "Bill Clinton, yokel?" at Democracy in America (Economist.com), which complains that an article in the Baltimore Sun (Paul West, "Meet Bill Clinton, man of the people", 5/4/2008) was linguistically insulting to American southerners, especially lower-class rural white ones:

What's going on here? Cuz? Ol'? Dumber'n? It's a colour-piece, to be sure, but it isn't standard newspaper practice to report accented speech like this. (Imagine if the equivalent was done to a black or Latino accent.)

I happen to know that the anonymous blogger had personal reasons to feel insulted, being from the American south; but it's the Economist's style to pretend that all writers for the magazine speak with one voice. For more on that, see the last sentence of "Biden's comma", 2/1/2007: "It's slightly odd to combine the informal first-person style of blogging with The Economist's traditional anonymous (not even pseudonymous) authorship, but I guess I'll get used to it." But actually, I'm still not quite used to it.

Anyhow, I know the Economist blogger's personal history because (s)he mentioned it in an email about the Baltimore Sun article, to which I responded with a note that (s)he quoted:

Well, as you know, I'm not a big fan of anti-southern linguistic prejudice.

But this strikes me as a tricky case. I can well believe that Bill Clinton drew heavily on his southern roots in presenting himself to audiences in North Carolina, and that this included emphasizing southern-states features of word choice, pronunciation and prosody.

Mark Twain (for example) found ways to represent such features without resorting to eye dialect, and we might have hoped that Paul West would have done the same. But West was constrained, as Twain was not, to quote his subject more or less as he actually spoke.

Can you suggest a way to edit West's copy so as to make the point in a better way?

Or do you think that Clinton linguistic accommodation was simply not newsworthy, however presented?

I realize, on reading this, that I was a little bit wrong about Mark Twain — he did use "sivilize", "wuz", "en", etc., in Huckleberry Finn, and I even wrote about this in "Trying to talk alike and not succeeding", 1/11/2006. But mostly, he managed to evoke different varieties of English without resorting to very much eye dialect.

The anonymous Economist-blogger is right, I think, that rural southerners are one of the remaining groups that are likely to get hit with the eye-dialect hatchet in a mainstream American newspaper article. As far as I know, no one has picked up on John McCain's self-conscious linguistic pandering in his 4/21/2008 WWE Monday Night Raw video:

(also found here on www.johnmccain.com).

Of course, Hillary ("call me Hilrod") and Barack made their pitches to WWE too.

Exercise for the reader: What dialect features did the three candidates deploy in their WWE presentations? Were they imitating others, or were they bringing out part of their own linguistic repertoire? How are these features generally represented in stories like Paul West's? Or are they?

Extra credit: how much linguistic accommodation is there in the current candidates' speeches to different audiences? How is this variation related to the variation in their personal linguistic history? (And don't just point to the controversy about Hillary Clinton's allegedly fake accent in speeches in Selma and elsewhere — analyze it!)


  1. Karen said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 9:16 am

    What annoys me is that there is no one who doesn't say "sivilize" or "wuz" – not to mention, how else are you going to spell "cuz" – "cous"? I don't think so.

    It's not showing how they speak, it's making fun of it.

    [myl: It's absolutely correct that such spellings are often a representation of ubiquitous pronunciations, used selectively to stigmatize the reported speech of certain people, who are typically lower-class or provincial or both.

    This is implicit in the American Heritage Dictionary's gloss for "eye dialect": "The use of nonstandard spellings, such as enuff for enough or wuz for was, to indicate that the speaker is uneducated or using colloquial, dialectal, or nonstandard speech." But the concept can be more neutral — the OED's gloss is just "unusual spelling intended to represent dialectal or colloquial idiosyncrasies of speech", and I'd personally absolve Mark Twain of linguistic prejudice.

    Also, such spellings are sometimes used to represent pronuncations that are common but not inevitable, like "gonna" for "going to", or "getcher" for "get your", etc. But as I discussed in the earlier post on Jennifer Nguyen's transcription experiments, people use re-spellings of whatever kind more commonly for stigmatized dialects than they do for prestigious dialects that may be even more different from their own.

    More here, here, here, and here.]

  2. AJD said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    In the case of Huckleberry Finn, "sivilize" is because the book is narrated by and supposedly *written* by Huck Finn, and he doesn't know how to spell. "Sivilize" appears not only in quoted dialogue but also in the main prose, I mean.

  3. Dave said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 9:57 am

    "It’s not showing how they speak, it’s making fun of it."

    Maybe it's making fun of how they _write_ — another sign of the poorly educated, rural, Southerners.

  4. Harry said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 10:05 am

    I can well believe that Bill Clinton drew heavily on his southern roots in presenting himself to audiences in North Carolina, and that this included emphasizing southern-states features of word choice, pronunciation and prosody.

    I remember a couple of years ago watching Bill Clinton giving a speech to the Labour Party conference, and noticing that he was giving certain words their British pronunciation and stress. Unfortunately I can't remember what specific word or words were involved, but I got the impression at the time that he was doing it consciously because he was addressing a British audience.

    Which I thought was pretty impressive and just a touch creepy. He's already a more fluent and natural speaker than most politicians, but to manage that fluency while unobtrusively adjusting the way he speaks shows remarkable self-control.

  5. Andy Hollandbeck said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 10:39 am

    Some of McCain's "linguistic pandering" on the WWE spot isn't about accent but is about word choice and picking out phrases that are already embedded in the WWE vocabulary. "Watcha gonna do when . . . " is a trademark phrase of Hulk Hogan. "Can ya smell what the Mac is cookin'?" is a remake of The Rock's oft-quoted phrase.

    I haven't watched WWE since it was the WWF, but I'd bet that some of the other odd-sounding (for McCain) phrases were also taken directly from WWE scripts.

    What gets me is the implication that John McCain actually watches WWE wrestling. Laughable!

    [myl: It wouldn't be such a shock. I read somewhere that Pablo Picasso, in his later years, loved to watch lucha libre on TV. I've got excuses for my own familiarity with the genre — one of my high-school friends had a brief career as a pro wrestler, and several of my army buddies and their wives or girlfriends were big wrestling fans. But how come you know so much about it, huh? ]

  6. John Cowan said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    We all say "wuz" today, but perhaps not in Twain's time — see Mark's earlier piece linked above.

    As for "sivilize(d)", it's used in the narration of Huckleberry Finn, and I think reflects Huck's inability to spell fancy words rather than Twain's use of eye-dialect as such. We are to imagine Huck actually writing the book, not merely narrating it. Of course, if there were too many such misspellings the book would be unreadable, and "sivilize" has to stand in for a lot more.

    However, it by no means stands alone. I similarly find "ancesters", "allycumpain" (for "elecampane"), "Antonette", "Bulrushers" (Huck's dialect is non-rhotic), "cantelopes", "C'lumbus" (but "Clumbus" also appears), "erysiplas", "histronic", "innerds" (but perhaps "innards" was not yet a standard spelling), "Janeero", "Joanner", "looard", "mam" and "m'am" and "missus", "razberries", "reptle", and "sejest(ed)". The spellings "Chelleeny" (for "Cellini"), "Langudoc", "Nebokoodneezer", and "onkores", are Huck's report of what other people say, and follow the same pattern. "Shaksperean" appears on a sign written by the duke or the king.

    In addition, a letter written by Tom (who presumably can spell better than Huck when he wants to) contains the deliberate misspellings "desprate", "religgion", "helish", and "leasure".

  7. John McIntyre said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 11:33 am

    As it happens, I was on the desk the night we published Paul West's article, so I saw and approved the passage in question. Our house style says that phonetic spellings of people's speech should generally be avoided, precisely because they can give the appearance of condescension. The reason for allowing an exception to our practice is that the eye-dialect represented a political strategy by the Clinton campaign, the down-home folksiness of expression calculated to appeal to working-class white Southerners.

    If it matters, I should count as a Southerner, a native Kentuckian who grew up in Appalachia in a family of modest means. It's kind of Economist.com to look after my interests, but my sensibilities were not offended.

  8. Mark Paris said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

    Sometimes we southerners might be too sensitive, but I think the explanation is a little strained. After all, Clinton is from the South, although I suspect Arkansas pronunciation would differ from that of other regions in the South. Does a British actor who appears on American TV with an American accent pander to his audience when he speaks with a British accent in Britain? It would have been genuinely remarkable if he had been speaking to an audience in say, Boston, and had adjusted his pronunciation to match that region. (I find it interesting to listen to some of the regulars on This Old House: "gnaw" = "nor". I don't recall ever hearing that type of pronunciation ridiculed.) I was surprised to hear that Clinton might have adjusted his pronunciation for a British audience.

  9. Dolly said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

    First, thank you for posting this; I'm currently sitting in Arkansas (my home state) and writing a term paper that deals with Mark Twain's use of eye dialect. I think Pudd'nhead Wilson is a pretty effective example because it uses language to demonstrate differences across a lot of regional/ethnic/socioeconomic classifications but is narrated in SAE. From what I've read, Twain was pretty dedicated to accurately representing dialects, but was not as great at it as he claimed to be and was kind of a jerk to Bret Harte about it. Still, he was making up people, not quoting them, so I'm willing to cut him a little bit of slack.

    What struck me as bizarre about the West article is that even though it's supposed to be about Clinton's rural-oriented discourse, it explicitly calls him out on the content of his statements and sort of obliquely smirks at the twang through the written quotations. I'm not really offended by it (and I think Clinton himself would probably just chuckle at it), but I feel that if West is compelled to talk about something like that, he might as well just come out and cry hick with more pointed reference to the accent. It's not that I'm not sensitive to these things, and I think Mr. McIntyre's defense of the decision has some merit, but I think actually talking about pronunciation would bother people less than just rendering it for readers to judge. Clinton sometimes turns into the professional Southerner, and I think he would cop to that; it's something a lot of us do, politics or no. I think we ought to just settle this presidential election with a wrasslin' match.

  10. That Economist blogger. said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

    I can reveal (we're not secret, just anonymous) that I am both male (gosh, Mark, "(s)he" isn't necessary!) and from the south (born Tennessee, raised Arkansas and Georgia, educated Louisiana, football team: UGA.) I wasn't deeply offended — I'm not so thin-skinned. I just did find it a bit condescending. Noting someone's accent was juiced a bit is perfectly good journalism. Rendering it as po' folks talk just rubbed me very weird.

    Remember "Po' Folks", by the way? Anyone else remember this chain of restaurants from back in the day? It's now just called "Folks". Now that's going a bit far for political correctness, in my view…

  11. Craig Russell said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

    Here is a question I have been wondering about for a while: what would be the proper (unbiased, non eye-dialect) way of writing the word that has here been transcribed as "'cuz"?

    It would seem to me improper to write it as "because", in the same way that it would seem improper to record a contraction like "won't" as "will not", or to write "till" as "until"–"cuz" seems to me to be a slightly different word with a slightly different flavor, to be used in slightly different situations.

    I have seen some people record this word as "cause", with or without an apostrophe, (which seems wrong to me) and I have seen it written in British English as "cos" (which I kind of like). Is there any accepted way of transcribing this word, or is the normal practice to record it as "because" (which is what I suspect)? Am I alone in thinking this is an orthographical slot that needs filling?

  12. mollymooly said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

    1. There's a paper pertinent to this post called "NONSTANDARD ORTHOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATION: DIRECT QUOTATION IN THE NEWS" By Sarah K. Wears at http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0004061/wears_s.pdf

    2. The first cite in the OED for "eye dialect" explicitly uses it in the AHD sense, i.e. a nonstandard spelling of a *standard* pronunciation used to convey illiteracy:

    "1925 G. P. KRAPP Eng. Lang. in Amer. I. iv. 228 The impression of popular speech..is often assisted by what may be termed ‘*eye dialect’, in which the convention violated is one of the eye, not of the ear. Thus a dialect writer often spells a word like front as frunt, or face as fase, or picture as pictsher, not because he intends to indicate here a genuine difference of pronunciation, but the spelling is merely a friendly nudge to the reader."

    I think it is a great pity that the more restricted original meaning has been obscured by using "eye dialect" in the broader sense of what can equally well be termed "dialect spelling", "dialect respelling", or "literary dialect" . The moral is: if you want to prevent people bandying your precise technical term about with gay abandon and perverting its meaning, then don't give it a catchy name.

    3. Re “cantelopes” : the British pronunciation of "Cantaloupe" ends with loop rather than lope; I don't know whether the -lope pronunciation was standard or vulgar in America in Twain's time.

  13. Ellen K. said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

    Craig, I'm curious why "'cause" (with apostrophe) seems wrong to you. It seems natural to me and is how I always write it (when writing informally and wanting to write how I speak). It's a shortened form of because, pronounced like the 2nd sylable of that word, so thus "'cause".

  14. mollymooly said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    Ellen K. :
    Many Americans, rhyme "because" with "buzz", "fuzz", etc: I guess you are one.

    Others rhyme "because" with "Oz", "Roz": I guess Craig is one. The British do so too. Maybe that's why Craig likes "'cos" for the short form.

  15. Quicksand said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

    That Economist blogger. said,

    Remember “Po’ Folks”, by the way? Anyone else remember this chain of restaurants from back in the day? It’s now just called “Folks”. Now that’s going a bit far for political correctness, in my view…

    Hey, I'm goin' down to New Orleans for a "boy sandwich." Who's in?

    Oh, hello Senator!

  16. Craig Russell said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

    Mollymooly & Ellen:

    Actually, my (American) pronunciation of "because" rhymes with "buzz". Upon reflection, I think that might be why abbreviating it as "'cause" looks wrong to me: since the word "cause" already has its own pronunciation (rhyming with "Oz"), it seems jarring to me for that spelling to represent what I pronounce as "cuz". Also, I can't recall ever seeing "'cause" used to represent "'cuz" in any published work, so it doesn't seem to me standard enough for *me* to use without raising eyebrows.

    I guess my feeling is that the abbreviated "'cuz" form is common enough in all levels of speech, and differentiated enough from "because", that there should be a way of representing it in published transcriptions of speech (like newspapers, dialogue in fiction, etc.) that doesn't automatically label it as "low" or "nonstandard" the way the spelling "'cuz" does–in the same way that a contraction like "won't" or "I'll" can be used to report the speech of people at any level of society without marking it as "eye dialect". The reason I like "cos" is because it doesn't seem (to me) to have the negative or stereotyping connotation to it that "'cuz" does, and because it isn't a spelling already associated with another word (like "cause" is)–not because it is a particularly accurate representation of the way I pronounce the word.

    But am I mistaken? Is "'cause" an accepted way of spelling this word in published writing? Or is the spelling "because" used to represent the pronunciation "cuz" (in the same way that the spelling "going to" is used to represent the pronunciation "gonna")?

  17. Meesher said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

    Mollymooly, I fear your last comment is a bit too imprecise to be useful. In American speech, I think /bəz/ and /fəz/ are pretty universal, and would rhyme with "because" for me at least. But there are at least some British dialects where the vowel would be high, back, and rounded: /bʊz/, /fʊz/, /bɨkʊz/. Then there are at least three ways of saying "Oz" and "Roz" that I am aware of: some variation on /a:z/, /ra:z/, US; /awz/, /rawz/, mine, also American; and something like /ɔz/, /rɔz/, British. The first type would never rhyme with "because" as far as I know, but the second and -I guess- third could. What did you mean, please? I don't really understand why /bɨkawz/ would elicit the "'cos" spelling, and /bɨka:z/ doesn't seem like a possible pronunciation, especially not British.

    [Please forgive any fənɛɾɪk peculiarities on my part.]

  18. Meesher said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

    Sorry, I started righting before Craig posted.

  19. Meesher said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

    Oof, writing. I'm out to lunch.

  20. jk said,

    May 7, 2008 @ 9:17 pm


    Cause and Oz rhyme? Now you have me wondering whether it's your Oz that sounds like awws or your cause that sounds like cahhs.

  21. Aaron Davies said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 1:00 am

    Reminds me a little of trying to transcribe "a whole nother" without looking horribly awkward. (The only context in which I think I'd use "’cause" in my own writing would be to transcribe the interjection form: "Why?" "’Cause!")

  22. Jeremy Hawker said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 4:24 am

    I'm sorry I don't know of a comparable American example, here is a cockney poem/song by Anon., from Ted Hughes' & Seamus Heaney's collection, The Rattle Bag:

    Dahn the Plug 'ole

    A muvver was barfin' 'er biby one night,
    The youngest of ten and a tiny young mite,
    The muvver was pore and the biby was thin,
    Only a skelington covered in skin;
    The muvver turned rahned for the soap orf the rack,
    She was but a moment, but when she turned back,
    The biby was gorn; and in anguish she cried,
    'Oh where is my biby?' — the Angels replied:
    'Your biby 'as fell dahn the plug 'ole,
    Your biby 'as fell dahn the plug;
    The poor little thing was so skinny and thin
    'E oughter been barfed in a jug;
    Your biby is perfectly 'appy,
    'E won't need a barf any more,
    Your biby 'as fell dahn the plug 'ole,
    Not lorst, but gorn before!'

    Not only is this stylised and surreal ditty not possible in standard English it includes pronunciation that nowadays no longer exists (lorst and gorn went out about the same time New Yorkers stopped saying Joysey for New Jersey).

  23. Jeremy Hawker said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 4:54 am

    @ Molly Mooly:
    All that copying made me forget one point: here is an example of Krapp's "eye dialect" explanation ("the muvver was pore"), but the bizarre content means that it's not done condescendingly, as the OED implies ("used to convey illiteracy").

  24. Martyn Cornell said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 5:39 am

    Jeremy – "pore" for "poor" isn't eye-dialect: the two words are pronounced differently in standard Southern English, when "poor" is said with the lips more rounded than for "pore", but in "cockney" English "pore" is a homophone for "poor" and thus a good substitute to show the indented pronunctiation of "poor"..

    However, the Highes/Heaney version IS inconsistent in writing "muvver", but not "fing" for "thing" and "fin" for "thin". And in the version I know, as well as other minor differences, the second-to-last line goes:

    ""E's a-muckin' abaht wiv de angels above …"

  25. Jeremy Hawker said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    @ Martyn Cornell, who wrote, “pore” for “poor” isn’t eye-dialect:

    Sorry, yes it is. Read mollymooly's Krapp citation: 'eye dialect’, in which the convention violated is one of the eye, not of the ear. Thus a dialect writer often spells a word like front as frunt…' You say yourself, poor and pore are homophones in cockney. They are for me, too (I grew up in London, and I wouldn't dream of using a pronunciation of poor where the lips are more rounded).

    Not quite sure why the angels revert to "poor" in line 11, though.

  26. Eyebrows McGee said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 8:17 am

    "but to manage that fluency while unobtrusively adjusting the way he speaks"

    Doesn't everybody do this, at least to some extent? I discovered very quickly, living in the South, that if I didn't pronounce numbers (in particular) in a Southern fashion, it took for freakin' ever to give out addresses or phone numbers over the phone and involved a lot of repetition and error. I felt really self-conscious about it at first, like I was "faking" an accent, but after four years down there I did it quite naturally; now when I'm back to visit, I slip into some Southern pronunciations that make my speech more clear without thinking about it. Ditto when visiting the U.K. after living there for a while. And not EVERYTHING in my typical conversational vocabulary, but just certain words that experience taught me caused problems. A few of them were on purpose (numbers in the South; "sorry" in the U.K.) and became natural, but most just happened on their own over time.

  27. Martyn Cornell said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 8:23 am

    Jeremy, "frunt" is indeed eye-dialect because it's pronounced the same as "front". "Pore" for "poor" is meant to show a real difference in pronunciation. I can't do the IPA characters, but if you look at even the Concise OED it shows that "poor" and "pore" are pronounced differently in RP, and "pore" is pronounced the same way as "pour". I don't speak RP myself, my idolect is West London striped with North Hertfordshire, but the poor/pore and poor/pour differences are valid for me. Clearly, however, one man's valid attempt at indicating a pronunciation difference is another man's eye-dialect …

  28. Jeremy Hawker said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 9:03 am

    Yes; pour, poor, paw and pore, there is no pronunciation difference, they are all the same to me and to any cockney. I think that's the point.

  29. mollymooly said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 9:14 am

    @Meesher, jk :

    Avoiding phonetics, let me use Wells' lexical set keywords to denote different vowels.

    The relevant sets are those with keywords STRUT, LOT, CLOTH, THOUGHT, PALM and COMMA (COMMA represents the second, unstressed, syllable of "comma")

    In British English, these sets all have different vowels, except that CLOTH words have either the same vowel as LOT or the same vowel as THOUGHT.
    In general American English, LOT and PALM have the same vowel; STRUT and COMMA do; CLOTH words have either the same vowel as LOT, or the same vowel as THOUGHT, or both (in the last case, LOT, THOUGHT, PALM, and CLOTH all have the same vowel).

    That's at the level of accent. The complication is that, in British English "because" is in the LOT set, whereas for most Americans, it's in the STRUT set. That's not accent, it's lexicon, like tomayto-tomahto.

    Now see why dialect respellings are not your friend.

  30. Bloix said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 9:29 am

    We used to sing the baby song at summer camp. (We were a peculiar and gruesome crew.) We sang the last lines as:

    Your bye-by is perfeckly 'appy,
    E won't need a bahf any more.
    E's a-larkin abaht, wif the angels above
    Not lost but gone before!

    There's an old music hall song, sung in a stage Scottish accent, whose humor, such as it is, comes from the fact that the rhymes in Scottish English don't rhyme in standard English:

    Three craw
    sat upon a wa'
    sat upon a wa'
    sat upon a wa'
    Three craw
    sat upon a wa
    on a cowd and frosty morning

    The first craw
    couldn't a-find his maw, etc.

    The second craw
    couldn't a-find his paw, etc.

    The third craw
    et the other twa, etc.

    The fourth craw
    wan't a-there at a', etc.

  31. TootsNYC said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 10:01 am

    to manage that fluency while unobtrusively adjusting the way he speaks shows remarkable self-control.

    but that's assuming he did it–used British pronunciations–on purpose.

    I think many people slip into a different dialect, or adopt certain poses, gestures, inflections, without conscious thought.

    Research has long shown that when people are in a group discussion, people will mimic the postures (crossed arms, etc.) of the fellow group members they agree with. Why wouldn't that apply to pronunciation or dialect?

    It's a bit of a fallacy to say "I did it, therefore everyone does it," but I think it's not that unfair to say "I did it, so it's possible others do to." And I did it–I have a very strong memory of the time I suddenly realized I was waving my arms around and standing, and speaking (in terms of emphasis or inflection) in an imitation of a fellow college student whose personality and impact on others I admired. And it had not at all been intentional. And when I tried to stop it. consciously, I found that it took some real focus (and once I left that particular cluster of people, it went away completely).

    So I'd argue that it's at least possible that Clinton's adopting of British pronunciation, or of Southern dialect, merely reflected a desire to feel connected to the people he was around, and that it would easily have been completely uncalculated.

  32. Mark Paris said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 10:35 am

    If I understand correctly (doubtful), most people in my part of the American South pronounce "because" in the LOT set. I have never heard anyone in my region (northern and central Georgia as well as northern Alabama) pronounce "because" as "becuz". I read "cuz" as a reference to a relative.

  33. mollymooly said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 11:10 am

    You understand correctly. From Wikipeida: American English: Phonology:

    The replacement of the lot vowel with the strut vowel in most utterances of the words 'was', 'of', 'from', 'what' and in many utterances of the words 'everybody', 'nobody', 'somebody', 'anybody'; the word 'because' has either /ʌ/ or /ɔ/; 'want' has normally /ɔ/ or /ɑ/, sometimes /ʌ/.

  34. Mark Paris said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 12:21 pm

    Of those words, in my region, the strut vowel appears in 'was' and 'from'. It seems that 'of' has a kind of mixed pronunciation, except when emphasized; then it has the 'lot' vowel. 'What' is similar in that its sound seems mixed to me but closer to strut. The 'body' words have the lot vowel. 'Want' is usually almost identical to "won't". I have a hard time hearing the strut vowel exactly, but I guess it is very close.

  35. Meesher said,

    May 8, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

    I'm afraid your explanation isn't very satisfactory, mollymooly, although I think I see what you're getting at. I consider myself fluent in standard American English, but when I followed your link I noticed that the examples in some of the sets you mentioned aren't very similar for me: those under LOT and PALM to be precise. The lexical sets are an undesirable system for our purposes because they have no meaning other than how a particular speaker pronounces them; the keywords can't convey anything that represents spoken sounds very well over the internet. Furthermore, your generalizations about British and American English are heavy-handed and occasionally bewildering. I am unconvinced that "lot" and "palm" have the same vowel in general American English (Ohio?), and have been exposed to "because" mostly in the so-called FOOT set in British English, rather than LOT (RP?).

  36. dr pepper said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 12:13 am

    I pronounce the last syllable in "because", as "cuz", likewise, i read the abbreviation "`cause", with the apostrophe, as "cuz". But i i read "cause", without the apostrophe, as using the same au as in "august". So, no ambiguity.

  37. fev said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 1:38 am

    "Dahn the Plug 'ole" — same song that Cream recorded on "Disraeli Gears" as "Mother's Lament," innit? I'd assume it's the Scot Bruce playing the piano, but Pullum is the guy you'd go to on that.

    Back to the topic: With all regards to John, who's an outstanding editor, I would have pushed the writer a little harder on his attempts at capturing Clinton's dialect. Is he sure — or can he document — that it's "workin' people" but "making fun of me"? How, and when, does he write other dialects? If the point is that political actors indulge in audience design, I agree — but why is this particular flavor singled out?

  38. Jeremy Hawker said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 1:37 pm


    Thanks for that info. Though I'm of that vintage I never had Disraeli Gears, and didn't know their version.

    I especially like Cream's: " 'twas nought but an skelington covered in skin".

    If anyone was God in that group it was Jack.

  39. Steve Harris said,

    May 9, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

    I'm surprised I've seen little mention (just Dr. Pepper?) of what I take as the proper pronunciation of "because": For me, this word rhymes with "laws". In fast or informal speech, it rhymes with "buzz", but in my speech community (midwest urban America), the laws-pronunciation is clearly granted ascendancy as the formally correct one.

  40. Jeremy Hawker said,

    May 10, 2008 @ 3:21 am

    @Steve Harris
    If you went around in England saying "becaws" all the time they'd lock you up (or invite you to join the Conservative Party — same thing).

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