Ask Language Log: Prosodic hyphens and italics

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From Alex Baumans:

Miss Cayley's Adventures, a delightful novel by Grant Allen from 1899, is about Lois Cayley, who is left penniless after her stepfather dies (actually, she gets tuppence) and sets out to make her way in the world trusting to her wits and luck. She meets an American inventor-entrepeneur who wants her to demonstrate his bicycle in the German military trials.

Why I am sending you this, is the treatment of American English. Grant Allen takes care to give his characters a recognisable voice, with lots of local colour (stereotyping them at the same time, but this is a popular nineteenth-century novel). I am no native speaker nor a specialist in historical dialects of the US, but I can't for the life of me imagine what this is supposed to have sounded like. The hyphens and italics would seem to point towards some peculiar intonation or word-stress. There are 'phonetic' spellings such as 'ketch' or 'jest', and probably some Americanisms, that I no longer recognise as such. It doesn't sound like any variety of American English I'm familiar with. 

So, I thought it might interest you to see what an American sounded like to the British a hundred years ago. Perhaps you have a better idea what this is all about.

Partly yes, but mostly not. In particular, Allen's use of hyphens and italics is puzzling to me, as in this fragment of dialogue:

'This ma-chine,' he said, in an impressive voice, 'is pro-pelled by an eccentric.'

So I'll turn the question over to our readers, after a bit of narrative background.

The relevant dialogue starts in chapter three, "The Adventure of the Inquisitive American". Having turned her inherited tuppence into two pounds in the first two chapters, Miss Cayley decides to go to Frankfurt to study art.

In the afternoon I consoled myself for my herculean efforts in the direction of culture by going out for a bicycle ride on a hired machine, to which end I decided to devote my pocket-money. […]

As I scurried across the plain, with the wind in my face, not unpleasantly, I had some dim consciousness of somebody unknown flying after me headlong. […] [G]azing back, I saw my pursuer was a tall and ungainly man, with a straw-coloured moustache, apparently American, and that he was following me on his machine, closely watching my action. He had such a cunning expression on his face, and seemed so strangely inquisitive, with eyes riveted on my treadles, that I didn't quite like the look of him. I put on the pace, to see if I could outstrip him, for I am a swift cyclist. But his long legs were too much for me. He did not gain on me, it is true; but neither did I outpace him. Pedalling my very hardest—and I can make good time when necessary—I still kept pretty much at the same distance in front of him all the way to Fraunheim.

She is then stopped by a policeman, who demands to see her license.

I had no idea, till he spoke, that any license was required; though to be sure I might have guessed it; for modern Germany is studded with notices at all the street corners, to inform you in minute detail that everything is forbidden. 

I stammered out that I did not know. The mounted policeman drew near and inspected me rudely. 'It is strongly undersaid,' he began, but just at that moment my pursuer came up, and, with American quickness, took in the situation. He accosted the policeman in choice bad German. 'I have two licenses,' he said, producing a handful. 'The Fräulein rides with me.'

I was too much taken aback at so providential an interposition to contradict this highly imaginative statement. My highwayman had turned into a protecting knight-errant of injured innocence.

The depiction of Americanisms begins immediately:

'Good morning, miss,' he began–he called me 'Miss' every time he addressed me, as though he took me for a barmaid. 'Ex-cuse me, but why did you want to speed her?'

The idea that "miss" as a term of address evokes a certain kind of social distance is familiar, but why does Miss Cayley find it inappropriate in this context? Is the usage somehow stereotypically American? And the hyphen and the italics are meant to evoke some prosodic stereotype — but what?

'And if I was,' he went on, 'you might have con-jectured, miss, it was for our mutual advantage. A business man don't go out of his way unless he expects to turn an honest dollar; and he don't reckon on other folks going out of theirs, unless he knows he can put them in the way of turning an honest dollar with him.'

Besides the mysterious prosodic hyphen, the other dialect features of this paragraph are general non-standard morphosyntax — "was" for "were", "don't" for "doesn't" — that could have come from a non-U British speaker then or now.

'That's reasonable,' I answered: for I am a political economist. 'The benefit should be mutual.' But I wondered if he was going to propose at sight to me.

He looked me all up and down. 'You're a lady of con-siderable personal attractions,' he said, musingly, as if he were criticising a horse; 'and I want one that sort. That's jest why I trailed you, see? Besides which, there's some style about you.'

There's another of those prosodic hyphens. And it's not clear whether the missing of in "one that sort" is a typo or a puzzling attempt at dialect description.

As for the eye-dialect spelling "jest", that seems to be a common way of representing vowel-reduction in the pronunciation of "just", in depictions of non-standard English from many parts of the world, not only America. For example, here's bit of dialogue attributed to a British speaker in Sheridan Le Fanu's X novel Checkmate:

"'Tain't me that 'ill be looking slippy, as you and me well knows; and it's jest because you knows it well you're here. I suppose it ain't for love of me quite?" sneered Paul Davies.

When Miss Cayley tries to go on her way, the American reacts

 'You ain't going!' he cried, horrified. 'You ain't going without hearing me! I mean business, say! Don't chuck away good money like that. I tell you, there's dollars in it.'

The use of "say" as a phrase-final emphatic tag seems odd.

She agrees to meet him the next day to discuss his proposition, and encounters more eye-dialect and a bit of lexical innovation:

When I arrived at Fraunheim, I found my alert American punctually there before me. He raised his crush hat with awkward politeness. I could see he was little accustomed to ladies' society. Then he pointed to a close cab in which he had reached the village.

'I've got it inside,' he whispered, in a confidential tone. 'I couldn't let 'em ketch sight of it. You see, there's dollars in it.'

'What have you got inside?' I asked, suspiciously, drawing back. I don't know why, but the word 'it' somehow suggested a corpse. I began to grow frightened.

'Why, the wheel, of course,' he answered. 'Ain't you come here to ride it?'

'Oh, the wheel?' I echoed, vaguely, pretending to look wise; but unaware, as yet, that that word was the accepted Americanism for a cycle. 'And I have come to ride it?'

But then we get an explicit comment on the prosodic hyphens and italics, referring to the example I gave at the start of this post:

It was clumsy to look at. It differed immensely, in many particulars, from any machine I had yet seen or ridden.

The strenuous American fondled it for a moment with his hand, as if it were a pet child. Then he mounted nimbly. Pride shone in his eye. I saw in a second he was a fond inventor.

He rode a few yards on. Next he turned to me eagerly. 'This ma-chine,' he said, in an impressive voice, 'is pro-pelled by an eccentric.' Like all his countrymen, he laid most stress on unaccented syllables.

This is unexpected — if anything, I would have expected the opposite impression. The display of allegedly Americanistic prosodic hyphens and italics continues:

'Perhaps you wonder,' he put in, 'that with money on it like this, I should intrust the job into the hands of a female.' I winced, but was silent. 'Well, it's like this, don't you see; ef a female wins, it makes success all the more striking and con-spicuous. The world to-day is ruled by advertizement.'

She wins the race, in which "the German Imperial and Prussian Royal Governments had offered a Kaiserly and Kingly prize for the best military bicycle". Her connection with the American inventor continues in subsequent chapters; and so do the hyphens and italics:

Next morning, he came round to call on me at the Abode of Unclaimed Domestic Angels. He was explicit and generous. 'Look here, miss,' he began; 'I didn't do fair by you when you interviewed me about your agency last evening. I took advantage, at the time, of your youth and inexperience. You suggested 10 per cent as the amount of your commission on sales you might effect; and I jumped at it. That was conduct unworthy of a gentleman. Now, I will not deceive you. The ordinary commission on transactions in wheels is 25 per cent. I am going to sell the Manitou retail at twenty English pounds apiece. You shall hev your 25 per cent on all orders.'

I continue to be mystified about what aspect of stereotypical American English prosody, in 1899 or any other time, those hyphens and italicized words really represent. Ideas? Or better, facts?

 



55 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 8:18 am

    I am not American, and have relatively little exposure to American English, but to me those prosodic hyphens seem intended to communicate two things : (1) the vowel in the proceeding syllable is given its full value and not reduced to (e.g.,) a schwa; and (2) the speaker leaves a distinct pause between the two syllables. In my mind's ear I can hear these distinctly, and can replicate the effect verbally in what I tend to think of as a "typical American accent". 'Ketch' is, of course, 'catch'.

    [(myl) And "ketch" for "catch" is another piece of eye-dialect commonly used to signal all sorts of English perceived as non-standard — for example in Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, "Ketching them rats ain't all profit, 'cause you have to keep 'em and feed 'em."

    I considered the idea that the hyphens are meant to represent what you call a non-reduction (or hyper-articulation) of an unstressed vowel, along with "distinct pause between the two syllables" — but this is not something that I hear in American as opposed to British speech. In particular, American taken as a whole are unlikely not to reduce the first syllable in words like "conjectured" and "considerable". Can you point to some audio clips?]

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 8:52 am

    MYL: (audio clips) — I regret not. What I hear in my mind's ear is probably based on things I heard a very long time ago, updated slightly by exposure to the spaghetti western genre and the Godfather. My mind's ear is probably a very poor judge of what American English really sounds like …

  3. languagehat said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 8:55 am

    I strongly suspect the hyphen is intended to signify that the preceding syllable is stressed; initial stress on words like "umbrella" and "insurance" is a striking feature of some US dialects (like mine), and it seems likely it was more widespread in the 19th century (before standardization); furthermore, of course a foreigner will select the most striking rather than the most representative forms to use/caricature.

    [(myl) That would make sense for "um-brella" or "po-lice", at least for Americans from certain geographical regions and social strata. But "con-siderable" and "con-jectured"?]

  4. James-Henry Holland said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 9:37 am

    In my mind's ear, I hear the stylized exaggerations of a circus barker…

  5. Robert Coren said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 9:48 am

    See also George Bernard Shaw's attempts to indicate American speech orthographically, e.g., in Man and Superman and Captain Brassbound's Conversion. In notes to the latter (which I read a very long time ago, so this is going to be a little vague), he acknowledges that his spellings assume a readership whose native speech is southern England, adding that perhaps, having had his American character say kawn-dooce to indicate what his version of "conduce" would sound like to a British speaker, he should also have had his English lady say kern-dewce to convey what her pronunciation would sound like to an American speaker. (The play also includes a Cockney, whose speech is represented by some seriously hideous spellings.)

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 9:52 am

    I was going to suggest the same thing as Language Hat. It may be true that no American actually says (or said) con-siderable with an unreduced vowel, but accuracy isn't necessarily a feature of cross-dialect stereotypes like this – for example, Americans imitating RP seldom have any idea of the difference between TRAP and BATH, and err in the direction of BATH.

    [(myl) What about the alleged stress on function words:

    'This ma-chine,' he said, in an impressive voice, 'is pro-pelled by an eccentric.' Like all his countrymen, he laid most stress on unaccented syllables.

    ]

  7. Dan said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 9:55 am

    It kind of gives me the impression of a carnival barker… "connnnnSID!erable"

  8. Jonathan said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 10:09 am

    It makes me think of a similar barker type as JHHolland. As a specific example, Mr.Haney from Green Acres. It's even more pronounced in this impersonation:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gve8fY7HY0

    The way he pronounced 'czarina' (at 0:08) could be spelled "czar-ina" and I'd get the idea. (BTW, I think that 'to-day' is just an archaic spelling cf. Wiktionary, not any eye dialect.)

    You might be having trouble in trying to find "stereotypical American English" here, when what's being portrayed is a very idiosyncratic type, which is only found in America, but is notably marked even within America. Think of Dick Van Dyke's chimney sweep from "Mary Poppins". I've heard multiple UKers wonder what the heck he thinks he's doing with that accent, but most Americans think it's just what strong Cockney sounds like.

  9. Starry Gordon said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 10:20 am

    Yes, the highly orotund style of a circus barker; also, indication of a certain amount of related drawling for emphasis may be intended. The man is a promoter, after all.

  10. J said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 10:21 am

    The "stress on function words" reminds me of the speech one hears in airport announcements. "Your bags WILL be returned to you AT the conclusion OF this flight," and so on.

    I have primarily heard American airport announcers/flight attendants and cannot say whether this is a regional characteristic.

  11. Rodger C said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 10:29 am

    @J: I think this pronunciation is designed to make clear the structure and meaning of the sentences in conditions of poor audibility. In the late 20th century there was a rash of newscasters talking like this; I always found it annoying.

  12. AG said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 10:56 am

    I agree with Hat and others that it's probably meant to indicate the odd stress some US speakers put on the first syllables of words like insurance, Iraq, Arab… it's not a stretch for me to imagine some US people back then might have said "CONsiderable", or that they did it enough with enough other words like INsurance that it became a stereotype and got applied to random words in parodies like this.

    side note: I pronounce "Avengers" to rhyme with "scavengers" – it's just the way I heard the word in my head when reading comics as a kid – and every time I do it my wife gets extremely upset, says it's such a crazy pronunciation that it sounds like I'm having a stroke or something, and makes me promise never to do it again.

  13. Bob Ladd said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 12:50 pm

    @MYL: I also wondered about that, and thought of the emphatic speech you hear in public announcements that J mentioned a few comments above (your bags WILL be returned AT 8.35, etc.). I doubt that is the explanation, but I suppose it's possible that that style of announcement has been around longer than airports.

  14. Rebec said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

    I'm not a linguist, but I am from the US. When I read this dialog in context, I hear a mix of exaggerated, stereotyped Southern accents, like if you assembled the text from audio clips from Gone With The Wind without concern for which character was speaking.

    I think that the dashes convey equal emphasis and length/time on the syllables around it (CONSIDerable), and maybe with a lower pitch than the italicized words. Like other commenters, I too suspect the author's source of American English was someone making a speech to a crowd (and thus speaking with an artificially slower cadence).

  15. Bloix said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 2:49 pm

    "Besides the mysterious prosodic hyphen, the other dialect features of this paragraph are general non-standard morphosyntax — "was" for "were", "don't" for "doesn't" — that could have come from a non-U British speaker then or now."

    IMHO, not so. "Business man," "turn an honest dollar," "reckon on," "folks," "put them in the way of"- seems to me that these are all intended to be Americanisms.

  16. Bloix said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 3:07 pm

    Alos, Mark Twain used jest and jes' in Huckleberry Finn and elsewhere, and also sech for such, both in white speech and for Jim. Here's "the king" in Ch. 25:

    Well, then, what kind o' brothers would it be that 'd stand in his way at sech a time? … If I know William—and I think I do—he—well, I'll jest ask him."

  17. Bloix said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

    Also, of course.

    "The use of "say" as a phrase-final emphatic tag seems odd."

    Seems to me what's intended is something like "I mean business! – Say! Don't etc"

    PS- "Wheel" was in fact a word for bicycle. Here's an argument that railroads have no obligation to carry bikes as baggage (i.e. without charge): "A wheelman is no more entitled to have his wheel carried free than he would his horse and buggy."

    https://books.google.com/books?id=O3DiAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA113&lpg=PA113&dq=%22wheel%22+%22wheelmen%22&source=bl&ots=A-Twhd_2nf&sig=AdoFu2INphGrhq-3zIE5xi9AkQo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjxirHU3P7bAhWI14MKHVdEDTo4HhDoAQhiMAk#v=onepage&q=wheel&f=false

  18. Bloix said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 3:55 pm

    PS – bicycle companies were experimenting with eccentric drive chain components – round components mounted on a shaft that is not the central axle – in the late 19th century, and still are:

    "The company took advantage of the larger diameter of the Press-Fit 30 bottom bracket shell to develop an eccentric bottom bracket for its frames. Two of the company's hardtails, the Air 9 RDO and SIR 9, can easily be set up as singlespeeds with the use of this eccentric bottom bracket."
    https://www.bikeradar.com/mtb/gear/article/the-new-bottom-bracket-standard-we-can-all-get-behind-47922/

  19. Viseguy said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

    Carnival barker/huckster is the only way I can hear it. (My native language is 1950s Brooklynese.)

  20. languagehat said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 4:53 pm

    That would make sense for "um-brella" or "po-lice", at least for Americans from certain geographical regions and social strata. But "con-siderable" and "con-jectured"?

    As others have said, it's not a matter of exclusive initial stress with everything else reduced, which I agree is unlikely, but a secondary stress on the first syllable producing an unreduced vowel and a strong impression on persons from the UK. I don't see any other plausible way to interpret it.

  21. Bloix said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

    PPPS- Miss Cayley's Adventures is available FOR FREE if you have a Kindle. I will cer-tainly add it to my reading list as it looks com-pletely fun and I love bicycle books.

  22. Morten Jonsson said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 5:47 pm

    For what it's worth, Grant Allen was not British, strictly speaking. He spent his adult years in England, but he was born in Ontario, lived there until he was thirteen, and spent some of his teenage years in the United States. He would certainly have been familiar with American accents (not from listening to speeches, but from actually talking to and listening to Americans). The idiosyncratic way he renders his character's speech suggests that he was trying to put on paper something that most British–or American–writers hadn't taken notice of. Just what is was, and how well he succeeded, is of course the topic of this discussion.

  23. DaveK said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 7:26 pm

    How I read the "con-spicious" and "pro-pelled" was as someone who wanted to emphasize the words out of a sense of pride at knowing them—showing off his vocabulary. This would be consistent with the grammatical mistakes he makes elsewhere.
    Also, I've noticed that American and British soakers do put the stress on different syllables. In my school days I often wondered why " it is" was so often contracted as ''tis in literature unless I listened to British speakers and realized they put the stress on the "is" instead of the "it" when speaking the uncontracted phrase

  24. Levantine said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 8:41 pm

    I understood "eye dialect" to describe the use of nonstandard phonetic spellings for normal pronunciations (e.g., "sez" for "says"). But doesn't "ketch" actually represent a real "nonstandard" pronunciation, one especially common in American Midwestern accents?

    [(myl) The OED glosses eye dialect as

    (the use of) nonstandard respelling (sometimes for comic effect) to represent dialectal or colloquial pronunciation (as Aw knaow for standard I know), or standard pronunciation not predictable from regular orthography (as enuff for standard enough)

    Some people limit the term to the second case, but I don't see any reason to do so, especially since there's no transparent term for the first one, and in both senses the use of non-standard orthography suggests that the corresponding pronunciation is substandard and uneducated.]

  25. AG said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

    maybe that odd sentence-ending "…, say." was supposed to be "see". Notice that he ends a couple other phrases with see, and says "look here", "I tell you, " etc. a lot.

  26. John Swindle said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 11:50 pm

    Like languagehat, I hear the hyphens marking an (unexpected to Brits) secondary stress on the first syllable. Or even an equal stress. I don't hear circus barkers, but I do hear self-promotion and, I suppose, history. I don't think Americans talk like that any more.

  27. Michael Watts said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 2:58 am

    I would be pretty surprised to hear "ketch" described as a nonstandard pronunciation — to me, based in California, it is the only standard pronunciation of "catch", though I see Merriam-Webster provides that it might rhyme with "fetch" (correctly, in my view) or with "patch".

    I would rhyme "just" with "must".

    [(myl) I also pronounce catch as /kɛtʃ/ in normal speech, though on reflection I think I might say //kætʃ/ in citation-form production of a wordlist. But as noted in an earlier comment, both of the interpretations of the term "eye dialect" suggest through the use of non-standard spelling that the corresponding pronunciation is somehow uneducated and substandard.]

  28. Levantine said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 5:54 am

    To those who don't pronounce "catch" with an E, however, the "ketch" pronunciation is distinctive (not to say nonstandard or substandard). All I mean is that it's a different case from eye-dialect spellings of the "sez" and "wimmin" sort, since those do nothing at all other that cast a sort of orthographic slur on the person being quoted.

    This is, I realise, purely anecdotal, but I have Midwestern friend who tells me that, after starting college, he switched from "ketch" to "catch" after sustained exposure to the latter pronunciation. I don't know whether this happens often or not, but it was an interesting thing to learn.

  29. Lameen said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 6:08 am

    "Ketch" and "jest" make a lot more sense when you realize that even today some people do still say /kætʃ/ and /dʒʌst/. As a child going through Mark Twain I found this puzzling because, in my experience, the only correct pronunciation of "just" was /dʒɛst/.

  30. daniel said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 6:23 am

    A point that apparently hasn't been addressed yet: he is not supposed to call her 'miss' without adding her name

  31. Barry Cusack said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 7:01 am

    The expense of such learning, expertise and language experience, without clear result, on the puzzle set by Prof Liberman suggests the following thoughts:
    1. Eye-dialect is regarded, by many readers, as being intrinsically amusing. "enuff" is enough to raise a smile.
    2. Grant Allen's own description of the accent – "Like all his countrymen, he laid most stress on unaccented syllables" – seems inconsistently rendered in his eye-dialect spellings. He sometimes uses spelling to convey this, sometimes not.
    From this, it seems that the author's approach is simply this: create a strong indication of a foreign accent, by plain description and by spelling; add further prompting to the reader by using random "foreign" grammar and vocabulary; pepper the text with occasional italicization; repeat all these from time to time, but not so often as to annoy. This encourages readers, while reading silently, to supply their own qualities of foreignness to the speech according to their own experience and knowledge. In this way, the author prompts the reader to do the work, and to enjoy the comedic, if mediocrely comedic, results.
    We used to call it lazy writing.

  32. Bloix said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 8:18 am

    daniel – yes,that occurred to me, too – but he doesn't know her name! And it would certainly not be proper for him to demand it of her. So was it simply impossibly impolite for a man to address an unknown woman of an apparent social status above that of waitress? That can't be right, can it?

    Barry Cusack – I bought the book last night (for $0.00) and there's quite a bit of accurately observed south-central American speech (not surprisingly for a Canadian-born writer who lived in the US as a teenager, as Morten Jonsson pointed out). Among other things, he gets some mileage out of one of my favorites, "squirrel,"and he transcribes the pen-pin merger pretty well.

    I know that "eye-dialect" is in disrepute, but what are novelists supposed to do? They can't write one character saying /dʒɛst/ while another says/dʒʌst/, can they? This isn't transcription – a few light indications of the person's accent is enough for the intended reader without becoming wearisome, although not apparently for the pedant who wanders by a century later.

  33. KeithB said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 8:19 am

    Could it be an exagerated southern drawl like Foghorn Leghorn?

  34. languagehat said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 8:29 am

    So was it simply impossibly impolite for a man to address an unknown woman of an apparent social status above that of waitress? That can't be right, can it?

    It was indeed; it was treating her like a streetwalker. Hence the importance of being "properly introduced."

  35. daniel said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 8:56 am

    It was indeed; it was treating her like a streetwalker. Hence the importance of being "properly introduced."

    absolutely, one of the central lessons of 19th century literature

  36. Ellen K. said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 9:18 am

    PPPS- Miss Cayley's Adventures is available FOR FREE if you have a Kindle.

    Actually, you don't need to have a Kindle to read Kindle ebooks. You can read the in a web browser, or on your phone with an app.

  37. RP said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 10:56 am

    On the use of "Miss", the OED says:

    a. A form of address to a (usually young) woman, esp. a shop assistant, waitress, etc. Now rare.
    b. Used patronizingly, contemptuously, or in anger. Frequently qualified by 'little'.
    c. A form of address to a female teacher (corresponding to 'sir' n. 7).

    So I would think the appropriate way to address a woman of higher social status would be "Madam".

  38. bratschegirl said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 11:21 am

    I was going to say what J said above; the italicized words sound to me like airplane crew announcement stress. "The captain HAS turned off the seat-belt sign…" Of course, the story predates commercial aviation by quite a bit, but hey, maybe they didn't invent it. Now, why the heck do they insist on saying that we should remain in our seats until the plane has come to a "full and complete" stop?

  39. KevinM said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

    "Con-siderable" and "con-jectured" might be read as hypercorrection. Such careful pronunciation might stem from the same cultural insecurity that underlay 19c frontier spelling bees. (They're mentioned someplace in D. Boorstin, The Americans, and given a humorous poetic treatment by Bret Harte in "The Spelling Bee at Angels.")

    A Brit (then as now) might by contrast schwa the word half out of existence (c'nsid'rab'l), confident of nevertheless being understood. A 19c American might have been more careful to spell it out orally, emphasizing each letter and syllable. In addition, there might have been an emphasis for jocular effect, as today I often hear folks give a jolly stress to both halves of, e.g., fan-tastic.

  40. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    FWIW, my paternal grandfather for some years wrote a humor column called "Jest a Minute" for a weekly newspaper in Wisconsin.

  41. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    FWIW, my paternal grandfather for some years wrote a humor column called "Jest a Minute" for a weekly newspaper in Wisconsin.

  42. David Marjanović said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

    Now, why the heck do they insist on saying that we should remain in our seats until the plane has come to a "full and complete" stop?

    Do they? I've only ever encountered "until the aircraft has come to a complete stop".

  43. R Steinmetz said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

    I hear Robert Preston as Howard Hill.

  44. Sam C said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 3:36 pm

    Something about the author's transcriptions put me in mind of the train scene from The Music Man and the cadences of the half-singing traveling salesmen:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ9U4Cbb4wg

  45. Bob Moore said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 4:42 pm

    @myl: Growing up in Fort Worth, where "UMbrella" and "INsurance" were common (if I may use capitalization to indicate stress), I recall hearing advertisements for a lender named "Texas Consumer Finance" featuring an apparently lower-class character who pronounced it "Texas CONsumer FInance". That speaker was then corrected by a more refined speaker who said "Texas ConSUMer FiNANCE". I have no doubt that in the exaggerated lower class dialect of the commercial I would have heard "CONsiderable" and "CONjectured".

  46. Michael Watts said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 6:20 pm

    To those who don't pronounce "catch" with an E, however, the "ketch" pronunciation is distinctive

    This is more interesting than I realized. I watched trailers for Catch Me If You Can, Deadliest Catch Season 14, and The Catch, and determined that often the vowel used in "catch" is not something I would be comfortable classifying as the DRESS vowel without qualification.

    On the other hand, the vowel also doesn't seem like a great example of the TRAP vowel, and as I listen to the word it doesn't strike me, listening for DRESS, as being inappropriate — just weird somehow. I don't perceive the pronunciations as distinctive. My feeling is that they are occurring on a continuum rather than matching any particular citation form. Is something (palatalization?) going on with the vowel to suggest this? Am I making this up?

    (It might be interesting to compare pronunciations of "guess" and "gas"…)

  47. Michael Watts said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

    I tried to post a comment with links to YouTube and it may have been swallowed. Here it is with links stripped:

    To those who don't pronounce "catch" with an E, however, the "ketch" pronunciation is distinctive

    This is more interesting than I realized. I watched trailers for Catch Me If You Can, Deadliest Catch Season 14, and The Catch, and determined that often the vowel used in "catch" is not something I would be comfortable classifying as the DRESS vowel without qualification.

    On the other hand, the vowel also doesn't seem like a great example of the TRAP vowel, and as I listen to the word it doesn't strike me, listening for DRESS, as being inappropriate — just weird somehow. I don't perceive the pronunciations as distinctive. My feeling is that they are occurring on a continuum rather than matching any particular citation form. Is something (palatalization?) going on with the vowel to suggest this? Am I making this up?

    (It might be interesting to compare pronunciations of "guess" and "gas"…)

  48. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 6:36 pm

    For "catch", the OED gives "Brit. /katʃ/, U.S. /kɛtʃ/" so that's still a good way to depict an Americanism. But for something closer to this novel, the Century Dictionary gives "kach", so "ketch" was non-standard even in America back them—at least in the opinion of some.

    I wonder how the narrator could tell her pursuer was American before he said anything. Clothes? Cut of hair and mustache?

  49. Philip Anderson said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 7:27 am

    Is the spelling of 'license' in the original text? British English, and I believe Canadian, is to spell it 'licence'.

    Re non-U usages, since most Americans would be non-U I wonder if any non-U usage could be attributed to them, however inaccurate, just to stress the difference?

  50. Marion Owen said,

    July 3, 2018 @ 10:44 am

    Dickens does the hyphen (actually, in his case, em-dash) thing in Martin Chuzzelwit (1843, partly set in the US). e.g.
    '"That is Pro-fessor Mullit, sir," replied Jefferson.'
    '..some institutions develop human natur [sic]; others re-tard it.'

  51. ajay said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 9:01 am

    Now, why the heck do they insist on saying that we should remain in our seats until the plane has come to a "full and complete" stop?

    If it hasn't come to a full stop, it's still moving, albeit slowly, or it has stopped temporarily but may start to move again (perhaps it hasn't got to its gate yet, but had to halt on the taxiway for some reason) and you should stay in your seat because if you stand up you might fall over.

    If it hasn't come to a complete stop, bits of the aircraft have stopped but other bits are still moving. This implies something has gone badly wrong with the aircraft. If you stay in your seat, it will make the job of the emergency services easier because they'll be able to match bodies to seat numbers.

  52. cbk said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 2:05 pm

    Patricia Ingham in her notes in the Penguin edition of Martin Chuzzlewit calls it "the alternative stressing of words" and describes it in connection with criticism of U.S. speech and habits (e.g., spitting) by Dickens, F. Trollope, Marryat, and other 19th-century British travellers.

    See https://books.google.com/books?id=Y6JOEjabH54C&lpg=PP1&dq=The%20life%20and%20adventures%20of%20Martin%20Chuzzlewit%20penguin&pg=PT28#v=onepage&q=trollope&f=false

    Other examples:

    "Our people like ex-citement," answered Kedgick, sucking his cigar.

    (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/968/968-h/968-h.htm, Chuzzlewit, serialized between 1842 and 1844, according to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Chuzzlewit)

    "I regret that I cannot join you in sampling the efforts of the management of this ho-tel."

    (John Buchan, Greenmantle, published in 1916, according to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenmantle)

    "Well, that's fine—just fine! I'm Barry Wragley, Mrs. Judson Drake, working at present in Ox-ford."

    (J. B. Priestley, The Image Men, published in 1968, Little, Brown, p. 256)

  53. languagehat said,

    July 4, 2018 @ 4:12 pm

    Excellent finds! That should settle the issue.

  54. Rodger C said,

    July 5, 2018 @ 11:36 am

    Descriptions of 19th-century American schools often depict children sounding out words and spelling them one syllable at a time. Could that be at the root of this phenomenon?

  55. FM said,

    July 8, 2018 @ 8:24 pm

    Interesting. I associate British English with _more_ unreduced pre-stress syllables than American English (though the only example I can think of right now is "Ko-rea") and fewer post-stress unreduced syllables.

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