Our Second Linguistic (Phonemic) Test May 8, 2012

A few months ago we gave our readers a phonemic test about the distinction between pen and pin.  Now we will try our second, on a much newer shift that is obscuring a distinction that most English speakers used to be able to make.

Try these sentences:

Don and Dawn practiced la-la law in La La Land.

The caller told me to fix my collar.

I got to meet Mr. Lawther’s father.

Carter Hawley Hale sold a lot of holly bushes.

I got it at Otto’s Auto Parts.

Supposedly this distinction is being lost in Canada, most of the Western United States, and around Pittsburgh and the Connecticut Valley.

There’s another distinction that’s more widely made; some Texans have trouble with it:

He was formerly a farmer?

I gave her part of the bottle of port?

To me, the first contrast is there, but the two sounds aren’t that far apart.  I suspect many Californians merge them.  But the second contrast is very clear.  Most dictionaries indicate the vowel in for [strong form] and Lord as being the same vowel of awe and law.  That has seemed to me absolutely absurd since I was a young child and started reading dictionaries.  The only people who sound like that are people who are trying to fake Irish accents.

Admittedly, there’s also the Boston and most of England thing where if they read “the law of the Lord” it comes out “the lore of the Laud.”  It makes Psalm 1 sound rather funny.

Here is one of my pet peeves, however.  Seminarians are taught to pronounce the omicron as “ah” so it doesn’t get confused with the omega.  Especially if they don’t, like we said, have a separate sound for “aw,” it grates on my ears.  If you must pronounce omicron as “ah,” could you please pronounce alpha like a in “cat” so it sounds clearly different from omicron?

3 Comments
barrywhitesides 05/08/2012

What about Epsilon, Iota (pronounced ee-ota), and Eta?

prototrypist 05/12/2012

I had a year of New Testament Greek when I was in law school, and you’re right, that’s exactly how we were taught. Distinguishing omicron vs. omega? Important. Alpha vs. omicron? Unimportant. I never noticed the inconsistency and you’re right, it’s quite strange. I’d love to know what my Greek teacher would say to that.

“I am the alpha and the omega, or maybe the omicron and omega.” 

Goog 06/05/2012

For years I’ve noticed that many who speak of “Social Security” seem to say “So-Security.”

Recently, I interrupted a friend. I said, “Are you saying, ‘So-Security’?”
“No,” he said. “I’m saying ‘Social Security.'” He seemed puzzled by my question.
Then he continued with his remarks, saying–at least to my ears–“So-Security.”
Possibly, I am insane.

It is more likely, however, that my hearing loss is making me hear things.
But I still maintain that I’m hearing people say, “So-Security.” 

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