LINGUIST List 10.1666

Wed Nov 3 1999

Sum: OFTEN pronounced with t

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Neal R. Norrick, OFTEN pronounced with t

Message 1: OFTEN pronounced with t

Date: Wed, 03 Nov 1999 10:21:45 +0100
From: Neal R. Norrick <>
Subject: OFTEN pronounced with t

Many thanks for all the responses (R�my Viredaz, Donn Bayard, Dom Watt,
Linda Coleman, John Reighard, Susan M. Fitzmaurice, Roy Cochrun, Aur�lien
MAX, Robert Papen, Naomi Nagy, Marc Picard, Cornelia Gerhardt, Laurie
Bauer, Geoffrey Sampson, Ian Tupper).

List participants report OFTEN pronounced with t in England, Scottland,
Canada, New Zealand and the US. It's interesting as a spelling
pronunciation, preferred by some speakers, dispreferred by others. Though
the t-full pronunciation is apparently on the increase in various places,
it's not associated with a single group anywhere. Several responses noted
below report work-in-progress on the phenomenon.

A little background:

Wells' Longman Pronouncing Dictionary lists both t-less pronunciations, and
a t-full pronunciations with tn as the second syllable, where  stands for
schwa. This is the pronunciation I intended in calling the t aspirated (I
should have written, and I was duly reminded, that this t, like other
voiceless stops in onsets of unstressed syllables, is only weakly
aspirated, and, hence, counts as unaspirated for phoneticians who require a
specific threshold value on the scale). Wells reports that "Many speakers
use both the form with t and the form with it," and cites a BrE poll panel
preference: 72% t-less, 27% t-full.

Fowler's Modern English Usage (1965) says: "According to the OED the
sounding of the t was not then recognized by the dictionaries. But that
was long before the speak-as-you-spell movement got under way, and as long
ago as 1933 the SOED recorded that the sounding of the t was then frequent
in the south of England. That would now be an understatement of its currency."

List response:

Donn Bayard reports: "The spelling pronunciation certainly occurs here in
New Zealand. My 1984-85 survey of phonological and lexical variables in
NZE (see *Te Reo* vols. 30 and 32, 1987 and 1989) showed 41% of my sample
of 141 used the ofTen pronunciation. I also monitor this and a number of
other alternative pronunciations in my annual questionnaires to our large
first-year classes; since 1984 ofTen has increased from ca. 35% to over
50%, but its change is not as marked as items like "lieutenant",
"schedule", and "zed/zee"."
Dom Watt says the [Oftn] pronunciation rather than [Ofn]/[Ofn] is current
in Scottish English. He writes: "I 
was born and grew up in Edinburgh, and while both forms were used, the one
with [t] was probably as - or more - common that the [t]-elided one (note
that the quality of the vowel of the first syllable can be [O] or [o],
where [O] is 'open o'). I've got a hunch that the [t]-ful form is more
traditional, and perhaps hence seen as less prestigious or 'correct', but
don't know for sure. The [t] may alternatively be nasally released, i.e.
with no intervening schwa between [t] and [n]. If you're interested in
following up the 'stylistic variable' angle on the alternation between [t]
and zero, it might be worth your while contacting Deborah Chirrey
( or Jane Stuart-Smith
( - they've both recently published
work on variability in the phonologies of Edinburgh and Glasgow English, so
they may have a better idea.

Robert Papen writes: "As a speaker of Canadian English, I can tell you that
both variants are used in Canada...though I can't tell you what the
distribution of either variant may be."

Naomi Nagy says:"I have 2 students working on this very question
now--collecting data both via surveys and interviews in New Hampshire.
I'll pass your query along and ask them to get back to you, but they won't
have a "definite" answer until mid-December." 

Laurie Bauer: "Variable in New Zealand, too. I've always assumed it is
basically socio-economic class driven, but 
I haven't seen any analysis of it, so do summarise for the list if you
discover anything."

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Prof. Dr. Neal R. Norrick
Lehrstuhl f�r Englische Philologie 
Universit�t des Saarlandes
66041 Saarbr�cken
Tel. +49 (0)681 302-3009
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