LINGUIST List 4.779

Thu 30 Sep 1993

Disc: Can't, Shall, Cognates

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. David Gil, (Un)canny vowels
  2. Michael M T Henderson, Shall and Before
  3. Gregory Ward, false cognate

Message 1: (Un)canny vowels

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 18:41:34 SS(Un)canny vowels
From: David Gil <ELLGILDNUSVM.bitnet>
Subject: (Un)canny vowels

A propos Robert Hoberman's observation that (tin) can and
(modal) can have different vowels in NY English:

The same is true also for some British dialects, including the
variety of North London English that I am a native speaker of.

One of the most memorable incidents in my professional life
occurred a few years ago, while I was attempting to compose
a humorous quatrain on the back of a postcard. Line 1 ended
with "had", line 3 ended with "mad". When reading the quatrain
back to myself I suddenly noticed that these two words didn't
rhyme. "Of course they do!" I admonished myself, "they're both
the low front [ae]"; but my native dialect wouldn't give in easily,
and insisted that the vowel in "mad" was longer than the vowel in
"had". After some introspection, I realized, to my stupefaction,
that I had a phonemic distinction that I had previously been
unaware of, quite a shaking experience for someone who thinks
that they are "linguistically aware". So for me, words like
"bag", "sad", "glad", "mad", and (tin) "can" have long [ae], while
words like "had", "tad", "clad", "mag", and (modal) "can" have
short [ae]. Apparently, this split occurs in some SE English
dialects as well as in some NE American dialects of English.

As for "can" and "can't", when some American English speakers use
these, I always have to interrupt and ask "do you mean 'can' or
'cannot'", so it's clearly not just non-native speakers that have
this difficulty.

David Gil
National University of Singapore
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Message 2: Shall and Before

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 93 09:35:19 CDShall and Before
From: Michael M T Henderson <MMTHUKANVM.bitnet>
Subject: Shall and Before

1. Vacationing in Skye some years ago I was struck by the question I
heard several times from shopkeepers who were native speakers of Scots
Gaelic: 'Will I wrap this for you?' I kept feeling that I was being
asked for a prediction.
2. Thanks to all who replied to my posting on 'before'. I might have
predicted that most who replied would tell me that they did not share
my implicature, so that "I've never bought a CD before" does not, to
them, imply that they are now buying or are about to buy a CD. Unless I
have forgotten someone (to whom I therefore apologize), ALL who replied
that they shared my implicature were Brits. I used to be one myself,
but I know there are Americans who agree with me--I work with some and
am married to one. We need to do a proper survey, I guess.
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Message 3: false cognate

Date: Wed, 29 Sep 93 16:10:26 CDfalse cognate
From: Gregory Ward <>
Subject: false cognate

to don nilsen's list of false cognates, i can add the one known to any
english-speaking (and non-italian-speaking) visitor to italy who tries
to order a "pepperoni" pizza!
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