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Summary Details

Query:   OFTEN pronounced with t
Author:  Neal R Norrick
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonetics

Summary:   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 t@n 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 [Oft@n] pronunciation rather than [Ofn]/[Of@n] 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."

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

LL Issue: 10.1666
Date Posted: 03-Nov-1999
Original Query: Read original query


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