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Via jaylake , Language Log has an entertainingly ranty post about the "I before E, except after C..." spelling rule and a recent suggestion by the British government that the rule is not worth teaching.

It's a digression from the rant's main point, but the following parenthetical caught my attention:

The word "weird" is sometimes cited as an exception [to the rule], but in British English it is not: the <ei> represents the diphthong [ɪə], not the monophthong [i:]. (There might be analyses of rhotic dialects like American English that treat "weird" as [wi:rd]; in that case you could say "weird" is an exception.)

"Rhotic"? I had to look that one up. According to Wikipedia, a "rhotic speaker" pronounces the R in words like hard and water; a non-rhotic speaker doesn't. Thus one could say of Ted Kennedy that he exhibits "non-rhoticity," which makes me laugh.

One interesting implication of this (assuming Wikipedia's not pulling my leg) is that the hesitation-words "er" and "uh," when uttered by a non-rhotic speaker, have identical pronunciations. Weird indeed.


Jun. 22nd, 2009 06:38 pm (UTC)
so, if a Rhotic speaker says Rhotic it would sould like eRotic?

Jun. 22nd, 2009 06:51 pm (UTC)
Yes, the non-rhotic dialect I hear every day turns the R in "weird" into a schwa, resulting in a diphthong. Although I would tend to say that Vinny Barbarino's "WEE-id" and the [wɪəd] of Lord Crumpet Tiddlywinks would come across rather differently.

The upshot of non-rhoticity, though, is that the Universal Conservation of R is in effect: we don't just throw those Rs away; we re-use them in silly places! I heard a radio show contest end in a draw once because the caller-in could not say Chachi's last name from Happy Days. He kept saying "Charles Arcoler" (Chahles Ahcoler) over and over again, and the Rs harder each time, and finally resorted to spelling it: A-R-C-O-L-A, Arcoler.
Jun. 22nd, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
The thing which I found hardest to get used to when I moved to Boston was the ADDITION of the "R" if adjacent words end and begin with a vowel. For example:

"I went to Korea in spring" would be pronounced like "career".

"His career suddenly died" would be pronounced like "Korea".

Jun. 24th, 2009 08:34 am (UTC)
I, as a non-native speaker but linguist, have often been wondering about so called "minimal pairs" (words where only one phoneme differes) and thought new - sew would be one of them until a friend of mine pointed out that it is not pronounced [sju:] but [sou]. Now that's something! And nobody I asked knew why...

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