Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was a sociolinguist like me?

As a student of linguistics, I have been trained to keep a professional ear out more or less at all times. This is good when I'm trying to figure out the sounds of languages I don't know, but most of the time it only really distracts me from conversations that I'm trying to have by drawing my attention to the form rather than the content. Which is to say, I geek out when I hear something cool or unusual. One of my favorite games to play when I watch TV is 'Spot the Canadian'. (Admittedly, some of these people might just be from the Upper Midwest, but given the number of successful Canadian actors on American television, chances are pretty good that that 'aboat'in' actress is really from the Great White North.)
Needless to say, in my many travels, I often hear variations on English that appear to have bizarre, nonsensical distributions (just because the sample size is too small) or that I simply can't connect to any dialect group I already know about (again, small sample size). Here are the two most common and bothersome:

both: My pronunciation of this rhymes with 'growth', vowel and consonants included. What I hear a lot around Arizona, my new home, is something that sounds more like 'boulth'. I've also heard this outside of AZ, but here it seems especially prevalent.
else: My pronunciation is something like 'elss'. What I hear some other people say: 'elts'. I want to say this is a West Coast thing, but I have no idea.

These are bothersome only because I have no idea what larger phenomenon to connect them to. Let's increase the sample size. How do you pronounce these words?


  1. I say 'bowth,' and 'elss.' Raised in Seattle, educated in Portland, picked up a few Southern features in high school trying to sound like Lou Reed. So it's a West-Coaster's version of an East-Coaster's version of the South, but wevs. I think 'bowth' and 'elss' are in the majority around here.

  2. Gene: Now that you say that and I think about it, I can totally see it. It works for you!

  3. I'm one of those people who says "elts", and I'm a born and bred Londoner. Only arrived at this blog because I got a little curious about it myself and googled it.

    And for what it's worth, I pronounce it as "bowth", rhyming with "growth" too. :P