Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Tale of the Three Ahs

Once upon a time, there were three Ahs.

One Ah was named 𐐉. She could
not be bothered with many of the things her father wanted, so she set off on her own, looking for a spot where she could be happy. In the end, she was lost.

One Ah was named 𐐃. Her
fault was that there was naught she wanted from her father, and she also left, looking for a lord who could give her all she wanted. No word ever came back from her.

The third Ah was named 𐐂. She was her
father’s favorite and herself wanted no part of her sisters’ unfiliality. Instead, she stayed with him in his cottage. Since she loved the arts, she spent her days creating beautiful things for them both to enjoy; and together they still are, happy and contented.

Enough, say I, is enough.

This whole “ah” business has been gnawing at me, so I decided to try to actually get it straight in my head. To start with, I took the title page of the Book of Mormon and wrote down all the words containing any of the three “ah” letters, 𐐂, 𐐃, and 𐐉. I then looked them up in Oxford New American Dictionary that comes with Mac OS X and Wiktionary to get both American and British pronunciations in IPA.

Let’s go through them in reverse alphabetical order. For each letter, I’ll list all the words, then their American pronunciations (Wiktionary first) and their British pronunciations (again, Wiktionary first). For some words, the dictionaries only gave the pronunciations of their roots.

𐐀𐐉𐐓 /nΙ‘t/ |nΙ‘t| /nΙ’t/ |nΙ’t|
π‰πš /ʌv/ |Ι™v| |Ι™| /Ι’v/ |Ι’v|
π˜π‰π” /ɑɑːd/ |gΙ‘d| /Ι‘Ι’d/ |gΙ’d|
𐐉𐐙 /Ι‘f/ |Ι‘f| /Ι’f/ |Ι’f|
𐐝𐐑𐐉𐐓𐐒𐐇𐐝 /spΙ‘t/ |ˈspΙ‘tlΙ™s| /spΙ’t/ |spΙ’t|

These words are on the bother end of the bother-father merger. This merger hasn’t taken place in all varieties of British English but has throughout almost all of North America, so the British pronunciations give the intended sound, Ι’.

𐐃𐐒𐐝𐐄 /ΛˆΙ”l.soʊ/ |ΛˆΙ”lsoʊ| /ΛˆΙ”Λl.sΙ™ΚŠ/ |ΛˆΙ”ΛlsΙ™ΚŠ|
𐐒𐐃𐐑𐐔 /lɔːd/ |lΙ”rd| /lɔːd/ |lɔːd|
𐐙𐐃𐐑 /fΙ”ΙΉ/ |fΙ”(Ι™)r| /fɔː(ΙΉ)/ |fɔː|
𐐃𐐒 /Ι”l/ |Ι”l| /ɔːl/ |ɔːl|
𐐙𐐃𐐒𐐓𐐝 /fΙ”lt/ |fΙ”lt| /fɔːlt/ |fɔːlt|

These words are on the caught end of the cot-caught merger. This merger isn’t considered “standard” in American English, although it has taken place in Utah English, so all the dictionaries agree on what it should sound like, namely Ι”. It’s just not the way I pronounce it.

𐐂𐐑 /Ι‘ΙΉ/ |Ι‘r| /ɑː(ΙΉ)/ |ɑː|
π™π‚π›π‡π‘πž (NA) |ˈfΙ‘Γ°Ι™r| /ˈfɑː.Γ°Ι™(ΙΉ)/ |ˈfɑːðə|
𐐗𐐂𐐝𐐓 /kΓ¦st/ |kΓ¦st| /kɑːst/ |kɑːst|
𐐑𐐂𐐑𐐓 /pΙ‘ΙΉt/ |pΙ‘rt| /pɑːt/ |pɑːt|

This vowel is on the winning wide of both mergers, father and cot, and is the only form of “ah” I can pronounce without a conscious effort. It’s Ι‘.

(I actually got a bit mixed up when first I tried to coordinate this data with what Wikipedia has to say about the two mergers, but Ken Beesley corrected me.)

This is actually bad news, largely because I somehow got the impression that the vowel of cot was the more O-ish Ι”, and because I somehow got the impression that it was written with 𐐉. As a result, there are entries in the Deseret Alphabet wiki for 𐐝𐐹𐐱𐐿 and πŒπ‘†π²πΏ πˆπ‘†π²π‘‹π±π‘‚, even though my actual pronunciations are 𐐝𐐹πͺ𐐿 and πˆπ‘†π²π‘‹πͺ𐑂, respectively. As for how they’re “correctly” spelled in the Deseret Alphabet—well, I’m giving up. A cobbler should stick to his last. From now on, in any wiki entry I work on or any other DA text I compose, every “ah” is 𐐂 unless I know better, having learned the distinct pronunciation from a dictionary or other unimpeachable source.

(As for our Vulcan and biochemist friends, I don’t know who would be the ultimate authority on how to pronounce “Spock,” but it should by rights either be Gene Roddenberry—who is dead and therefore unavailable—or Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy is from Boston, where they preserve all three vowels, so if one listens very closely, one could probably figure out how “Spock” should be written.

(Asimov was a Russian Jew raised in Brooklyn, and New York is another one of the places that preserves all three “ah” sounds—albeit, that may not include Brooklyn. He is known to have told people that, to pronounce his name, say “has him off” but drop the h's. I could use that to argue that the final vowel was indeed 𐐉, but I think I’m not going to press my luck. First of all, I have audio recordings of the man pronouncing his own name, and he ended it with a /v/, not an /f/. Secondly, he also rhymed it with “stars above” and “mazel tov.” The best thing would be to have someone who can really hear the differences listen to the recordings and figure out which vowel Asimov actually used.)

1 comment:

  1. Cot/Caught merger is standard, according to the MW Learners Dictionary. Check it out:

    Also, see here_