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Re: THEORY: Th- words (was: RE: THEORY: Question: Bound Morphemes)

From:Raymond A. Brown <raybrown@...>
Date:Sunday, July 4, 1999, 11:08
At 10:57 pm -0300 2/7/99, FFlores wrote:
>This reminded me of something I saw in a book once about >the th- pronouns/determiners in English. It mentioned the >difference between "formal" and "content" words (which >were discussed some time ago, with other names).
etc. - the rest snipped. To which at 3:48 pm -0500 3/7/99, Patrick Dunn replied: ......
> >Well, all I know is, although it would be really *nice* for thorn to >represent /T/ and eth to represent /D/ -- they don't.
I have to disagree - it would be no nicer than if the Old English had used both {z} and {s} and both {v} and {f}. Fortunately they don't. (In the case of {v}, had they followed they practice of southern Europe they'd merely add unnecessary confusion since {u} and {v} had not become differentiated at that period). But the Old English sensibly wrote both [s] and [z] as {s} since the two sounds were merely allophones of /s/; similarly [f] and [v] were allophones of /f/ just as [T] and [D] were allophones of /T/. A consistent spelling of [T] as thorn and [D] as edh would not merely suggest that [T] and [D] might have had some (partial) phonemic difference - thus giving scholars something unnecessary to argue over :) - but also would probably be impossible since the English scribes clearly recognized only one "sound" and, unless any was a trained phonetician (not many about then), the result would be:
>Different scribes had different conventions -- one used thorn initially >and eth internally, one alternates thorns and eths, one uses thorns on >even lines and eths on odd lines, one mixes them up with no rhyme or >reason.
Just as Patrick says :) They were just two different methods adopted to cope with a sound for which the Roman alphabet did not have a letter. Some simply added a letter from the Runic alphabet, thorn, some modified an existing Roman letter by putting a bar through {d}. In 1066 the Norman scribes added another alternative: the digraph {th}. I don't know when edh (crossed d) died out, but thorn and {th} both survived until the age of printing. Unfortunately, the early printer didn't bother with a separate font for thorn and just used {y} (hence "ye olde tea shoppe"!) which was unsatisfactory and {th} sadly prevailed. And at 11:56 pm -0400 3/7/99, John Cowan wrote:
>Lars Henrik Mathiesen scripsit: > >> Phrase it like this: Some function words occured unstressed so often >> that they got initial /D/ instead of /T/ when the phonemes 'split'. > >But it's strange that initial /D/ occurs *only* in this group.
Not really. Old English /s/ and /f/ maintained themselves as [s] andd [f] in initial position, except in some dialects; in the SW England, e.g. they did become [z] and [v] (as in modern Dutch) and, of course, every initial {th} was [D]. Very occasionally, the odd dialect form got taken into the standard language, e.g. vat, vixen. So, no, one would expect only [T] initially. The odd thing is that initial [D] survived at all. It's, as Lars & others have said, that in unstressed positions the initial sound tended to be devoiced. Since the words are more often used that way, the devoiced forms have prevailed. Had there been no 'levelling out' we'd have {that} pronounced [D@t] when used clitically, and [T@t] when emphasized as in , e.g. "Don't say that!" Fortunately, they have been levelled out. ......
> >My revised English orthography continues to use "th" for both.
Yep - intervocalically, it'd cause no more problems than the very common use of {s} for [z] and [s]. It is surprising how many people, who are not linguists, are not aware that medial {s} is more often than not pronounced [z]. Initially AFAIK the only pair of words differentiated by the two sounds is {thy} /Dai/ and {thigh} /Tai/ - unless one counts the engineers abbreviation 'thou' /Tau/ = thou[santh of an inch] as a word. Also, of course, John's convention would allow both us southern Englanders who say [wID] and the Scots who say [wIT] to both write {with} :) Ray. ======================================== A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G.Hamann - 1760] ========================================