Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arresting the Decay of Language, Cont'd

All right, listen.

There are two ways to say the word "the". You can say "thUH" (short E: phonetically spelled thĕ [the underlining of th indicates it's the "voiced" th, as in "they" - as opposed to the "voiceless" th, as in "throw"]), or you can say "th-EE" (long E: phonetically spelled thē).

Generally speaking, when "the" precedes a word beginning with a consonant (or hard) sound, you would use the short "the", as in this phrase:

The dog ran past the car.

"Thĕ dog ran past thĕ car".

But if "the" precedes a word beginning with a vowel (or soft) sound, you would use the long "the", as in this phrase:

The owl hunted the otter. 

"Thē owl hunted thē otter."

What you'll find, in these troublous times, is that people use only one version of "the" - the one with the short vowel sound "thUH". But if you use a short "the" right before a word that begins with a vowel (osprey, end, abstract), the sounds run together and you end up with a phrase like "the udder" sounding more like "thuhuhdder". Well, obviously that doesn't work: there has to be some kind of delineation between the two vowel sounds.

Enter the glottal stop: Ɂ .

Do you know what a glottal stop is? It's a tiny halt you make in your throat, during speaking, to cut off the flow of air for a split second. It sounds weird, but try saying "thEE udder", and then try saying "thUH udder" and you'll see what I have to do a glottal stop whether you've heard of it or not. You'd write it "thĕ Ɂ ŭdder".

Well, glottal stops are all very well - nice and technical, and all, but why use them if you don't have to? Why not just use the correct pronunciation of "the"?

Good question.

Thē ĕnd.


Carolyn said...

Oooh, I love grammar posts. It's fun to contemplate grammar while knitting.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Get the to a nunnery!

Susie Hewer said...

Go boldly my dear!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Because not all cultures are heavy on the first and third with an uplift word finish like Canada and parts of the US. Welsh for example is based on second beat (a bit like jazz), so the 'th' is irrelevant, and in fact often may be discarded altogether (e' end ov eh road=the end of the road). Cornish and parts of London drop the 'h', while some upper class with what is known as a BBC accent only use the th-EE, and consider those who use thUH to be the sort who might be good and emptying waste bins in loos but are unable to communicate.

Irish, that depends on the coast and part of Ireland. And of course, since the T is a unique tongue movement which isn't done in Japanese, the t's and r's tend to just disappear, along with some of the letter seperation.

And then there are those from glasglow. And if you have met someone from downtown glasglow who is excited, and can notate the linquistics of it, I would like to ken it. As even Prof Higgens stuck to simple Cockney.

Belinda said...

Oh Shan, dear sister of my heart (or grandsister more like!) I was driven to distraction at worship practice this week because someone was singing the WRONG "the" before the next word. Fortunately it was random and she sang it correctly eventually. I thought about it all the way home, quietly gnashing my teeth in the car. Thee End!