Friday, August 20, 2010

What?  Wot?

This is from Metro, a free newspaper distributed throughout London (23 June 2010). 

The headline, Water way to set a record, would probably be puzzling to many speakers of English, unless they realize that water way is supposed to be a pun on what a way.  Since water and what a are pronounced /ˈwɔːtə/ and /ˈwɒtə/ respectively in many varieties of British English, they are reasonably close rhymes.

But of course this doesn’t work for many American speakers, most of whom are rhotic (i.e. pronounce the /r/ at the end of water), pronounce wh as /hw/, and use /ʌ/ in what.

Like the Americans, most Singaporeans pronounce what as /wʌt/.  In fact, most would be surprised to learn that what is pronounced /wɒt/ in British Received Pronunciation — the pronunciation model traditionally adopted in Singapore schools (but which is evidently on its way out) — and that wander is pronounced as /ˈwɒndə/. 

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