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The Theoretical Basis for Determining Pronunciations in Dictionaries Allen Walker Read On what basis does a lexicographer make decisions in recording pronunciations? There have been, I believe, four chief types of approaches, which I label as follows: I Doctrinaire basis II Personal idiolectal basis IIIObservational basis IVFormulaic basis Let us take these up one by one. I Doctrinaire Basis Doctrinaire beliefs have been all too prevalent in the field of language. Many people believe that there is a right and a wrong quite independent of what people say. One such belief holds that classical vowel quantities should determine pronunciations in present-day English. When I was young, believers in classical quantities used the pronunciation [ aeb'do:m3n ] rather than [ 'aebdaman ] In going through the Webster Papers in the New York Public Library, I came across a startling instance of how this principle affected an early dictionary. Noah Webster's son, William G. Webster, was in 1854 editing a school edition for the G. &. C. Merriam Brothers, and they wrote to him in a letter of November 17, 1854: We notice you strike out the second pronunciation of Abdomen (ab -do-men) giving only ab-do -men. Worcester gives Ab -domen (the form we strike out) as his first or preferred, pronunication . So does the Imperial, and we are under the impression that this is the most common mode employed in this country. We have never heard the other used. Here is a definite statement of usage: "We have never heard the other used." And furthermore, William G. Webster wrote in the margin, "Right." 87 88Pronunciations in Dictionaries But what was their decision when the book was published? Even though both the editor and publishers acknowledged that they had never heard [ aeb'do:m3n ] used, they gave it as their preferred pronunication, and put down [ 'aebdaman ] as a second. This factitious pronunciation has been carried on by purists for generations since. A motion picture theatre near where I live is named after the Muse of Comedy, and nearly everyone calls it the [ 'Gelia ]. I did so too until one day a colleague in the English department, with a gleam of triumph in his eye, asked me why I didn't say [ Ga 1 laia ]? I had to plead ignorance and was informed of the proper quantities. This has posed a problem for me ever since, and I tend to vacillate between [ 'Gelia ] and [ Ga'laia ]. I struggle with a similar problem in [eta'd^aiaek] rather than [el'i:d3iaek ] and with [ raejbn'eli] rather than [ raefan'al ] . Are any of us wholly free from this doctrinaire pressure? I must confess that I much prefer [ bona'faidi ] rather than the common [ 'banafaid ]. At least I will never use the verb to bonify. Another facet of the doctrinaire basis is the belief in spelling pronunciations. In its extreme form, this doctrine holds that the oral form of a word is merely the degraded echo of its written form. Year by year the oral tradition is being eroded away. In my boyhood the word spelled k-i-l-n was everywhere pronounced [ kil ], but in recent years I have heard nothing but [ kiln ]. With my own antipathy for spelling pronunciations, I valiantly hold out for [ kil], but I feel like a back-number for doing so. In my lifetime I have heard [s-b] give way to [ ha-b]. But of course I accept [ 'hospital ] without a qualm, while a former generation brought back the ft into that word. I have always assumed that [ sagtest ] was the accepted form of that word and was surprised to read in a criticism of 1907 that [ safest ] was the proper form, with a blast at the semi-literates who were bringing in [ sagtest ] (see George Philip Krapp, in "A Social View of Language," Forum, October, 39[1907] pp:278). Another area in which the doctrinaire basis operates is attributed to esthetic judgement. Some sounds are alleged to be intrinsically inferior, although few linguists adhere to this school of thought. I have read statements that [ haf ] is better than [ hasf ] and that [tju:b] is better than [tu:b]. I think we would agree with the con- Allen...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 87-96
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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