Them thar - an addendum

Posted by Smokey Stover on June 14, 2005

In Reply to: Them thar - an addendum posted by Jacob on June 12, 2005

: A "vowel-movement" (oops!) started about 5 or 6 centuries ago in England: many words with -er- began changing to -ar-, you can see this in the speech of certain people in old novels: "marcy me!" for "mercy me!", "varmint" for "vermin", "parfit" for "perfect" etc. 'thar" for "there" seems to be just another example. Some of these new pronunciations have become standard: star < sterr, heart < hert etc. but the "spelling pronunciation" ideology of schoolmarms (you have to pronounce it how it's spelled) has re-converted the pronunciation of many, so now we say "purrfect" etc.

Oops! Vowel movement? In the U.S.A. I'm not sure there was ever a time when clerics were clarks, or there was such a thing as a parfit gentle knight. True, we have family names and place names like Clark and Clarksville. There are also the odd occurrences of words like "varmint" and "thar she blows." Neither of these is considered standard American English.

An odd fact about "er" in American English is that it comes close to being pronounceable just by location. (I said "close," but not close enough, perhaps.) When "er" occurs in an open syllable with no other vowels, it's pronounced as "ear" or "air," as in adhere, Erie, very, where. When "er" occurs in a closed syllable it is pronounced either as "air" or "ur." I think the "air" pronunciation occurs mostly in stressed syllables--error, ferret, terrycloth, although "ur" is at least as common in stressed closed syllables, as in pertinent, certain, fervor, converted. In unstressed closed syllables, I think "ur" prevails, as in convert (someone who has been converted), pervert (the noun), festers. But I haven't devoted much thought to this. And then, of course, there are all those words with -ough. SS