Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Is there a dialectologist in the house?

I've just read a couple of articles by P.G.Wodehouse about writing lyrics, in which he tries to explain 'why, when you see a librettist, he is generally lying on his back on the sidewalk with a crowd standing round, saying "Give him air."'

In one of these, he celebrates the rising popularity of Hawaii, 'with its admirably named beaches, shores, and musical instruments', and also its capability of being rhymed with "higher". Elsewhere, he disapproves of shoddy lyricists who 'can make "home" rhyme with "alone", and "saw" with "more", and go right off and look their innocent children in the eye without a touch of shame.' 

Now, I can easily imagine - though I never knew - that we've altered the way we pronounce 'Hawaii' in the last century, but how on earth was Plum pronouncing either 'saw' or 'more' so that they didn't rhyme? No matter how much of a strangulated 1920s voice I put on, I can't make them come out differently. Is it somehow related to a Michael Flanders joke I've never understood, in which he announces he's going to sing "an Edwardian -or 'Edwaardian'- song"? Did everyone in the first quarter of the century pronounce all their 'a's long? Does anyone know?


jondrytay said...

Most of Wodehouse's lyrics were written for American musicals, eg Showboat. 'Saw' and 'more' don't rhyme in a US accent.

I have no idea if this is the correct answer, by the way, but it's jolly plausible so it'll do.

jondrytay said...

Note also 'sidewalk' not 'pavement'


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm with the guy above. In a rhotic General American accent I hear 'saw' as 'sah' (almost like a British Regimental Sergeant-Major's "Sir", albeit without the bark), and 'more' having 'r' nor 'ah' as its sylable nucleus, almost 'maw-rrr' (the rhotic 'rrr' sound being right at the front of the mouth).

That 'rrr' effect, called a "postvocalic R", is lost in RP but retained in all of Canada and most of America. It acted as a class signifier in some parts of the US, New York in particular. (cf, Labov, 'The Social Stratification of English in New York City', 1966).


TJTD said...

I've used several rhyming dictionaries, and all of them assure me that 'North' does NOT rhyme with 'FORTH'.

Anonymous said...

Well it just goes to show, you can't be too- This is the right place isn't it?