Tuesday, 11 August 2009

scratching the itch

The questions that no one can answer often involve why.
A Japanese student asked me, “Why do people pronounce sandwich with , given that the spelling is -ch?”
Not everyone does, of course. But in my BrE preference poll I found that 53% of respondents voted for -wɪdʒ and only 47% for -wɪtʃ. Given the biasing effect of the spelling, the true figure for -wɪdʒ is probably quite a lot higher. (In AmE, on the other hand, I think we always get -wɪtʃ.)
The same alternation seems to apply to all words ending in -wich. Thus Norwich can be ˈnɒrɪdʒ, Woolwich can be ˈwʊlɪdʒ, Dulwich can be ˈdʌlɪdʒ. More generally, we could say it applies to all words with possible final unstressed -ɪtʃ. (Or perhaps not. Dunno about Harry Potter’s quidditch.)
EPD has a note at sandwich to the effect that “some British speakers use -wɪtʃ in the uninflected form and -wɪdʒ in the inflected forms of this word”. I do not know if there is any evidence for this claim.
The OED does not record anything except -wɪtʃ.
So why does this voicing happen? You can hypothesize about lenition of the affricate in this weak position, but not very convincingly. (Why does which not lenite in the same way when unstressed? Why do plosives, as in gossip, rabbit, topic not lenite, nor fricatives as in sheriff, Lambeth, palace, radish?)
It is interesting, too, that the alternation does not work in the other direction. No one pronounces -ɪtʃ in Cambridge or cabbage.
— —
I am experimenting with setting the font differently for my blog. It ought to look best if you have installed Charis SIL or Doulos SIL, and still be readable if you have not. How do the IPA symbols look? Do you prefer this to what we had before?


  1. In the article the IPA's as clear as can be, but in the preview at least I still have trouble seeing the long mark:


  2. May I ask you a simple "when" question for a change, iv you please?

    When was if pronounced with e final [v]?

    (The "why" might be that the word often occurs before vowels and certainly as unstressed as of, and the "why no more" is said to be spelling pronunciation.)

  3. Dickens's characters say "rubbage" instead of "rubbish", for what that's worth.

    What about the first syllable? For me, it's [sæm], which is assimilation to the labial part of the following labio-velar [w], but a friend of mine says [sæŋ], which is assimilation to the velar part.

  4. @Lipman: I have no idea. As far as I know, my LPD is the only dictionary to acknowledge the existence of [ɪv], which is still to be heard in BrE.

  5. Thanks. Is that regional, too?

  6. Regarding EPD on "sandwich": I don't know that it counts as "evidence" as such (seeing as I'm not a great truster of introspection), but I think I have [tʃ] in "sandwich" but [dʒ] in "sandwiches". Presumably this means the [tʃ] in "sandwich" can't in a sense be the *same* [tʃ] as the one I have finally in "church", since I have the voiceless one in the plural in that case.

  7. "How do the IPA symbols look? Do you prefer this to what we had before?"

    On my computer, all the text is now small and uncomfortable to read. I don't know if the way it appears for me is the way that it is supposed to look, but if it appears this way on a lot of visitors' screens, I think that you are likely to lose readers.

  8. I use [ɪv] (northern England, but not a very strong accent).

    John Cowan: I also have [m] in "sandwich":[ˈsamwɪdʒ]

  9. @Baritonobasso: it is very easy to change the font size in your browser's display. In IE or Firefox, just do Ctrl-+ to make it larger.

  10. I have never heard Droitwich pronounced with a final voiced affricate

  11. "How do the IPA symbols look?"

    They look OK, BUT: My default setup (FF 3.5.2 on XP) sees everything as the new Times New Roman. My alternative browser (Opera 9.63) sees everything as some sort of a mix of sans-serif fonts (but luckily without problems). So some more tinkering may be in order... But haven't had the time to look at the source.

  12. Font looks fine to me in Latin alphabet and IPA. I normally increase font size anyway, so the font size doesn't bother me.

    In my speech, sandwich is [ˈsændwɪtʃ]. Sandwiches can be [ˈsændwɪtʃɪz] or [ˈsændwɪdʒɪz]

  13. My first reaction was there might be something special about -wich, as long ago maybe as AngloSaxon.

    Then Droitwich came up, and there's Nantwich and Northwich too, both a fair distance NW from London, while Sandwich, Greenwich, Dulwich, Woolwich and Norwich are in the SE and not far from London.

    Routledge's Pronouncing Dictionary of English Placenames quotes numerous sources for the variants it reports.

    For Norwich, six sources report only the voiced ending (from 1883 to 1936), three both variants (1921 to 1974), and one only the voiceless ending (1913).

    For Sandwich, one source reported only the voiced ending (1933, local), six reported both variants (1913 to 1974), and one only the voiceless ending (1971).

    This suggests that the voiced ending is earlier and the voiceless ending more recent.

    Just remembered Fordwich and Sheldwich, only heard a voiceless ending there. But the Routledge placename dictionary only has the voiced ending for Sheldwich (local 1933). Pity I can no longer ask my grandfather, he was born there.

  14. According to www.open-sandwich.co.uk/town_history/timeline/saxons_vikings.htm, -wich is the same as -wic, which may be Saxon for 'sandy place', or 'trading place', or Scandinavian for 'creek', or Latin for 'dwelling', all of which, I imagine, have final [k].
    I find it interesting that you can find the spelling 'samwidge' many times on the internet. This shows that the writer i) clearly has a voiced final consonant here, (ii) also elides the [d], and the [n] assimilates to [m], and (iii) has no qualms about re-spelling the word creatively, if jokingly, to reflect this. Indeed, perhaps your original writer's comment should not have been "Why do people pronounced 'sandwich' with [dZ], given that the spelling is 'ch'?" but rather "Why do people spell 'sandwich' with 'ch', when they pronounce it with [dZ]?"

  15. Font - I'm using Opera 9.51 and it's all well readable.

  16. Font: I'm using Firefox, and I find the new font unpleasant. The lower case f in roman looks as if it's bold, and the italics appear to have bold left edges. IPA is quite legible.

  17. On the fonts: Curiously, IE8 still displays it using Verdana, although I have Charis SIL installed on my system (though not the compact version). Luckily, it displays the IPA fine.

  18. @John Cowan, in Australia although "sandwich" is usually pronounced with [m], a short form of it is "sanger" with [ŋ]. I've often wondered why. (I think the short form in English has [m] though, but I'm struggling to remember what I believe it is, so I'm probably wrong.)

    @John Wells, the IPA comes out okay, although a bit messy because most text is in sans apart from the transcription. I also think the text is too small. (It frustrates me that on half the webpages on the Internet I need to choose "zoom in" and on the half "zoom out". I don't get why it became popular to specify a particular size for the main text on a webpage, but I wish it hadn't. Alas, it's too late for that.)

  19. new fonts:

    I generally prefer serifed fonts to non-serifed ones :)
    Legibility of both IPA and non_IPA symbols is fine with FF and Flock 1.2.7. The new font is a tiny bit smaller than the previous one

  20. Sidney Wood - Routledge's Pronouncing Dictionary of English Place Names needs to be used with caution: it lists EPD, BE (Broadcast English) and BBC Pronouncing Dictionary of British Names as three sources, but they reflect one piece of research, carried out by the BBC, and used by all three publications.

  21. Anonymous - the short form of "sandwich" in British English is "sarnie"

  22. In Belgian Dutch, we also have the word ‘sandwich’, although it has quite a different meaning: it is only used for one particular kind of small bakery, with yeast dough and milk and butter, traditionally eaten on Sunday. (In more recent times, the English meaning is getting spread as well as a loan word.) See http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich, the first two entries.
    The pronunciation is /sɑntwiʧ/.

  23. تتميز مراكز صيانة ويرلبول بتواجد فيها خدمة الصيانة الفورية التي تسعف جميع الاعطال فور اتصالكم بنا في اي وقت و يمكنكم التواصل مع توكيل ويرلبول من خلال الرابط الموضح اسفل

  24. يسعي الكثير من رجال الاعمال علي التعاقد مع شركة امن وحراسة بمصر لكفاءتها في تقديم خدمات الحماية التي تقوم بها و يمكنكم معرفة المزيد عن شركة حراسات امنية من خلال الرابط الموضح امامكم

  25. يوجد داخل دار المسنين جميع انواع الرعاية الصحية التي يحتاج اليها كبار السن في اعمارهم المتقدمة هذه مع توفير جليسات مسنين في مصر يعملون علي نفس القدر من التميز

  26. يتوافر لدي شركة مكافحة حشرات بمصر جميع انواع المبيدات الحشرية التي تقضي و بشكل نهائي علي جميع الحشرات و في نفس الوقت صديقة للبيئة و يمكنكم متابعة شركة ابادة حشرات من خلال الرابط الظاهر امامكم

  27. يتميز شركة قرميد و طوب بتواجد فيها جميع مستلزمات القرمدي الممكن ان يحتاج اليها العمال في تركيبة