Friday, 8 January 2010


Victor Mair asked me if I’d ever encountered the pronunciation of with as wɪt.
The answer is yes, though I find it difficult to pin down with any precision who would use this form. As Victor himself suggests, it tends to have overtones of “some types of gangster or punk talk” (in AmE or in people imitating AmE). I think I’ve often heard it in the demotic American English you get in Judge Judy or reality shows. The rapper Nelly has a hit called Ride Wit Me. But does it go wider than this?
You can also get yod coalescence in with you wɪtʃə, with an affricate resulting from the plosive plus underlying approximant.

In different parts of the English-speaking world with can be pronounced in several different ways. First, if the word is said with a conservative dental fricative, this consonant can be either voiceless wɪθ (most AmE, Scottish), or voiced wɪð (remaining kinds of BrE, including RP). It rhymes with myth and smith for many Americans, but not for me.
Secondly, the dental place of articulation can be changed to labiodental (TH Fronting). For the voiceless sound, this gives wɪf (mainly American black?); for the voiced, wɪv (popular southeastern England). Texting Londoners often write wiv. Dizzee Rascal has a hit called Dance Wiv Me.
Thirdly, the fricative manner of articulation can change to plosive (TH Stopping). This gives voiceless wɪt (the one we started by discussing) and voiced wɪd (Irish, West Indian, Newfoundland?, African, Indian).
Lastly, the final consonant can be lost altogether, leaving just . This is still found in north of England traditional dialect, and is also typical of Jamaican Creole and Caribbean English Creole generally. There is a literary spelling wi’ (e.g. Scots).
Just this intersection of voicing, place, manner and deletion gives us 2×2×2+1=9 principal variants among NSs.
NNSs with TH problems supply two further variants: wɪs and wɪz.

The video of which there is a cropped screengrab alongside is entitled, as you see, tha got beef wi me (“you got a complaint against me?” in the dialect of Sheffield — or is it Barnsley?).


  1. Then you have NNSs vith [w] problems, and those weeth [ɪ] problems. And those who have problems withə words ending in consonants.

  2. Th-stopping is a recessive feature of the traditional New York City accent. Combined with the AmE tendency (it is not absolute) to render with with a voiceless coda, this leads directly to [wɪt]. I was born just outside the isogloss for this, so I don't have the feature despite living in the city for some 30 years.

    I am not sure of the exact situations in which /wɪθ/ becomes /wɪð/ in AmE, but I believe it is free to do so when in close liaison with a following word beginning with a vowel. Followed by a consonant or nothing, or in isolation, it is always /wɪθ/, at least for me.

    OT: On television last night I heard a geologist with a U.K. non-RP accent say NASA as [næsɚ], with a noticeable rhotic coloring, in utterance-final position. Now this word has a very precise provenance: in American English some time after 1958, when NASA was founded.

    Now the geologist cannot have learned his pronunciation directly from an AmE speaker, because (rhotic) AmE uses a rhotic vowel if and only if "r" is written, producing the etymologically wrong AmE pronunciations of Burma and the Korean surname Park as /bɚmə/ and /pɑrk/ respectively. It seems to me, therefore, that his pronunciation is a translation of a spoken RP form ending in /ə/ (and possibly with a BATH vowel, too — is NASA in the BATH set?) into the geologist's native dialect, producing an etymologically wrong pronunciation exactly parallel to the AmE cases I mentioned above. Does this seem plausible?

  3. No, NASA isn't BATH - we call it ˈnæsə. (We also call Sasha Obama ˈsæʃə, and I think there are other examples too.)

    Did this man who said [næsɚ] have an otherwise non-rhotic accent?

  4. The consonant is unvoiced in southern Irish. Standard is dental plosive wɪt̪, or alveolar wɪt for those with no t-th opposition. As with any final t, this can become h in the midlands and glottal ʔ in Dublin.

  5. John Cowan wrote: "Th-stopping is a recessive feature of the traditional New York City accent. Combined with the AmE tendency (it is not absolute) to render with with a voiceless coda, this leads directly to [wɪt]. I was born just outside the isogloss for this, so I don't have the feature despite living in the city for some 30 years."

    I concur on all points, and like John, do not have this feature in my own speech, though I have heard it all my life, and still hear it daily.

    It's hardly surprising to find this in NYC when you consider the origins of the immigrants who formed the greatest part of the city's population for over a century: Irish, German, Italian, Russian Jewish, and later Puerto Rican and Cuban. (Newer immigrant populations are no doubt adding shifts to the New York sound, but I find this harder to track.)

    Although some Irish speakers (I mean speakers of Irish English, not of Irish) don't stop TH, many do; and on the evidence, I'd guess that most who settle in NYC did. As for the other large immigrant groups, none of their first languages include θ, ð (associated with th) or alveolar t and d - all are dental stops. So as each wave of newcomers settled in NYC, they heard very few examples of spoken English that would prompt them to adopt those particular sounds as they began to acquire English.

    At least, that's my theory. I've never tried it out on anyone knowledgeable before. I'm willing to take correction, but if you have to shoot this idea down, please do it as kindly as you can!

    I have left out two important groups. I have not personally noticed that Chinese has made a significant contribution to "typical" New York accents outside the ethnically Chinese population. (Possibly it has, and I simply lack awareness.)

    In New York's African American population, TH-fronting and TH-stopping seem to co-exist. (Along with TH as interdentals, it must be said.) I am nowhere near as educated about AAVE as I would like to be, so if there are "rules" for when one applies and not the other, I simply don't know them. Not surprisingly, our Afro-Caribbean population has a different set of sounds, whose influence on the overall New York accent I know nothing about. I'd like a few more lifetimes to learn about it all ...

  6. "Although some Irish speakers (I mean speakers of Irish English, not of Irish) don't stop TH, many do."

    There are 4 consonants in this area in Irish Gaelic but they don't map to the English ones. The usual in Irish English is dental stop for TH (distinct from alveolar stop for T and D). Affricate is also common but fricative not so much. Some of those with dental stop in careful speech use syllabic "-ed" in e.g. "earthed" "breathed"; whereas those with a fully merged alveolar stop for TH don't do so.

  7. John Cowan said...
    (re the geologist with a U.K. non-RP accent's [næsɚ])

    "It seems to me, therefore, that his pronunciation is a translation of a spoken RP form ending in /ə/ (and possibly with a BATH vowel, too — is NASA in the BATH set?) into the geologist's native dialect, producing an etymologically wrong pronunciation exactly parallel to the AmE cases I mentioned above. Does this seem plausible?

    There are lamentably few UK speakers whose awareness of either AmE rhoticity or common orthography is adequate for the remotest approximation to a realistic imitation of American speech.

    And NASA with BATH would only emanate from an equally incompetent American imitator of UK speech!

  8. The video is definitely in a stereotypical Sheffield accent. You can tell this from how the "th" becomes a /d/ sound on occasions. This is why Sheffield people are nicknamed "dee-dahs" traditionally because of the pronunciations of "thee" and "thou". However, it must be less than 1% of Sheffield's population that speaks that way anymore.

    I think that pronouncing "with" as simply /wɪ/ is common in many parts of Britain. It's not the sort of thing you get corrected on by the speech-conscious.

  9. I think many of us non-rhotics first heard of NASA as a homophone of Nasser. In Britain he was know not as 'Gamal Abdel Nasser' nor as 'President Nasser', but first as 'Colonel Nasser' and then simply 'Nasser'.

    If my sources are to be believed, NASA was founded in 1958 and Nasser died in 1970. For a decade or so, both names would have been equally familiar to many of us.

  10. My instinct is that voicing the "th" in "with" is going the way of voicing the "ph" in "nephew" (there's one I hadn't noticed until alarmingly recently*, but that's beside the point). People who pronounce "with" with a [ð] or [v] seem to be either a few years older than me or from the south-east of England. I wouldn't be surprised if this were a generalized phenomenon of global English (possibly under the influence of Hollywood) settling on /wɪθ/, which would explain a lot about why it's difficult to pin /wɪt/ down.

    I'm also amused that Londoners waste letters like that in text messages. I generally text with as "w". Maybe I'm just lazy.

    * (The amusing and wholly irrelevant anecdote there is that, as I am not an uncle, I don't use that word much. So when I asked a friend what she was getting her /ˈnɛvjuː/ for Christmas, I was surprised that she reacted by bursting into laughter. And looking at various phonetics resources, this seems to be something extremely well-known that had passed me by.)

  11. Amy Stoller,

    are you sure about alveolar vs dental plosives in all the languages you name? Also, at least Germans would substitute /s/, not /t/.

    James D,

    nephew very probably came about as a spelling pronunciation, while /th is the default for both the voiced and the voiceless consonants.

  12. I did an informal survey of several Americans of my acquaintance a few years back to see how many said /wɪθ/ and how many said /wɪð/. Most people said they use θ, and many said they can use either one, but a fair proportion use only ð. My impression was that it was mostly people from the Northeast and the Great Lakes area that use ð, but my sample wasn't large enough to be sure. And it was based on self-reporting, which is always a bit unreliable.

  13. I have /wɪð/, like most English-raised people that I have met. For people like me, it seems that the word WITH is very unusual:

    * it's the only word that ends in a checked/short vowel followed by /ð/
    * it's the only word ending in orthographic TH that's pronounced /ð/

    Or at least I think it is. Are there any other exceptions?

  14. Those are not checked/short vowels!

    John, I meant to ask you for an explanation of your ghastly pun of the day. Is it with-all/withal, as in "Who-all was there?"?

  15. I don't think it's me today, I think it's Firefox, or bloody btinternet. Now that I've refreshed I have seen the second bullet point.

    BTW obviously edh itself hardly counts as an example!

  16. I don't feel up to a wild-goose chase on Firefox Help. Perhaps someone here knows how to stop it saving all closed tabs? With several windows open it gets so bloated that it takes an eternity to scroll. I thought this feature was wonderful at first, but I can never remember to keep clearing the closed tabs and windows lists. And it doesn't seem to free up much anyway.

    I did find out how to disable the beastly horrible "awesome bar". I certainly never thought that was wonderful!

  17. Jack Windsor Lewis says he tried but failed to post this comment:
    I’d like to endorse Ed’s comment that ‘pronouncing "with" as simply /wɪ/ is common in many parts of Britain. It's not the sort of thing you get corrected on by the speech-conscious’. As regards his second sentence it depends on the context. “With” is definitely frequently to be heard in the weakform /wɪ/ before the definite article. But elsewhere, tho /kᴧm wɪ `miː/ wd no dout usually get by, you wdnt be able to get away with /wɪ/ before vowels or at the end of a sentence. /wɪθ/ is prob'bly the usage of most Scots and Northerners but Southerners also may use it when assimilating to a following sharp sound as in "/wɪθ/care" as EPD points out.

  18. The title pun (very weak) was meant to refer to ALL the varieties of WITH.

  19. @ Lipman
    While it's true to say that today the German tendency is to replace th with s, Leonard Bloomfield in "Language" (first published in 1933) remarks on a tendency for the Germans to replace th with t in English.
    Also, even if Germans did pronounce th as s when they came to places like NYC, they probably in most cases spoke little or no English on arriving in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Thus hearing th pronounced as a stop all the time may have overridden any earlier tendency to pronounce it as s in their speech.

    Dan McCarthy

  20. In that case they wouldn't have replaced th with t but would simply have pronounced t as t.

    I was always astonished about, and, frankly, doubted, what Bloomfield writes there. In one of the Holmes novels, Conan Doyles makes this, as I think, mistake, and if I remember correctly, it was remarked at the time already.

  21. @JW:

    Thanks! I should have checked my trusty LPD before making any such claims :)

  22. Leo, I believe his accent was otherwise rhotic or partially rhotic, yes. That's what made the pronunciation of NASA stand out: a rhotic pronunciation on an unexpected word in an unexpected place.

    What interests me here is what happens when you learn a word by seeing it in writing, or by hearing it from someone speaking with an accent that makes fewer distinctions than you do. Here my rhotic geologist must have heard [næsə] for NASA (as well as for Nasser) from a higher-prestige source and had to decide whether to map it to his [næsə] or his [næsɚ] -- and made the wrong choice from an etymological standpoint. Americans likewise make an etymologically wrong choice when learning BrE words known only from written forms.

    mallamb: Does this mean that no new PALM=BATH words can be created in BrE? Neologisms seem to come in as TRAP (NASA, pasta, drama), whichever low vowel they may have had in the source accent or language. AmE can certainly acquire new PALM words as well as new BATH=TRAP words.

  23. John C, The adoption of ˈnæsə for NASA is presumably parallel to sɪnsɪˈnætɪ for Cincinnati, i.e. it follows the American pronunciation of an American name. It certainly does not mean no new PALM=BATH words can be created in BrE, and it doesn’t even preclude the odd uninititated ˈnɑːsə and sɪnsɪˈ nɑtɪ!

    There are any number of new acronyms with ɑː, on the obvious pattern of RADA, and very recent coinages like kʌltʃʊrɑːtɪ (culturati) dɪʤərɑːtɪ (digerati), after literati, including ongoing borrowings retaining ɑ, as well as some which don’t always, perhaps indicating their degree of naturalization: cava with ɑː vs taco with ɑː/æ, pasta with æ pretty well exclusively.

    The Japanese borrowing honcho is interesting, isn’t it? US spelling with o to make people say ɑ for the original hancho, adopted by BrE and pronounced ɒ.

    I'm baffled by your example 'drama'; you seem to be talking about BrE, but that has been drɑːmə from time immemorial.

  24. "pasta [&c.] with æ" - it's much easier to have the TRAP vowel here these days because it's more and more identical to, say, the Italian a, while the nearest RP equivalent pre-sommnlike1960 was PALM.

    "kʌltʃʊrɑːtɪ (culturati) dɪʤərɑːtɪ (digerati), after literati" - but isn't that liter[eɪ]t[aɪ] to many?

  25. So says the OED, as I dare say you have observed. As recently as 1989, but it is as not infrequently hilariously out of date. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary and the Concise ditto have only lɪtərɑːtɪ, and so does practically everything else, American as well as British.

    If anyone had said lɪtəreɪtaɪ in my lifetime it would have been me, and I would never have dared! I don't think I've ever even heard it, actually.

  26. I did look it up, but A. after I wrote this (though before I posted it), and B. in the 70s reprint of the 30s edition, so I haven't a clue what they state now. I wanted to ask a friend with access to the online version, but he's forgotten his library password.

    I'm not sure I ever spoke the word and don't remember if I heard it, but I'd automatically say [lɪtəreɪtaɪ] and then wonder.

  27. David Marjanović17 January 2010 at 00:55

    Also, at least Germans would substitute /s/, not /t/.

    I bet that's only if they have been taught that "the English th is like [s], only with your tongue between your teeth". If you put the corners of your tongue there, the result is almost indistinguishable from [s]. If you put the tip of your tongue there, the result ([θ]) sounds very different from [s], so different that nobody would guess from that explanation that this is actually intended! In fact, I was still taught this nonsense in my 3rd year of school (1990/1991). Fortunately, exposure to English soon fixed that, at the latest in the 5th year when teaching English started in earnest and the teacher... like... actually knew English.

    To my mind, the German sound that is by far most similar to [θ] is [f]. Indeed, I once had a classmate who told me she didn't bother trying to articulate [θ] and just said [f] instead because nobody noticed; I had in fact not noticed till then that she had been doing that for years.

    Pronunciation as /t/ by native speakers of German looks to me like a spelling pronunciation. Till 1901, the German "orthography" was full of useless (and even etymologically wrong!) th for /t/, and th in Greek loans is still pronounced that way in German.

  28. No, I wasn't talking about teaching conventions but about unreflected substitution, and that makes Germans pick /s/. There are more factors than auditive similarity.

  29. David Marjanović17 January 2010 at 21:01

    unreflected substitution, and that makes Germans pick /s/

    Has this been tested in an experiment or something? Because it's completely counterintuitive to me.

    While I am at it, a few weeks ago someone on Austrian radio pronounced Mohammed with [x] instead of the usual [h]. To me this makes sense: I bet he was trying to use the original [ħ], failed, and picked the closest German sound. [ħ] has enough friction that I have always perceived it as "some kind of strangled [x]" and never as closer to [h]; apparently this perception is more widespread. The use of h in this word in German is obviously supported by nothing but tradition, which comes from mediaeval Latin, where [h] was the closest sound available.

  30. mallamb: My bad; I was somehow under the impression that drama was another of those unexpected (to me) TRAP words like pasta.

    The "1989" OED is nothing of the sort; it's just a merger of OED1 with the 1972-86 Second Supplement (which superseded the 1928-33 First Supplement), and the Second Supplement was explicitly about new words and new senses only. All that happened to the pronunciation guides was to translate them from Murrayese into IPA, so the pronunciation is in general 1884-RP or even older. Only the revised draft entries of OED3 can be trusted for contemporary pronunciation.

  31. I wasn't talking about any 1989 edition, just the latest update on the online OED. I had quite a bit to say myself on Linguism about the shambles the OED is at the moment, so I was aware of some of the things you mention, but thanks for the anatomically clinical dissection. It will be a ready reference!

  32. By "the latest update on the online OED" above I meant the latest update for the entry we were talking about.

  33. David, while you're at it, on which syllable did he stress Mo[x]ammed?

    BTW, you say yourself the closest German substitute would be [h], so the written h is hardly nothing but a convention from an incidental Latin spelling, is it?

  34. Hello.

    I'm a native speaker of Marathi, and a fluent speaker of Hindi. What I've noticed is that speakers of Indo-Aryan languages tend to pronounce the 'th' in 'with' as a dental [tʰ], rather than as [d], as is suggested in the post.

    Also, a cousin of mine, who lives in a city where a Dravidian language (Telugu) is spoken, reported that a professor of his used to pronounce the 'th' in 'thermometer' as a dental [dʰ]! I don't know if this was a personal tic or a somewhat more widespread tendency.

    The English taught in most Indian schools is Indian English, rather than standard British or American English. As a result, a person can easily go through 15 years of being educated in English without even being aware of the existence of the sound [θ].

  35. The dialect in the Video "ive eard tha's got beef wi me" or "Shanime" as it is originally titled is most definately Sheffield.
    I know this as I made it!
    Interesting to see it used in this context.