Wednesday, 5 September 2012

spinach sandwiches

An odd thing about British place names ending in -wich is that the suffix can be pronounced either ɪdʒ, with a voiced affricate, or ɪtʃ with a voiceless affricate, as implied by the spelling. So Norwich is usually ˈnɒrɪdʒ, but can also be ˈnɒrɪtʃ; and similarly with Greenwich, Woolwich, Dulwich, Harwich, Horwich, Dunwich, (West) Bromwich and so on. (I think these all have both options, like Norwich. But it's difficult to be absolutely certain.)

This also applies to the common noun sandwich, the food item named after the Earl of Sandwich. I actually did a BrE preference survey for this word, which revealed that 53% of my sample preferred -wɪdʒ in this word, 47% -wɪtʃ. (Some people, apparently, have in the singular noun but in the plural and the verb.) Actually, sandwich is unusual in that the historical w is not lost — unlike Norwich, Greenwich, etc., which have no spoken w in the suffix (in BrE).

There are other exceptions, too. Ipswich ˈɪpswɪtʃ retains w and has no variant with . Similarly Nantwich, Middlewich, Droitwich, and Bloxwich. You may notice something about the syllable weight of the first part of the name here.

Apparently Colwich, Staffs., the location of a serious rail crash in 1986, is ˈkɒlwɪtʃ, despite the light first syllable.

Strangely enough, the same hesitation between -ɪtʃ and -ɪdʒ is found in the common noun spinach. The OED tells us that in this case the variability extends as far back as its Old French origin, espinage ~ (e)spinache.

So can we speak of a neutralization of voicing in the case of affricates in final position? No, because large and larch, edge and etch are always distinct. Well, can we say there is neutralization just in the case of final affricates in weak syllables, then? No, because Ipswich and so on never have , and because everyday words such as marriage, ˈmærɪdʒ, spillage, carnage, passage, porridge etc, not to mention Cambridge, never have .

The alternation is restricted to just these odd -wich proper names with a light first syllable (short vowel, one single following consonant), plus sandwich and spinach.

28 comments:

  1. I used to work with a girl from Cork who pronounced sandwich /ˈsæŋwɪdʒ/.

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  2. I have heard the same pronunciation from a native of southern Florida. I myself say /ˈsæmwɪtʃ/; my wife (born in North Carolina but living in southern Florida and then NYC for fifty years says /ˈsænwɪtʃ/.

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  3. See LPD and this for /sæm-/. And /ˈsæŋ(ɡ)-/ is quite common in Wales. But this has nothing to do with the topic of my posting, which is the pronunciation of -wich.

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    1. I didn't make my point explicit, which was that samwich and sanwich don't have heavy first syllables, so the preservation of /w/ is expected and indeed what we get.

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  4. I think Greenwich can be either ɡrɪnɪdʒ (local/Cockney pronunciation) or ɡrenɪtʃ (Standard English), but nothing in between. So you wouldn't normally hear the "hybrid" forms *ɡrenɪdʒ or *ɡrɪnɪtʃ.

    Also, sandwich plainly derives from a place name that includes the same -wich suffix, so the only real outlier is spinach.

    P Mc Anena

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    1. But sandwich is odd in retaining /w/, with a heavy first syllable, yet having the affricate voicing alternation, unlike Ipswich, Droitwich etc.
      Both sandwich and spinach are outliers, though in different ways.

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    3. I was born within a few miles of Greenwich and have always used the /ɡrenɪdʒ/ form (or the /ɡrɛnɪdʒ/ form : I am never quite sure which of these is preferred for the DRESS vowel); /ɡrɪnɪdʒ/, however, is definitely the preferred local form.

      However, as I have also always said /eŋɡlɪʃ/ and /eŋɡlənd/ rather than the far more common /ɪŋɡlɪʃ/ or /ɪŋɡlənd/, this may predispose me to prefer the /e/ (or /ɛ/) sound for the first vowel of Greenwich.

      Philip Taylor

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  5. I wonder if Ipswich is syllabified as Ip-swich - the other examples I can think of with a medial -psC- (Popstar, lipstick, capstone, rapscallion) have a syllable break before the s.

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    1. Yes, it usually is (says Ipswich resident). People sometimes affectionately refer to it as "the 'Swi[t]ch", or "Ippy".

      Is Bloxwich ever syllabified as Blok-swich, I wonder?

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  6. Prinknash is /ˈprɪnɪdʒ/, but I don't think there's an alternation with /tʃ/.

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  7. I think (my own very personal guess) that it may have to do with the fact that “sandwich” is often used at the plural (usually nobody has 1, but at least 2). There is less effort in saying -dʒiz than –tʃiz.
    Antonio D’Addabbo

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    1. Sorry, but how do you know there's less effort in saying -dʒiz than –tʃiz? Intuitively, you have to switch on voicing which means you have more jobs to do at that point in the sequence, suggesting a greater load on speech motor control and more cost in effort.

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    2. You're right Sidney, but somehow I find that saying tʃ is a bit more tiring than dʒ.

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    3. dʒ is less effort because it's voiced, and the vowels around it are voiced. It's assimilation for tʃ to become dʒ in such a case.

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    4. Apologies, I should have made it clear that I had in mind a sandwich pronunciation with tʃ in the singular and dʒ in the plural.

      Anders Löfqvist has demonstrated that the vocal folds are reactivated for each new vowel or voiced consonant. This means that there really is extra work to be done when modifying tʃ to dʒ between vowels. There's also quite a bit of decision making in this instance, identifying that sandwich exceptionally qualifies for voiced dʒ in the plural, whereas words like witch, coach, arch etc. don't.

      Regarding the general case, of voiced vs. voiceless consonants, expressions like lenis and lenition show that phoneticians have certainly seen voiced consonants as weaker. But I don't know of any method that would measure the total energy cost to the body of all activity for a consonant. You can measure the acoustic energy in the sound emitted, but you can't be sure that's always proportional to the total mechanical and neural effort spent on it.

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    5. I certainly often eat just one sandwich, perhaps cut in half.

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    6. Ok, but I have found that over here if you have 1 sandwich and you cut in half, it becomes 2. I am Italian but I live in Manchester.

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  8. Peter Trudgill tells a student that the residents of Norwich prefer the ending with in this video.

    With regards to the penultimate paragraph, it seems that there used to be some variation in "cabbage" between and . The Linguistic Atlas of England (Ph248) suggests that was used across the East Midlands. Is this still in use? Have the words listed above (marriage, carnage, passage) always been so stable in having final , or have they only settled down recently?

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    1. Sorry, forgot to sign.

      Ed Aveyard

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    2. 'cabbitch' is still just about in use in County Tyrone at least, alongside 'cabbage' of course (as is 'rubbitch' for 'rubbish'). My grandmother never called it anything else. I'm not sure that I've heard 'porritch' for 'porridge' though.

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  9. According to Merriam-Webster, also ostrich. But maybe this pronunciation is purely American.

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    1. Yes, good point. I've got this one in LPD, too: it is British as well, and recorded in Daniel Jones's EPD.

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  10. I think my usual pronunciation is sæmwɪtʃ, sæmwidʒɪz though I probably use sænd- forms quite (='somewhat') often.

    Words ending in unstressed -ɪtʃ seem to be unusual. Apart from these place names and spinach I can't think of any — whereas a multitude of words end in unstressed -ɪdʒ. Yet JR Rowling bucked the trend with the invented word quidditch. Does anybody say ˈkwɪdɪdʒ?

    David Crosbie is my real name.

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    1. I believe I may devoice the end of sausage, especially in Silly sausage!.

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  11. I have two pronunciations of sandwich, viz. [ˈsæn(d)wɪtʃ] and [ˈsæmɪdʒ]; in other words I can drop the [w] in this word. But I only use [ˈsæmɪdʒ] as a consciously infantile form, when I'm using baby-talk to be silly.

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  12. I think I use ˈsæn(d)wɪtʃ and -wɪdʒ interchangeably, but always -wɪdʒɪz, -wɪdʒd, -wɪdʒɪŋ.

    As against that, I'd always say ˈɒstrɪtʃɪz. However, it is harder to say: I just timed myself saying sandwiches ten times, which took just under 5 seconds, and ostriches ten times, which took just under 7 seconds. For comparison, ˈsænwɪtʃɪz and ˈɒstrɪdʒɪz, neither of which I'd normally use, each take me about 6 seconds to say ten times.

    Going off on a tangent, I am now curious as to whether rhotic speakers would ever use the slang term sarnies.

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  13. Regarding the place names you mention, Routledge's Prouncing Dictionary of English Place-names (based on numerous published sources going back to the 19thc) reports both -dʒ and –tʃ versions for them all over the years. Ipswich has (or has had) all four versions, (-dʒ and –tʃ) x (with or without w). I grew up about 50km (30m) from Sandwich in Kent and never heard the -dʒ version (place not food), but it's been reported.

    Maybe these pronunciations are settling down now, one way or the other. I'm happy with –tʃ for Sandwich and -dʒ for a sandwich.

    Maybe they're not. Maybe the turbulence swells and subsides periodically, as habitual pronunciations compete with spelling or allegedly correct pronunciations. Or for some other reason.

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