Tuesday 7 July 2009

rowlocking fun

What is the AmE pron of rowlock? In a sense there isn’t one, because the Americans call the object in question an oarlock.
In BrE, where we do use the word rowlock, those who are familiar with rowing and oarsmanship call it a ˈrɒlək (or possibly ˈrʌlək). Those who are not may instead use a spelling pronunciation ˈrəʊlɒk (compare forehead, where the spelling pronunciation has largely displaced the traditional ˈfɒrɪd).
LDOCE ascribes the spelling pronunciation only to AmE:
row•lock /ˈrɒlək $ ˈroʊ-/ n [C] BrE one of the U-shaped pieces of metal that holds the OARS of a rowing boat

In LPD I proceeded on the assumption that any American rowers who actually needed to use the British term would use a BrE-style pronunciation.

In a trivial way, the same sort of question arises if we ask what the BrE pronunciation of rowboat is. In a sense there isn’t one, because in BrE it is called a rowing boat.
But we have to draw a line somewhere: no one wants to say that in AmE trousers is pronounced pænts.


  1. Reminds me of a linguistic atlas of Texas I saw once - on the map for "potato" it gave the various informants' pronunciations, most of which were variations of [pəˈtɐɪɾɐʊ] or the like - except for one informant near Fredricksburg whose pronunciation of the word in question was [kɑrˈtɔfl̩]! (And Americans do use the word "trousers" too sometimes, it's not one of those British-only words like "whinge" and "dodgy".)

  2. oarlock is the original word, that is, it is also the original Br. form

  3. A similar case concerns Bavaria and Bayern. "Bavaria" is supposed to be the English word for "Bayern", but I find that it's almost 50:50 which one a British person will use. Would it be non-sensical to ask for the British pronunciation of "Bayern"? I'd say "no" as the word is pronounced whenever Bayern Munich play in football. The German pronunciation varies between /baɪəʁn/ (stressed) and /baɪɐn/ (unstressed). An RP-speaker would not use either of these, although the former might be used by some Scottish/Northumberland speakers.

  4. @Ed: You certainly have a point here. However, "Bayern" is never, ever pronounced /ˈbaɪəʁn/ in German. You can argue that this is the phonemic representation of the word (but then /ˈbaɪ̯ɐn/ isn't). But in the standard variety of German including its regional variants, the /ʁ/ (or /r/) is always realised as a vowel. The standard pronunciation has [ˈbaɪ̯ɐn], in a Northern pronunciation you hear things like [ˈbɑɪ̯an] and so on.

  5. Great, now I know an English word (in two varieties) for a piece of equipment that I don't know the word in Dutch (my native language) for. Have to look it up now...

  6. @brotwart

    I have been in Munich this last week, and I noticed that everyone referred to it as /ˈbaɪ̯ɐn/. However, every German dictionary I've ever seen has always transcribed an r-sound here. So, "hier" is always /hi:r/, "Fenster" is always /fɛnstər/, usz. (The use of /ʁ/ was my own interpretation in the above post).

    I had the impression that pronunciations such as /ˈbaɪəʁn/ were reserved for stressed or formal speech. Is this not/no longer the case? If not, I'm curious as regards how German dictionaries became so united on this point.

  7. @Ed: Phonemic /r/ in the coda is realised as [ɐ̯] after long vowels. Hence, "hier" /hiːr/ [hiːɐ̯], "Tür" /tyːr/ [tʰyːɐ̯] etc. In most regional varieties, this rule applies after all vowels: "Herr" /her/ [hɛɐ̯], while the standard has [hɛʁ]. Syllabic [ɐ] is usually interpreted as a sequence of two phonemes, /ər/: "Fenster" /ˈfenstər/ [ˈfɛnstɐ].

    Of course, this phonemic analysis isn't unproblematic, particularly for varieties where there is no difference between [ɐ] and [a]: If "Opa" and "Oper" (supposed to be /ˈoːpa/ and /ˈoːpər/, respectively) are pronounced identically as [ˈoːpʰa], both should be analysed as /ˈoːpa/ - and we'd end up with /ˈfensta/ and, indeed, [ˈbaɪ̯an].

  8. Thanks, I understand now. I like to think my German is fairly advanced, but I don't know it all yet. I find the phonetics of German interesting as they have such a large number of vowel sounds compared with English.

  9. Really? I thought even if you count German long and short vowels separately, we still have more vowels in English.

    Now Spanish is a different matter.

  10. I find that German dictionaries give about 15 short vowels and 10 long vowels. There are fewer dipthongs though. Some of the distinctions in German phonetics might seem very small: for example, most dictionaries give /e/ in Etage, /ɛ/ in Wäsche as separate; /e:/ in Tee and /ɛ:/ in zählen as separate; /y/ and /ʏ/; /i/ and /ɪ/, und so weiter. These distinctions would seem small to most English-speakers (although, where I live in Yorkshire, "day" and "dare" would be /de:/ and /dɛ:/, so that distinction exists).

    I looked up the Wikipedia page, and thought it was quite good http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:IPA_for_German If this page is accurate, many of the slight distinctions mentioned above are a clash between a native vowel and a borrowed vowel from another language.

  11. To illustrate what I mean, have a look at Paul Joyce's lecture on German phonemes http://userweb.port.ac.uk/~joyce1/gramlect/gramlect11.ppt If you skip to slide 11.26 and go from there, it takes you through the lax-tense pairs in German.

  12. There once was a fellow called Follocks
    Endowed with magnificent bollocks
    He went for a row
    In a dinghy you know
    And caught the damn things in the rowlocks


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