occasional observations on English pronunciation features, phonetics, teaching and learning
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
voiceless in brothel
In his blog of the 8th of July 2010 Jack Windsor Lewis comments on the pronunciation of the digraph <th>. His remarks were initiated by John Wells's observations on the pronunciation of the word brothel. Jack Windsor Lewis writes: "The digraph th is of course a completely ambiguous spelling that might equally stand for /θ/ or /ð/ in modern English". One should add that /t/ is another possibility as in Thomas, Thames (the river in Connecticut rhymes with James), or thyme. Sometimes the digraph can be silent as in asthma or clothes. In hothead, fathead or apartheid <th> is not a digraph. <th> as a digraph is ambiguous and a severe problem for learners of English as a foreign language. Students frequently approach me asking: "How do I know whether <th> is voiced or voiceless?" To which I reply that there is no straightforward, watertight rule. There are, however, some rough - very rough - guidelines. More about this topic in my next blog.