[Often] = Of-en or Of-T-en?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by aaqucnaona, Apr 30, 2013.


How do you pronounce Often?

  1. Of-en

  2. Of-T-en

  1. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    So, how do you pronounce Often? Do vote in the poll above.

    I remembering Fraggle saying on another thread that the T is to be silent. Since I dont remember this being discussed in my English class, this was actually news to me. The fact is [I checked with my friends] most of us think that keeping the T silent is just an attempt by some smug people to try and pretentiously live up to victorian standards of language. I tested this myself by keeping the T silent in conversations with some of my close friends.

    But before I continue, a bit of back-story is important here. The thing is, after game of thrones began [and kissed me with fire*] I became interested in British Tv and discovered some excellent series like Coupling, The Office, Doctor Who and Downton Abbey. I became an anglophile. I guess it was a combination of my weak voice and poor enunciation [read - misanthropic introvert and childhood bully magnet] and the promise of sounding like David Attenbrough or Stephen Fry [the only people other than Morgan Freeman whose voice any self-respecting God can accept in HIS portrayal] that started it, but I soon became obsessed with the british accent [as the rest of the world calls it; the Southern English accent to be precise]. So against the better judgement of everyone I know, I decided to phase into a british accent. Yes, it was just as embarrasing and pretentious at first as it sounds. But I had now gotten past the eye rolling stage so it was a bit surprising when this happened -

    The result of this experiment was that it prompted eye-rolls for the first time in months and one of my friends [they haven't taken kindly to being called mates] actually used the phrase "Now that's just too much, your Majesty". So its going to stay Of-T-en for me. Btw, this idea of the silent words [in often, arctic, etc] being pretentious or at least an unnecessary rule seems to be almost exclusive to those under 30. I wonder why that is. Sms and internet chats influencing our perception of "proper" language perhaps? A similiar trend can be identified regarding the propriety of swearing too.

    However, on closer inspection it does make sense to keep it silent. After all, we all say Lis-en not Lis-T-en. This does beg the question as to why there is a T there in the first place? Was it inserted there by the medieval upper classes as a class marker so thay a commoner would say the T but they, with their private tutors and all, would know better?

    So, in summary-
    1. Do you say of-en or of-T-en? Why do you pronounce it the way you do?
    2. Why is there a T in it if its supposed to be silent? [Can ask that as a general question too about silent letters]
    3. What is it supposed to be? Does this new trend amongst most of the youth as well as across much of popular media mean its now "right" to say Of-T-en? Or do the rules of the language dictate otherwise?

    * if you dont get that reference, the lord of the light's wrath shall befall you soon. Repent now, while you can; for the night is dark and full of terrors.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2013
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  3. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    From Dictionary.com:

    Pronunciation note
    Often was pronounced with a t -sound until the 17th century, when a pronunciation without the [t] came to predominate in the speech of the educated, in both North America and Great Britain, and the earlier pronunciation fell into disfavor. Common use of a spelling pronunciation has since restored the [t] for many speakers, and today [aw-fuhn] and [awf-tuhn] [or [of-uhn] and [of-tuhn] ] exist side by side. Although it is still sometimes criticized, often with a [t] is now so widely heard from educated speakers that it has become fully standard once again.

    As for 'listen', dictionary.com has only this to say:

    before 950; Middle English lis ( t ) nen, Old English hlysnan; cognate with Middle High German lüsenen, Swedish lyssna; akin to list
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  5. scheherazade Northern Horse Whisperer Valued Senior Member


    When I speak, I pronounce the word 'often' with the 't' enunciated, yet when I use the word 'soften', I do not pronounce the 't'.

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  7. Rav Valued Senior Member

    It's a softening of soft, then

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  8. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    Even though people can be a little intolerant of different spoken dialects (ie modified pronunciation), I think it's funny that we're so much more intolerant of different written dialects (ie modified spelling).

    Would anyone consider writing "offen" or "offn" instead of "often" as acceptable? Very few, I think.
    But if we can accept two forms of the spoken word, then why not two forms of the written word?
  9. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    Pete, I believe it because there are so many different dialects - the U.S., for example, has several - that most of us are fairly tolerant of those differences. Especially those of us who travel quite a bit. Spelling, however, is a horse of a VERY different color (colour, for you U.K. folks).

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    The vast majority of us expect standardization in spelling.
  10. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    But shood we? I akshlly think it's bigotry, that spelling standrdizashn is artifishl and unesasary, and in praktis is used as a badj of ejukayshn and soshel class. We stereotipe peepl based on there spelling in the saym way a rasist mite stereotiep sumwun based on there skin kullr.
  11. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    I always suspected you were a sock of cluelusshusbund

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  12. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    Certainly we should - and those two sentences serve as a good example why.

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    Even though I was able to read them, it took some effort and wasted a bit of time compared to what would have normally been required. Such spelling also enhances the possibility of misreading, and clear communication is important. Can you imagine what might be the result of using such lax writing between a group of engineers or scientists who are working on highly technical issues?
  13. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    That's what I thought too. This dont keep silent rule seems to apply to only a few words while words similar to them continue to use conventional rules.
  14. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    Maybe neurology can help us here. IMO, since spoken language is much older and therefore more natural [i.e. had time for evolutionary developments] correctly interpreting variants in it must have been important, especially in our tribal times when verbal misunderstandings could be disastrous. Its telling that most people in most languages can correct understand what someone says even if its a different dialect or a heavy accent. This is in fact very efficient and can correctly predict missing or unheard words - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130429164950.htm

    Writing, on the other hand, is very recent in evolutionary terms and by its very nature gives more time for study and interpretation - giving great depth to works of art but also requiring very little variation so that understanding it remain fast and easy.
  15. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    Indeed. I actually timed it - reading it the first time took me a whooping 7-8 times longer than a spell corrected version.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I suppose it's regional. But everywhere I've lived (Chicago, Arizona, two different parts of California and the Washington DC region), the T is usually silent. Of course I was raised to say it that way because the trend toward reintroducing the T is rather new; I don't think I ever heard it before the mid-1970s.

    This is a phenomenon that is occurring in many language communities. As universal literacy becomes achievable, rather than a dreamer's goal shortly after the printing press was invented, people begin to think that the written form of a word is more correct than the spoken form. Surely, it's supposed to be a guide, but that works better in some languages than in others. The relationship between English spelling and pronunciation is tenuous at its best (silent letters galore, vowels and consonants having two or three different sounds, no clue to which syllable gets the accent, etc.), but at its worst it's chaotic. The pronunciation of many words was standardized from the medieval British dialect of the region where the word was most often used due to commerce, climate, proximity to other communities such as the Scots, Welsh or Norsemen, etc. British dialects differed from each other far more than they do today, so some of these alternate pronunciations were difficult to recognize as a familiar word.

    So to decide to pronounce a word according to its Standard American English dictionary phonetics (the Hollywood-Manhattan accent from radio and TV that has taken over the country), is more than a little arbitrary. Especially when the standard dictionary phonetics don't correspond to the way the word has been pronounced for 300 years (as in the case of the silent T in "often") or a thousand years (as in the silent T in "arctic," which was already silent when we borrowed the word from the Norman French).

    It seems to me that people are proud of the fact that they can read, and to demonstrate that fact, they make up pronunciations that are closer to the words' spelling than to their actual pronunciation.

    The same thing is happening in Mexican Spanish. In words with consonant clusters like actor and septimo ("seventh"), the consonant before the T has been silent for centuries. But now that the country has achieved near-universal literacy, the people display their literacy by reading letters that are not supposed to be read.

    As for "often" specifically, as others have pointed out, the elision of T after a voiceless stop has precedents in American English, as in "soften, "moisten," "hustle," and "listen."

    In America we call it Oxford English or BBC English.

    Deliberately inventing a strange kind of eccentricity to mask social awkwardness is usually an adolescent endeavor, for the very good reason that only other adolescents fall for it.

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    I had a friend in high school who was bashful and also (or perhaps because) incredibly overweight. She affected a French accent. I thought that was a really bad call; she would have done better to pick a country with a lot of fat people!

    When my wife moved out on her own her first roommate was an English girl, and she picked up a few bits of British slang. 20 years later when she met me she hadn't lost all of them. I picked up on "hoover." Which was a disaster when my vacuum cleaner broke down and I drove it to the first vacuum cleaner shop I saw on my way to work. The man said, "Sir, this is a Hoover shop. We do not repair Eurekas."

    This happens with some regularity. It used to be scandalous to say the names of God and Jesus, which is why we have have silly expressions like "gosh darn it" and "Jiminy Cricket." In the Victorian Era, "leg" became a naughty word, which is why we refer to the lower appendages of a chicken as "drumsticks." Today you hear women say "piss off" and "bullshit" in staff meetings.

    The spoken word "listen" never had a T. The spelling was influenced by the verb "list."

    "Listen" is an unusual case, although hardly unique. Most words simply reflect their pronunciation in Early Modern English. Unlike Italian, German, Spanish and most other European languages, English has never undergone spelling reform, so we still write our words the way Shakespeare did--which was much closer to their pronunciation in his day.

    I pronounce the T because that's what I was taught in the 1940s when I learned how to speak. I still don't hear the T pronounced very often, and when I do it's usually from a member of a demographic group whose parents might not have been literate, so he or she is showing off her literacy.

    I answered that above. Unfortunately it's a little late now to reform English spelling. The other languages did it in the 19th century when the literate population still had a high percentage of scholars, so not only did they not complain, but actively supported the effort.

    Today, modernizing the spelling of every English-language document on all databases plus the internet is a project that would make Y2K look like a practice run.

    There is no "English academy" like L'academie Française to make rules, which are followed by the press and the government. English is a democratic language. The dictionaries record actual usage; in other words, they follow rather than lead. Of course they draw their word stock from written documents rather than conversations, so their standards are heavily influenced by the press--again, just the opposite of France.

    A dialect has more than a few differences in vocabulary and/or grammar. If two variants of a language differ only in pronunciation, they are classified as accents.

    The last dialect that survives with any strength in the USA in Southern. And with the huge influx of Northerners and immigrants, it is rapidly vanishing. "Y'all" isn't going to be enough to keep it identified as a dialect.

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    We don't just expect it, we need it. The process of reading is only beginning to be understood, but apparently we take in a whole word at a time, rather than reading each letter. If the first and last letters are correct, and the rest of the letters are there, even in the wrong order, we can read at pretty close to normal speed. But if you add, delete or change a letter, it slows us down immensely.

    Test yourself: We have several members on SciForums who can't spell to save their souls. Asguard is one. Try reading his posts. You'll go nuts. The next time you see his name next to a contribution you'll scroll right past it. Too much effort!
  17. aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie Valued Senior Member

    Do you reckon this may be due to the cultural move away for conformity and orthodoxy around that time [sexual revolution, gay pride, hippie culture, etc]?

    Or maybe they think that it is more sensible to pronounce it as written. As you said:
    As you explained, its too late now; but why did these issue crop up in the first place? Are they more frequent in english because of its broader outreach?

    I know, so did I, but as I looked into it, I felt that Oxford English would be like Stephen Fry's accent and realised that the BBC use regional accents since quite a few years. On the other hand a true and pure southern english accent seems a bit fake, especially since I was putting it on at first. Therefore, adopting a mixed Londoner accent seemed the most sensible.

    But I am a happy introvert and misanthrope.

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    I dont mind being socially awkward because I prefer to be on my own and when needed, can handle most social situations. And I did think of affected accents seeming ridiculous and therefore took great care to gradually phase into it and never fall into a Mary Poppins stereotype. I sampled a very wide range of british media [news, radio, tv, vlogs, etc] and learned to recognise the differences between the major 7-8 british accents to better understand it as well as getting accent training and voice improvement audio tutorials. I smoothed it out over some 8-9 months and while to my extremely over-sensitised ears my accent is still not perfect, it is good enough that most strangers ask [or assume] if I am english to which I smugly [hopefully not showing it though] reply, "No, I am an Anglophile".

    And maybe that is another redeeming factor - I am genuinely an Anglophile and would be one even without my fascination with the accents. I love the british period entertainment and the british-tinted fantasy worlds as well as some distinct features like british humour and understatements; the general aloofness and concern with privacy also appeals to me as an introvert. As such it was mostly a real act of self-expression though I cant deny that the change in my personality due to absorption of british culture as well as others' first impressions does help with the social awkwardness. The pronunciations, intonations and spellings of the accent are now second nature to me, I guess its a mask I have wore long enough that it has become my real face.

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    And it does make sense to me. As a 18 year old, I regularly and freely swear and dont see anything intrinsically bad in it. The context is what matters. Its quite irrational to believe that the sound "duck" is completely ok while the sound "fuck" is somehow 'inappropriate'. How did this aversion to swearing come to be? It seems to occur across cultures and languages.

    But do dialects have any diversity value as cultural practices do? I mean, judging by global online trends, a mixed generalised version of English seems to be on course to becoming the universal language of Earth a century or two in the future. Do you think this is likely to happen? And in such a situation, is there anything positive to be gained from variations in dialects or even accents?

    Very true. I remember you demonstrating this somewhere. Any research or documentation on how this might work neurologically/ psychologically?
    Last edited: May 1, 2013
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No. When I first began hearing it, it was among Afro-Americans, Southerners and other people who had long been stigmatized as undereducated. As I noted, I think they were doing this to show off their ability to read, although probably unconsciously in most cases.

    That's quite a challenge, since spoken English has about twice as many phonemes as our alphabet has letters. What do you suppose would be the "sensible" pronunciation of the combination "ough"?

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    Four reasons:
    • Like most European languages, Anglo-Saxon was first written by Roman monks, who were accustomed to the Latin alphabet, which was a pretty decent tool for transcribing Latin phonetically. It wasn't so great for Anglo-Saxon, which had more phonemes than Latin, so they ended up using combinations of letters to represent one sound, such as TH or NG.
    • The Normans invaded, making French the official language of Angle Land, from which we proceeded to borrow thousands of words, including everyday bread-and-butter words such as face, second, use and very. French spelling was just as crazy as English (because it too had been first converted into writing by Roman monks) so the mixing of French and English spelling made the written language chaotic way back then. This is why -tion is pronounced "shun."
    • A couple of centuries later, English was once again the country's official language, but it underwent some wrenching changes in phonetics. This is why our "long A" is the sound everybody else spells with an E and our "long E" is what they write as I. This is also why there is a silent E at the end of many words.
    • Almost every other major European language underwent spelling reform in the 19th century, when scholars still had a major influence on culture. English did not. We still spell words pretty much the way they were spelled in 1300CE, when pronunciation had already begun to diverge from spelling.

    For the same effort you could have learned Esperanto and opened your world up to pen-pals all over the world. That would have given you a broader perspective on humanity and civilization, without challenging your introverted instincts.

    The whole point of profanity is to shout to the world that you are really frustrated by the universe in general and, usually, by the rules of civilization in particular. In the Stone Age you could have smashed that guy in the face, now all you can do is curse him and the horse he rode in on and beseech God for a pox on seven generations of his family.

    Oh wait, sorry, that's the more colorful kind of cursing from the 19th century. Now we simply invite people to go out and have the usually pleasant experience of sexual intercourse.

    At any rate, people become accustomed to the curses of their era, so they lose their outrage value. So we invent new ones. Bear in mind that "fuck" was originally a perfectly polite word meaning "to plant." It goes back to proto-Germanic and has cognates in the other Germanic languages. At some point some wag must have decided that it would be a good slang word for another, similar kind of motion.

    Dialects arise the same way as languages: from the separation of two communities. They evolve for many reasons, including different activities and customs, as well as sheer drift over the ages, for example the acceptance of local slang. As long as they are mutually comprehensible, perhaps requiring only a few days of acclimation, we call them "dialects." When they can no longer be mutually understood, we call them separate languages.

    There's no hard-and-fast rule about that. Most Estonians can understand Finnish because there was no Estonian-language TV in the Soviet era, so they watched the channels from Helsinki. But the Finns never had any exposure to Estonian, so the comprehension does not extend in the other direction. No one refers to Estonian and Finnish as dialects of the same language.

    There's also a phenomenon called a dialect continuum. The people in Village A can understand the people in Village B, they can understand the dialect of Village C, and so forth. But to the people in Village A, the dialect in Village Z is as foreign as Chinese. There are places on the border between Germany and the Netherlands where the speech could be categorized as both a dialect of German and a dialect of Dutch, and due to constant exposure the people who live there can understand both standard Dutch and standard German. But the people in Berlin and Amsterdam can't understand each other.

    Clearly the number of languages is diminishing. Many Native American languages are no longer taught to children and are being kept alive by people who, later in life, realize what their culture is missing and immerse themselves in the journals and recordings of Euro-American linguists.

    Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Middle East for literally thousands of years, long after the Aramaens themselves were absorbed by the Melting Pot. It will probably stop being a living language in the next generation, due to the war the U.S. started in the region in Mesopotamia where it is still the vernacular, resulting in a diaspora to other countries including the USA.

    Sicilian has been so heavily influenced by Italian that the two people can almost understand each other now. How long will Catalan last if Catalonia does not win automomy from Spain?

    That in a global civilization in which every citizen can communicate with any other citizen over the internet, that eventually they will all speak the same language? I'm not looking forward to that day since every language represents a culture and we impoverish ourselves by letting it fade away. Nonetheless, it seems very likely.

    But as to whether that language will be English, I'm not making any bets. Latin America's star is rising these days, both culturally and commercially, as the USA struggles to stay on its feet. Brazil is now the world's sixth-largest economy and Mexico has transformed itself into a middle-class country in a single generation. Many award-winning novels and short stories are written in Spanish and Portuguese.

    Accents and dialects are not created out of a need to gain something. They are the result of things people are already doing.

    If the world adopts a single language, then surely for a few generations there will be dialects. Just as British, American, Australia-New Zealand, Indian and South African are now recognized as standard dialects of English, there will surely be Chinese English, Brazilian English, Russian English, etc. But surely the force that squeezed out all the competing languages will ultimately squeeze out all the competing dialects too. A major vector in that force is broadcasting. Children learn as much from what they hear on radio and TV as they do from their parents and neighbors. Population movement also contributes to that. The English of southern California is well-seasoned with Spanish words, and the opposite is true of the Spanish of Baja California.

    I haven't seen it. Our brain has a speech center, but it does not have a center for reading and writing. So the processing must involve neurons from all over the brain. It probably has a lot to do with the way we parse any stationary visual input.
  19. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    The discouragement of swearing arose among wise and experienced adults who had grown up among freely swearing people and become all too familiar with the degradation of speech and communication that is the all but inevitable consequence.

    One central problem with habitual swearing is that the meanings of the words are not intended (even, eventually, as metaphor) - the noise is empty, like a dog bark. Highly eloquent people can use this and the shadow meanings still evoked poetically, as singers do in scat singing, but the habitual swearer is not in control of that either.

    It isn't true. It's based on a carelessly designed bit of research that overlooked sources of redundancy and repetition in "random" letter assortments. The last time Fraggle posted that (or an earlier time, if I've missed any since) I went to the trouble of posting counterexamples, sentences requiring the reader to solve a series of what appeared visually as one of those word jumble puzzles. You can make your own - just use longer words with consonant combinations.

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