Who What Where When Why Which Whore Wine-Whine Merger

Because I’m still in the middle of marking exams, and because I’m collecting a fourth batch tomorrow, English teaching has been on my mind.

Even though, as mentioned before, I’ve lost most of my native accent, the one vocal quirk I’ve kept is the one vocal quirk I shouldn’t have.

When I was attending Edison Elementary School in Hayden, Colorado, I remember one of my teachers–I think it was Miss Trimble when I was in, maybe, 6th grade–explaining that the “wh-” in words like “what” and “where” should be pronounced as “hw” making them “hwat” and “hwere”. This was done in order to distinguish them from “watt” and “wear”.  This is the reason words such as “who”, “whole” and “whore” have an “h” sound and aren’t “woo”, “wole” and “wore”. (For the record: she probably didn’t use “whore” as an example.)

Although I ignored and then forgot most of the useful things I was taught in elementary school, like, say, math, for some reason I retained that and incorporated into my way of speaking. A sentence like “Watch where you wear those clothes lest your father whine and wail and drink a bottle of  wine before butchering whales in Wales” is to me “Watch hwere you wear those clothes lest your father hwine and wail and drink a bottle of wine before butchering hwales in Wales”.

Now it turns out that this was the way most of the English speaking world once said these words. However thanks to something called the “Wine-Whine Merger” (which could be the name of a country music album) most of the English speaking world now pronounces those words the same. (For me, “white wine” is pronounced “hwite wine” or “pinot gris”.) There are a few pockets where the “Wine-Hwine Merger hasn’t been completed, mostly across the US Southern states–although I don’t remember anyone speaking that way when I was at Ole Miss or visiting friends in Georgia–and, apparently, large portions of Scotland, but I’m from Kansas and grew up in Colorado so I shouldn’t speak this way at all.

Oddly, only a couple students have ever called me on this–one of them a couple weeks ago– and asked “Why do you speak like a complete fool?” (Or something like that.)

I, of course, took full responsibility for the way I speak by blaming my Miss Trimble.

One thought on “Who What Where When Why Which Whore Wine-Whine Merger

  1. Pingback: You Got to Stop and Watch the Roses Along the Way | Mere Blather

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