isms

In my post on reverse rhotacism I said I would have to add the term rhotacism to SID. I did so. Martin Ball commented on the post:
In old fashioned terminology, speech pathologists often termed problems with /r/ ‘rhotacism’, and problems with /s/ ‘sigmatism’.

I took that into account when writing the SID entry. I reproduce the relevant bit here:
(2) Formerly in speech pathology, the inability to produce the standard r sound of an accent. A familiar example in English is the use of ʋ (voiced labiodental approximant) instead of ɹ (post-alveolar).

I have since received an email from Jack Windsor Lewis asking (1) is this meaning of rhotacism really completely dead amongst speech pathologists? (2) what has replaced the term?

I don’t know the answer to either question. Can anyone help?

French gift

I’m sure you know that the French word for “gift” is cadeau, but have you ever asked yourself why? No? Well, I just did and was rather surprised by the answer. It is so different from the Italian (regalo/dono) and the Spanish (regalo) and the Portuguese (presente). It seems that it derives ultimately from Latin caput (=”head”). It got into French via Provençal, where the word appeared as capdel, deriving from capitellum in Latin. The original meaning of the 15th century French word was “capital letter”, or “calligraphic or rhetorical embellishment”. By the 17th century it had acquired the meaning “entertainment offered to a lady”. Its current meaning appeared in the 18th century.

Another surprise was that the Romanian for “gift” is cadou.

Reverse rhotacism


One meaning of the word rhotacism is the phonological process which changes a consonant into a r-sound in certain environments. The consonant affected is usually alveolar and most frequently s or z. The particular realisation of r depends, I suppose, on which language is involved

What got me thinking of this process is my recent efforts to learn some Cornish. The Middle Cornish for “I am” is yth esof vy (ɪθ ˈezə vɪ is the pronunciation I have heard for this). A variation is yth esoma (ɪθ ˈezəmə, I assume, though I have never heard it). In Late Cornish the phrase is th’eroma or th’erof vy. This is a good example of rhotacism.

Then it struck me that in certain parts of the English-speaking world there is a process of reverse rhotacism, whereby r → z. Barry sometimes gets called Baz or Bazza, doesn’t he? And Jeremy, if he is unlucky, may be called Jez or Jezza. I tried to think of more examples, but all I could come up with was soz, which I have occasionally heard for the word sorry. Does Gary ever get called Gaz or Gazza?

It also occurred to me that rhotacism does not appear in SID. I must do something about that, and about lambdacism, but that is a matter for another post.