The Last Bastion of PC Prejudice
Someone quite recently objected to a sports "color guy" pronouncing "Northwestern" as "Norfwestern" and wondered if he would be wrong to object to that in someone broadcasting to the public. Surely someone with a college degree who played basketball against Northwestern should know how to pronounce the name correctly was the thought he had. My problem with this complaint is that the complaint is basically racial in origin -- in Central Ohio, it is Blacks, rather than Whites, who would say "Norfwestern" -- whether the speaker meant it to be or not In fact, I don't think the person writing this is a racist per se. He has simply developed a prejudice against those who speak in an "uneducated" way. In fact the speaker is a college graduate. This sort of expression of prejudice bites my butt so I plan to rant a bit on the subject. First, some necessary background information.
"Norfwestern" arises as the result of a partial assimilation of the voicless fricative "th" sound to the following "w" sound, itself formed by pursing the lips. This "w" sound is a bilabial (two lips) sound and functions somewhat as a consonant in a word like "wed" but as a semi-vowel or a glide in "awake". The assimilation is partial because English does not have a bilabial fricative corresponding to "th," so the speaker used the closest thing to it, namely the voiceless labiodental (lower lip + lower row of teeth) voiceless fricative "f." Spanish has such a bilabial fricative so it is definitely a possible language sound. It just doesn't occur in English.
The "correct" sound in "Northwestern" also has a near total obstruction, but it is produced with the tip of the tongue inserted a short distance between the upper and lower teeth. Normally, we do not like to switch points of articulation between adjacent sounds (in this case, inter-dental "th" and then bilabial "w") if we don't have to and we often cheat. In casual speech, the word "Batman" is pronounced "bapman" with the alveolar (tip of the tongue making contact just behind the upper teeth) stop "t" assimilating the point of articulation of the bilabial "m." Virtually none of you will have been aware you say "Batman" that way. It is an automatic process that kicks in in casual speech.
Casual speech processes greatly affect pronunciation which is one reason it is hard to understand speakers of another language when one's exposure to the language is "academic." We learn words more or less individually but in actual speech they are run together. Pronounce the question, "Did you eat?" quickly the way you might say it to a close friend who has just dropped by your home as you have begun to eat. It could come out something like "ju-eet."
Casual speech processes are a major source of language change and therefore of dialect differences. It is interesting that people can get worked up over the "mispronunciation" of "Northwestern" but no one has ever seen my pronunciation of "get" as "git" as the sign of not having an proper education. Ditto the fact that I pronounce "pen" and "pin" in the same way. In short some "mistakes" are taken as signs that the speaker is of a different race or social class or ethnic group and others are ignored. We can put down others who are members of groups that we like to discriminate against by commenting on their "lousy" English. That way of acting is not politically incorrect (uncivil). Instead of saying, "Joe Blow talks like a Nigger, Spic, Kyke, Hillbilly, etc.," all of which would be major violations of political correctness (i. e., basic civility), Joe Blow can make fun or criticize howthis person talks. It is time for that crap to stop.