Aristotle was famously mistaken about at least one aspect of the human vocal anatomy: he believed that women had fewer teeth than men. Various people, notably including Bertrand Russell, have pointed this out as an example of Aristotle’s lack of concern for empirical evidence; others have suggested that he was motivated in his assertion by deliberate or subconscious misogyny.
At any rate, the Gendered Dentition Disparity Hypothesis does not seem to be taken very seriously these days, except as a symptom of Aristotle’s thought. I would be very surprised, for example, if a journalist were to interview a few dentists and then write a newspaper article announcing that, hey, it turns out women have just as many teeth as men after all! I would be even more surprised if the journalist were a woman.
And yet somehow I am not terribly surprised to find, on the front page of today’s Toronto Star, an article by Oakland Ross, who, having interviewed a few local voice coaches, reveals that Canadians don’t really say ‘oot’ and ‘aboot’. (Ross is, as far as I know, a Canadian himself; he begins the article with the words “Yes, fellow northerners, there is a Canadian accent.”)
Well, no, of course we don’t say ‘oot’ and ‘aboot’; Canadians, and other people who have Canadian raising, say [ʌwt] and [əbʌwt]. And while I don’t expect that everyone should know the relevant IPA symbols (although it would be nice if they did), it seems to me that it ought to be perfectly obvious to the Star‘s readers how they pronounce these words. I mean, you don’t even have to stand open-mouthed in front of a mirror and count; you just have to listen to yourself (or your neighbour) talk. And I suspect that most Canadians have heard enough Americans talking to realize that the Canadian pronunciation of the word about doesn’t sound very much like the American pronunciation of a boot.
Ross helpfully explains to his predominantly Canadian readers what they really do say:
What Canadians say is “out” and “about” — pretty much the way the words are spelt — but we have a way of forming the vowels toward the front of our mouths and without much vertical space between our upper and lower palates.
Americans tend to pronounce the same two words with the sounds formed farther back in their mouths and with more vertical space — something like “ah-out” and “abah-out.”
Ah, yes. It’s all about the ‘lower palate’, which I guess is some kinda fancy scienterrific term for what I’ve always called the ‘tongue’. And apparently the American pronunciation of the word out is disyllabic.
I’m so glad we can count on journalists to clear these things up.