The "w" Alliterations?

TThurston

Member
According to Appendix E, "PRONUNCIATION OF WORDS AND NAMES", the pronunciation of the initial sound of "when" might be different from the "w" sound in words like "winter" and "will". It says "W has the sound of English w. HW is a voiceless w, as in English white (in northern pronunciation). Wikipedia's article on The Pronunciation of English "wh" says that this voiceless variant of wh is still common in Scotland and Ireland. Perhaps this is what the appendix means by "northern pronunciation". I spent a bit of time listening to recordings of Tolkien reading and could not hear the distinction, but my ear is not very good. But as someone who has been a member of Baroque choir for years, the distinction is often more important in singing or formal speaking than in casual speaking. And Bilbo is singing, not casually speaking. So perhaps it's not five "w" sounds in a row, but four "w" sounds with "wh" in the middle.
 
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TThurston

Member
I've re-read the appendix, and am not sure now whether it applies in this case. However, the Wikipedia article says the following about the change in the voiceless pronunciation of "wh" and it's change to being the same as "w". "The merger seems to have been present in the south of England as early as the 13th century. It was unacceptable in educated speech until the late 18th century, but there is no longer generally any stigma attached to either pronunciation. Some RP speakers may use /hw/ for ⟨wh⟩, a usage widely considered "correct, careful and beautiful", but that is usually a conscious choice rather than a natural part of the speaker's accent." Bilbo as a young hobbit certainly belonged to the educated class that might have been concerned with "correct, careful, and beautiful". On this basis, he might have used a voiceless "wh" while singing "when".

There has been at least one post regarding pronouncing words with a "british accent". It is not all clear what than means. I imagine that Bilbo would have pronounced words differently than Sam, who was raised in a class that did not normally learn to read and write. I envision Bilbo using RP. I do not think Sam used RP. I also imagine that word choice might have differed between classes. I can think of a few cases where class distinction of pronunciation is evident in the text, like "jools", as mentioned by a hobbit from Michel Delving. It might be interesting to do a comprehensive study of word choice and usage in the text, and see what can be inferred about class and possible pronunciation patterns.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Bilbo was not singing in English. He was singing in Westron. When considering how to pronounce the words in his song/poem, we should not consider how Bilbo might have pronounced them, but how JRRT would have pronounced them (as he, in frame, is the translator, and responsible for making English poetry out of whatever Bilbo actually sang in Westron).

We have recordings of JRRT's accent. He seems to have spoken in an imperfect variant of RP ('Received Pronunciation). I think that in JRRT's accent, 'when' is a 'w' alliteration with the other words.

However, in my opinion, there are 6 alliterative 'w' words in the stanza, not 5. The terminal 'w' in 'how' should also be counted. So, we get 'how', 'world', 'will', 'when', 'winter', 'without'. Six 'w' alliterations in nine words, in two lines.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Interesting about "how." It goes back to "meadow flowers" as a weak "w" sound, not being an initial sound. But we don't hear it as we hear "world will" or "when winter."
 
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