6

The pronunciation of the first syllable of butcher as /ˈbʊt͡ʃ ..../ is for non-native speakers astonishing. From spelling alone, one would probably guess that it's pronunciation would be more like that of "but" /bʌt/. Surely there must be historic reasons for this (guessing sound-shifts, time of borrowing from french, etc.). What are the reasons for butcher being pronounced the way it is today?

4

There are a number of words in which a 'u' is pronounced /ʊ/ even in dialects (such as South Eastern English) where it is normally /ʌ/. They all or nearly all have a labial consonant preceding it:

Eg: Pull, push, put, puss, bull, bush, full.

This is not a reliable environment: consider puck, buck, pus, putt, which have /ʌ/ in such dialects.

So there is nothing anomalous about "butcher": it belongs to an established class of words with /ʊ/

  • Oh, apparently Wikipedia has a more comprehensive description of the environment for the split; I quoted it in my answer here: english.stackexchange.com/a/254506/77227 It seems that butcher is regular, but I can't think of any other words like it (except butch), since putch and futch are not words. – sumelic Dec 30 '15 at 13:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.