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I've seen the thread on voiced/unvoiced "thither," but it doesn't quite answer the question.

It seems like maybe the word began falling out of regular speech right around the time initial "th" was becoming voiced in "function words" (term used in that thread), so maybe the pronunciation was simply unstable for a while.

Or maybe it wasn't. Does anyone know how, say, Shakespeare would've pronounced it?

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  • The accepted answer on the linked question says the "voiced" pronunciation (as in today's this and that) arose in early Middle English times. That's 1150 to 1500 (according to OED), which means it would have happened well before Shakespeare's time. So he and his contemporaries probably pronounced thither the same way we would today if we still used it. Mar 19, 2018 at 13:56
  • Possible duplicate of Is there a rule for pronouncing “th” at the beginning of a word?
    – KarlG
    Mar 19, 2018 at 14:09
  • Possibly the more interesting question is how the AmE pronunciation shifted back to θiðr when it had been ðiðr for so many centuries (and other equally obsolete words, like thence and thou, didn't similarly back-slide).
    – 1006a
    Mar 19, 2018 at 14:42
  • I was unclear. In the US it's θiðr, whereas in the UK it's ðiðr, so I was wondering which is "more original." 1500 isn't well before Shakespeare's time (he was writing ~100 years later), and there's no reference given in that wiki entry, so it's hard to gauge how accurate it is anyway. My guess is we can't really know how Shakespeare or his troupe might've pronounced it.
    – Marc Adler
    Mar 19, 2018 at 19:29
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    I'm an American English speaker and I've always used /ðɪðr̩/, like /ðer/. /θɪðr̩/ sounds odd to me.
    – herisson
    Mar 20, 2018 at 4:01

1 Answer 1

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The Wikipedia article "Pronunciation of English ⟨th⟩" suggests that using /θ/ at the start of thither is a feature of Scottish English pronunciation, although I don't see a citation, and it doesn't mention how old this might be.

In Scottish English, /θ/ is found in many words which have /ð/ further south. The phenomenon of nouns terminating in /θ/ taking plurals in /ðz/ does not occur in the north. [...] Scottish English also has /θ/ in with, booth, thence etc., and the Scottish pronunciation of thither, almost uniquely, has both /θ/ and /ð/ in the same word. Where there is an American-British difference, the North of Britain generally agrees with the United States on this phoneme pair.

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