I was curious about the different pronunciations of the word catch; more specifically, the difference between /kætʃ/ and /kɛtʃ/.
The Oxford dictionary lists both pronunciations as correct; is this difference regional? How did it come about?
I currently live in Pittsburgh and grew up in Southwestern PA, I can attest that /kɛtʃ/ is becoming somewhat common in the Western PA region (Kinda-Midland region). I also have a friend from Erie and a friend from New Jersey who both say /kɛtʃ/ instead of /kætʃ/. It's not the norm (and I hope it never becomes so), but it does seem more popular now than I ever remember.
Yes, it's regional. This same difference applies to how one pronounces cat (some pronounce it ket). New Zealanders pronounce all instances of
/ɛ/, but they pronounce all instances of
/ɪ/, and all instances of
/ɪ/ ... This is called a chain shift. What the Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and Oxford dictionaries all say is that for some Americans, catch is pronounced with a short e, and so is a homophone for ketch. These same Americans pronounce batch normally.
In the US, I've heard it in several parts of Texas, up into the Midwest (Southern Great Lakes) and in Southern states before reaching Florida.