Joan C. Beal and Marco Condorelli University of Sheffield “Cut from the same CLOTH? Variation and change in the CLOTH lexical set.”
With reference to what Wells (1982) subsequently termed the CLOTH set in English, Barbara Strang stated “[I]t is difficult to know how far the recent history of words of the type cloth, lost, cross, off represents sound-change, and how far conflict of analogies and varieties” (1970: 85). Strang is here referring to the fact that, like the change from ME short a to present-day RP /ɑ:/ in Wells’s BATH set, the lengthening of ME short o to /ɔ:/ in CLOTH words begins in the late seventeenth century and in pre-fricative environment, yet CLOTH words have subsequently reverted to the short vowel in RP whilst BATH words have not. Furthermore, CLOTH words have /ɔ:/ in US English, whilst BATH words have /a/.
In this study, we discuss the results of an examination of entries for all the words in Wells’s CLOTH set that appear in a range of eighteenth-century pronouncing dictionaries, along with metalinguistic comments on the pronunciation of these words from the same dictionaries. The dictionaries chosen cover approximately a fifty-year period, the second half of the eighteenth century, and include dictionaries written by authors from various parts of the British Isles and from America. This reveals the extent and nature of the “conflict of analogies and varieties” alluded to by Strang.