Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pronunciation Musements

Pronunciations of some English words can be unobvious or inconsistent, particularly when encountering the printed form for the first time. My article is primarily about consonant combinations ("consonant blends" and "consonant digraphs"), but also includes related information farther down. "Teaching Blends and Digraphs" differentiates the two combinations.
  • consonant blend—"two or more consonants are blended together, but each sound may be heard in the blend"
    Examples include bl, br, cl, cr, …
  • consonant digraph—"two consonants stand together to represent a single sound"
    Examples include sh, ch, th, …
Some Consonant Digraphs with Multiple Pronunciations
Three consonant digraphs that can be confusing for determining pronunciations are "ch", "th", and "gh". The examples I list are simple, but I'm sure less familiar words can cause pause.
Numerous words contain "gh", which most frequently don't seem to serve any phonetic purposes. "Laugh" sounds like three letters could take care of the spelling—"laf". Arthur Laffer of Laffer curve fame is a good example of using "laffer" phonetic spelling instead of "laugher".

No "gh" in Laffer Genealogy
My Google lookup session of Arthur Laffer meandered over his genealogy, which goes as far back as the 1600s (Joseph Laufer). His most recent ancestor that was a Laffer was Bartholomew (Bartol) Laffer. Bartholomew's father's surname was Lauffer (Christian Lauffer Sr.). Slogging through text, I encountered a piece of amusement—Peter Piper, not a picker of pickled peppers, apparently. Anyway, "gh" was never part of the surnames.

The site "words with the -gh- letter pattern" provides detailed guidelines and grouped examples about this consonant pair. Another site, with more historical background, is "Pronunciation: How did "gh" at the end of some words become an "eff" sound?"

"ph" Consonant Digraph
Closely related to "gh" digraph for "f" pronunciation is "ph" (examples: photo, phone). "Spelling the /f/ sound with ph" states "The /f/ sound is usually spelled with just f (or ff after a short vowel … but words from ancient Greek use ph." This site provides good lists of "ph" examples and contexts.

Aural Disconnect with Three Consonant Combinations
Two consonant blends and one consonant digraph have always struck me as sounding differently than graphically alleged—"tr", "dr", and "ch". As a native speaker of English, I always felt those combinations sounded like "tchr", "jr", and "tch", respectively. Try pronouncing "trap", "draw", and "choke", and consider if they sound like "tchrap", "jraw", and "tchoke". "How to pronounce the 'ch' sound" provides linguistic details about "ch".)

More Pronunciation Items
Some additional thoughts WRT pronunciations are a few words I've run across that sound differently than I thought they would.
  • cupboard—I was surprised it's pronounced "kub-…ôrd" instead of "cup-board".
  • drawer—jroor (C'mon. If you pronounce it as draw-er, it sounds like a non-English speaker pronunciation.)
  • iron—eye-yern (Does anyone pronounce it as "eye-ron"?)
More mystery of consonants and their pronunciations in words, depending on nearby letters—
  • g: g or j (gang, general)
  • c: s or k (ceiling, cake)
  • s: s or z (seek, bees)
  • f: f or v (off, of)
  • h: h or silent (honey, honest)
For a related article about "h", visit "Pronunciations Heck with Hermione and Homage".

Diphthongs and two-consonant digraphs have a similarity: two characters and formation of a single sound. "The Difference Between Digraphs and Diphtongs" states "digraphs are letters and diphthongs are sounds". More specifically, "a digraph is two letters that spell one sound.… A diphthong is one vowel sound formed by the combination of two vowel sounds."

Coincidentally, "diphthong" is a good example word having a pair of consonant digraphs. (BTW, interesting to see the "ng" sound represented by a hybrid symbol. View that symbol and rest of Merriam-Webster's pronunciation key.)

Short and Long oo
While perusing consonant digraphs, I ran across the expressions "short oo" and "long oo". I had not heard of long and short "oo" designations (typical for normal vowels) in my younger years. "Long Sounds of 'oo', Short vs. Long 'oo' Vowel Digraphs" provides word and sentence examples for contrast. For explanations of "oo" and other "o" sounds, visit the site.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sprinkling Caraway Seeds for Quick Rye-ish Fix

A few weeks ago, I had a yen for rye bread. Being ignorant of rye bread dough, and seeing that caraway seeds always seemed to be in rye bread, I simply thought of these seeds as the add-in that makes rye bread rye bread.

I wondered why rye breads weren't called caraway seed breads. I wondered if one-syllable "rye" edged out three-syllable "caraway". Turns out that rye is its own item—a grass.

Numerous rye bread recipes call for both rye bread flour and white flour. Some recipes call for additional type(s) of flour. Almost all specify one or two tablespoons of caraway seeds. FWIW, my bottle of Morton & Bassett caraway seeds states a serving as 1/4 teaspoon of caraway seeds. Thus, I infer that each pound of bread should have 4 teaspoons of seeds.

Looking at several recipes for rye bread, which require more ingredients than I wanted to bother with, my eyes glazed over. Rather than pay a king's ransom for rye bread at the store, I decided on a cheapie, quick way to get a rye-ish fix—a jar of caraway seeds for sprinkling onto buttered carb delivery products (grin). Some suggestions:

With room-temperature bread, toasted bread, or toasted English muffin, spread butter or peanut butter on it, sprinkle seeds, and use the knife to pat the seeds down.

With a toasted English muffin, another suggestion is to sprinkle seeds, add shredded or sliced jack cheese, and microwave until the cheese melts. Melting cheese with added seeds works well also for crackers. If you spread butter or peanut butter on crackers, it's optional to use the knife to smear and "glue" the sprinkled seeds.

At the supermarket's spice aisle, I found caraway seeds from McCormick, McCormick Gourmet, and Morton & Bassett (no relationship to Morton of salt game). Tabulation of the three brands is as follows:
Brand Weight Price Price/
McCormick   .9 $4.34 $4.82
1.62 $3.78 $2.33
Morton &
2 $6.42 $3.21

I'd have chosen McCormick Gourmet for best economy. However, the store displayed a coupon for $2 off for Morton and Bassett, reducing the price per ounce to $2.21. (Yay!) As the nutrition table states each serving as 1/4 teaspoon (.7 grams), about 81 total servings, I'd be shaking about 6 cents of seeds for each bread slice or muffin half. (FWIW, if the seeds were the density of water, the amount of servings would have been only 48 servings.)

While perusing the spice areas, I noticed that Morton &Bassett also sells whole cumin seeds, 2 ounces for $6.68, a smidge more than the normal price for caraway seeds. Cumin seeds are yummy with jack or cheddar cheese. One bread loaf came out divine when I mixed in cumin seeds and shredded cheddar.

Thinking about the caraway and cumin seeds, I recalled having bought something called kuminost cheese many years ago. Did not think to look at the list of ingredients, but associated the name with cumin. provides the following information:
Kuminost Cheese; Kumminost meaning in Cooking Dictionary
Danish semifirm mozzarella cheese made of entire or skimmed cow's milk, having either a natural or waxed rind and a pale yellowish to orange interior; flavored with cumin, caraway seed and clove. Kuminost is great in casseroles as well as for treats and sandwiches. Also called nokkelost.
Quickie DIY kuminost cheese sounds like a reason to buy cumin seeds and mozzarella or jack cheese on my next store trek. Maybe I'll skip the cloves, though. Hmmm, a flour tortilla rollup with cumin/caraway seeds and melted jack cheese sounds tempting.
Some websites about caraway seeds and rye:
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