But how do you say it? Biochemist writes to ask:
Why do Americans put the emphasis on New - as in: 'enjoy the NOO year holiday' or 'What are you doing at Nooyers?'The 'noo' versus 'new' issue is one that I've discussed before, but the stress difference took me a while to appreciate. I said it to myself a few times and didn't hear the difference Biochemist described. Coming back to it a half-day later, I did hear the difference in my own speech--but it does underscore the point that I'm losing it, dialectally speaking.
Brits refer to the New Year evenly emphasised: 'I'll see you next term, in the new year....' 'Did you have a good time at Christmas and New Year?' and so on.
At any rate, Biochemist asks why, and of course, the answer is: Americans say it their way because it's what they hear from other Americans, and the British say it that way because it's what they hear from other Brits. One might hope that it's part of a general rule for how to pronounce compound nouns and that the rule differs in the US and the UK, but to my knowledge no one's discovered such a rule. (Some of you may be wondering why I keep calling New Year a compound when it's two words. It may be two words in spelling, but we use it as one word--and so it is pronounced with compound stress of some sort, rather than in the way that we would pronounce new year as a phrase made of adjective + noun, in which case the stress would usually be on the noun.) Here's a bit from the abstract for a research project headed by Sabine Arndt-Lappe and Ingo Plag at Universität Siegen:
It is generally assumed that compounds in English are stressed on the left-hand member (e.g. bláckboard, wátchmaker). However, there is a considerable amount of variation in stress assignment (e.g. apricot crúmble, Penny Láne, Tory léader) that is unaccounted for in the literature. [...] It turned out that, although making correct predictions for parts of the data, none of the structural and semantic mechanisms proposed in the literature works in a categorical fashion, and that probabilistic and analogical models are more successful in their predictions than traditional rule-based ones.In other words, English compound stress is irregular. And where there are irregularities (or really complex regularities with different options for applying them), there's the opportunity for cross-Atlantic variability. You could say here that AmE uses the more 'typical' compound stress and BrE is doing something a little funny--if it is your wont to point out ways in which AmE makes more 'sense'. While it's probably wrong to say that one language variety makes more sense than another, it's an awful lot of fun to make that claim when you're an American living in the UK, dealing with condescension about your language on a regular basis. In any case, perhaps Arndt-Lappe and Plag or others will find something to answer Biochemist's question, but it's going to take some digging. Good luck to them! (And thanks to my colleague, Herr Dr Phonologist, for pointing me in the direction of their work.)
This wasn't my first New Year query--the last one has been sitting in my inbox since two New Years ago. It came from Justin, who's probably given up looking for answers to his questions on my blog:
what are Americans meaning when they say "Happy New Year's"? (I'm guessing at the apostrophe.) Is this "Happy New Year's Day" or is there something more interesting going on here?First, we have to note that Happy New Year is a common expression in AmE--the possessive variation is not the only AmE version. Happy New Year's --with or without an apostrophe-- gets 9.7m Google hits, as opposed to 90.7 for Happy New Year. Of those with the 's, 97,000 are Happy New Year's Day, 678,000 are Happy New Year's Eve. My intuition is that Happy New Year's can be used to mean either of these--or both simultaneously. In other words, we might be using it in order to be vague about which bit of the holiday we're wishing you well for, since it spans two days--or, at least, an evening and a day. Of course, the version without the 's seems to wish people well for the year to follow, not just the holiday itself.
Thanks for coming back to read after my month-plus holiday from blogging. It seems perverse to call it a holiday since it was full of hard labo(u)r--a different kind from last year's. (Not that I went through a hard labo(u)r last year...but this time I was absent for the birth of a book, rather than a baby.) My schedule continues to be relentless, with deadlines smacking me in the face (I wish that they'd whoosh by me like they did for Douglas Adams, but mine are set on a collision course) and a one-year-old whose remaining moments of babydom I am savo(u)ring. So, I'll continue to aim, as I did last year, for a post a week (I may fail) and ask for your patience in waiting for me to respond to your e-mails. Happy New Year!