Fascinatin’

Why do people drop their ‘g’s on some words and not others? I’ve wondered this for a long time. Language Log has a (not completely satisfactory) answer:

Historically, g-dropping is actually a more conservative pattern. The English present participle suffix was originally pronounced with a coronal, not a velar nasal: in early middle English, this inflection was -inde or -ende. There was a derivational ending -ung for making nouns out of verbs, which produced words like present-day “building.” These eventually merged into the modern -ing suffix. In 19th- and early 20th-century England, the g-dropping pattern (which really was the “not g-adding pattern”) marked the rural aristocracy as well as the lower classes.

According to Language Log, some English speakers hear the distinction very clearly and would hear tryin’ as fine but weddin’ or buildin’ as completely wrong. Most people probably don’t, which is why you hear weddin’ and gatherin’ in the wild.

I think the distinction we make these days is whether the syllable is stressed or unstressed. That’s why you don’t hear rin’ for ring or sin’ for sing. (Although someone did once report to Verbal Tea that they’d attended a talk where the speaker kept saying thin’ for thing.)

Language Hat and Wikipedia back up my hunch that it’s about whether or not you stress the syllable.

All three sources say that the “dropped” g represents an older form of pronunciation, one that used to be standard, which is why John Gay rhymed “pursuing” and “ruin”.

They all also make the point that what we call g-dropping is not technically dropping a g; it’s replacing one sound with another. But to me, if that act of replacing one sound with another means you have to take away the g from the written version of the word, then “dropping the g” is an excellent description of what you’re doing.

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