Consonants /f/ versus /Ɵ/, 61 pairs     [finthin.html]

The /f/ sound is spelled with <f> or <ff>, and exceptionally <gh> in laugh. The /Ɵ/ sound is spelled <th> throughout.

The contrast is between a labio-dental fricative and a dental and alveolar fricative, both voiceless. The sounds are very similar and can be a source of misunderstanding even among native speakers. Novelists often replace <th> with <f> in dialogue to suggest working-class speech: "That's what I fink" or "Fings ain't wot vey used to be." David Lodge exploits the contrast in the title of his novel about the problems of increasing deafness in old age, Deaf Sentence, with its punning allusion to the familiar collocation "Death sentence", and which he admits poses a huge problem for translators.

The mean density value is 1.2%, but the true value is probably lower since a number of the <th> words in the list are unusual or obsolescent: Cathay, thane, thews, thole and withe. This suggests some support for the O'Connor conjecture that language is self-repairing. The list makes 42 semantic distinctions, a loading of 69%.

beef Beith
café Cathay
caff Cath
deaf death
fain thane
faugh thaw
faun thorn 
  fauns thorns
feign thane
  feigns thanes
feoff thief
fie thigh
firm therm
  firms therms
first thirst
  firsts thirsts
fin thin
  fins thins
Finn thin
  Finns thins
foal thole
  foals tholes
for thaw
ford thawed
fore thaw
fort thought
  forts thoughts
fought thought
four thaw
  fours thaws
fro throe
froze throes
Fred thread
fresh thresh
fret threat
  frets threats
free three
freeze threes
fresher thresher
  freshers threshers
frill thrill
  frilled thrilled
  frills thrills
fug thug
  fugs thugs
fuse thews
half hearth
infuse enthuse 
  infused enthused 
  infusing enthusing
  infuses enthuses
leafy Lethe
loaf loath
laugh lath
oaf oath	
  oafs oaths
roof Ruth
sheaf sheath	
whiff with
whiff withe
  whiffs withes

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, October 2010.