----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2000 8:18
Subject: [phoNet] Hey Bwana ....
"... no English syllable can begin with /pw/, /bw/, or /fw/".
I'm not really disagreeing with Piotr, but there will always be
exceptions. 'Bwana' is a borrowing via Swahili meaning 'boss', 'master'.
Even closer to home, you've got Puerto Rico
(unless you say "Porto", that is), or the Buena Vista Social
Club, or Buenos Aires. Of course loanwords will always attempt
to violate the constraints of the borrowing language, and sometimes they
succeed. Some English speakers manage to pronounce Knesset with /kn/
and even Gdańsk with /gd/, while others insert a schwa to break the
Small children who realize orthographic L and R as a W easily make the
combination of /bw/: "He's my widdle bwuvver".
I think the sound in question is more typically a
labiodental approximant (IPA [υ]), i.e. the semivocalic counterpart of [v],
but bilabial [w] can also be heard.
I notice that /bw/, /fw/, and /vw/ are actually rather easy
clusters. My English speaking linguistic sensibilities, however, finds the
sounds /bw/-/pw/ too indistinct for easy discrimination, tho' I
think a little practice would clear that up.
/w/ follows labial consonants in lots of French words
(foi, point, voi, moi), so these
combinations can't sound quite exotic to English speakers who have some
familiarity with French (and cf. the English pronunciation of
Poitiers or Poisson distribution). Such clusters are also
common in Polish. Polish /w/ developed from a historical dark l
(spelt ł), which is why młot 'hammer',
błoto 'mud', płot 'fence' spławik 'fishing float'
begin with /mw, bw, pw, spw/ respectively in Modern Polish.