Moltmann is fond of quoting a couplet penned by Robert Browning in the nineteenth century. It reads:
For the loving worm within its clod
Were diviner than a loveless God
The first time I read this, however, I was confused. In what world do clod and God rhyme? Possibly in the world of nineteenth century England, and likely in living dialects today. For example, I noticed last night when my wife was watching “Call the Midwife,” in season six which is set in the sixties, that one of the characters pronounced God with the same vowel sound as that of clod. The OED lists the vowel sounds in each as identical: in British and American /klɒd/ and /klɑd/, and /ɡɒd/ and /ɡɑd/.
But in the NZ English I know and love, this is not the case. A related difference is recognised by the US Merriam Webster, which has \ˈkläd\ and then \ˈgäd\, but also \ˈgȯd\ as a secondary pronunciation. According to their pronunciation guide, ä designates the bother and cot vowel, whereas ȯ the saw, gnaw, and caught vowel. But neither does this apply to NZ English, expect in cases where “gawd” is used, which if anything indicates a pronunciation not typical in NZ English. While I don’t have any formal linguistic training–so that my interpretation might not be spot on here–I understand the difference in clod and God in NZ English to be one of vowel length. The vowel is slightly longer in God in the same sense as park is not pronounced identical to puk. A better example:
Don’t put the spanner beside the bonnet;
Put it on it.
The vowel sound in bonnet and on is the same as that of clod in NZ English. Yet because I have added italics for emphasis in this couplet, a couplet that would otherwise likely rhyme, the vowel sound in bonnet differs from that of on. The latter is lengthened, similar to the way that clod differs in pronunciation from God in NZ English. There are other words like this too. As far as my ears are concerned, Todd and rod, body and shoddy, lot and bot, rock and hock, doff and Hasselhoff, dodge and lodge, for example, take the short vowel, whereas hog and bog, and scone (as a noun but not as a verb) take the long vowel. The special significance of clod and God is that they share the same final consonant but differ in their vowel length.
Some questions follow:
- Is this the NZ English that you know and love, or does Browning’s couplet rhyme for you? If you are not a speaker of NZ English and they yet don’t rhyme then I would especially love to hear from you.
- Under what historical circumstances did this change take place? My guess is that liturgical or everyday reverential pronunciation of God contributed to the lengthening of its vowel sound. But that’s just a guess. In reality I have no idea. It is notable that the plural gods for me does not either rhyme with clods. If the liturgical thesis is correct then the pronunciation of the singular God would have been transferred to the plural as well.