Tuesday, 17 November 2009

iːŋ

Following on from yesterday’s discussion of American æ before ŋ, perhaps we’d better have a brief mention of another mysterious matter in American English phonetics: the question of ɪ followed by ŋ.
The traditional view, and surely the correct view for most accents, is that , like other long vowels (see yesterday’s comments), does not occur lexically immediately before a velar nasal. The sequence iːŋ is impossible, unless it arises through alveolar-to-velar assimilation in items such as bean curd.
Traditionally, and for most of us, king is kɪŋ, string is strɪŋ, and link is lɪŋk, all with the short KIT vowel, ɪ.
However some Americans (they seem to be mostly Californians) report that they feel themselves to be using the FLEECE vowel in such cases: kiːŋ, striːŋ, liːŋk. (I transcribe with length marks in my usual way, although as we know American English does not really have a long/short contrast so much as a tense-lax one.)
I am not sure whether this extends to the position before ŋɡ, as in finger.
Again, you can argue that here we have a positional neutralization, this time of ɪ - iː, so that in a sense it is meaningless to ask which of the two vowels we have here. However speakers do generally seem to have pretty clear intuitions of a phonemic nature here: most of us are happy to identify the vowel of king with that of kin, while a minority identify it with that of keen. Are they all Californians?
Are these the same people who use an identical pronunciation for tin and ten, mini and many (another typical Californianism)? To judge by Wikipedia and Penelope Eckert’s webpage, probably not.

26 comments:

  1. I don't think the distinction is at all meaningless! Even before ŋ, the sounds are different, so I suppose that must mean that neutralization isn't total. For what it's worth, I've never met ANY trained native speaker of American English - trained in phonetics, that is - who does not think that the vowel they use in king is the same as they use in keen. But if you listen to a wide variety of Americans, the fact is that some use the vowel of kin, and some the vowel of king, and the sounds are readily distinguishable.

    Those of my clients who use the kin vowel in king are often astonished to learn that they really use a different vowel from that of keen. And those of my clients who use the keen vowel have to practice a great deal in order to use the kin vowel as comfortably in their acquired accent as they do the keen vowel in their "home" accent.

    They are by no means all Californians. I have many American clients from around the country who not only think they use i before ŋ, but actually do. The sound they produce in words such as king, kink, sing, sink is markedly different from the sound that I produce, which can reasonably be transcribed as kɪŋ, lɪŋk, etc. And I think this contributes to the growing tendency of Americans to actually lose the ŋ in favor of n, particularly in -ing suffixes, so that for singing, thinking, they say siŋkin, θiŋkin. I've heard this Californian speakers, but also in speakers from the midwest and as far from CA as Rochester in upstate NY. (This issue has provoked at least one discussion on the old VASTAVox listserv; I don't know how one gets at those archives, but it was an interesting thread.)

    The growing lack of pin-pen distinction is another matter entirely. I'm sure there must be some overlap in populations, but I rather doubt that there is a connection.

    The lack of pin-pen distinction originated in the American south, but seems to be spreading rapidly to other parts of the US. I hear it in a pretty fair number of midwestern speakers. It's not especially Californian, but I'm sure it crops up in various parts of the state. (So does the merger/reversal of hill-heel, but that's another thread.)

    I don't see how the sequences iːŋ or iŋ can be impossible, when I hear them distinguished from the sequence ɪŋ on a regular basis. I realize my ear is an imperfect instrument, but surely it can't be as bad as all that - can it?

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  2. Oh criminy. I wrote "For what it's worth, I've never met ANY trained native speaker of American English ... " when I meant " ... UNtrained native speaker ... ". Should have finished my second cup of tea before posting. Sorry about that. Please re-read first graf with my correction in mind. Otherwise I sound more than usually idiotic.

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  3. I’d say my Canadian English raises and nasalizes both the æ (which is usually more centred [a]) and ɪ to ẽ̞ and ĩ̞ before ŋ. Perhaps this parallels raising æ to e before g in words like ‘rag’ or ‘bag’: /æ/ > [e]/_/g/ (though not before /k/). There is a similar phenomenon of æ before n in words like ‘ran’ or ‘man’: the /æ/ is raised to [ɛ̃].

    I found some old ‘code alphabets’ I made as a kid before I ever studied phonetics. Looking through one code, it seems I wrote the same symbol for the vowel in ‘rang’ and ‘day’.

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  4. I was born and raised in Seattle and have lived in several parts of the US as an adult, and to me, using [i] in KING etc. sounds decidedly strange. I can only recall one instance in which I was struck by someone using that vowel rather than [ɪ] before [ŋ], and that was in singing, when vowels are likely to be modified for ease of phonation anyway. On the other hand, I have definitely heard in the speech of a lot of people, especially younger people, a narrowing of the vowel in words like BANK to [e] -- or rather the nasal [e~].

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  5. Living in the NYC area, and then in the city itself, all my life, I never heard [i:ŋ] (I don't travel much, either). I only discovered it a decade or so ago when I informally transcribed the famous line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre using "steenkeeng badges", and then someone on the mailing list asked why I wrote "-eeng" when "-ing" had the [i] sound anyhow. Quel choc. (Phonetically sophisticated bunch on that list, too.)

    In any case, there certainly is no [i] ~ [ɪ] phonemic contrast before [ŋ] in anybody's English, so it only matters to phoneticians which one is used, and [iŋ]-speakers and [ɪŋ]-speakers intercommunicate freely without anyone much noticing. It is definitely untrue, though, that every American believes they use [i] in such words; plenty of people would identify it as [ɪ].

    I agree with Chris Harvey that [æ]-raising before [ŋ] is just a particular case of [æ]-raising, the American analogue of [æ]-lengthening in Britain. Here in NYC this is a phonemic distinction: can 'be able' has it, can 'tin' does not. Minimal pairs are rare, since the split is heavily conditioned by the following consonant on much the same pattern as the TRAP-BATH and LOT-CLOTH splits, with a few idiosyncratic words like "bad", "sad", "mad", and "glad". If you ever extend the lexical sets, I propose BAD for this one; it is raised in the American dialects and lengthened in the British and Australian ones that are affected. (In the Northern Cities accent, though, all [æ] becomes [eə] anyway, and there is no phonemic distinction.)

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  6. – Amy Stoller said...
    – I don't think the distinction is at all meaningless! Even before ŋ, the sounds are different, so I suppose that must mean that neutralization isn't total.

    JW does not say the distinction is meaningless! He says it is meaningless to ask which of the two vowels we have here. The phonetic distinctions you hear of course have all sorts of meanings to you, and no doubt different meanings to people in other fields of linguistics. But they have nothing to do with neutralization if they are not systematically capable of supporting a difference in meaning.

    He says in a sense it is meaningless to ask which of the two vowels we have here, and that sense is a phonological sense. You seem to be using neutralization in a phonetic sense, as if it meant there is no phonetic difference, but it is a phonological concept, and it doesn’t matter how much phonetic difference there is between individual realizations if there is no such functional difference in a given context. If those conditions are present then the neutralization is total. There is no such thing as neutralization which isn't total.

    Because neutralization is a purely phonological matter of not being able to establish distinctive function, it is too technical a consideration to be relevant to what JW describes as the "intuitions of a phonemic nature" that speakers have.

    But speakers do have intuitions of functional relevance as well, you know. That is how I think you should interpret the astonishment of the clients who use the kin vowel in king "to learn that they really use a different vowel from that of keen". By "really" here you mean phonetically, and that phonetic difference is not relevant to them. They have actually learnt to disregard it because it is not functional! And that is the real "learning" that learners of languages have to do!

    – And I think this contributes to the growing tendency of Americans to actually lose the ŋ in favor of n, particularly in -ing suffixes, so that for singing, thinking, they say siŋkin, θiŋkin.

    Are you sure they hadn’t imperfectly learned to use the ŋ there in the first place? The –n variants have a "distinguished" line of antecedents!

    So you are perfectly in order to say "I don't see how the sequences iːŋ or iŋ can be impossible, when I hear them distinguished from the sequence ɪŋ on a regular basis." But you hear them "distinguished" phonetically, with your trained ear, which is no doubt an excellent instrument for that purpose! But the distinctions are functionally irrelevant in the language, however relevant they may be in orthoepics or sociolinguistics etc.

    Chris Harvey's childhood ‘code alphabets’ must be an absolute goldmine!

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  7. @Amy Stoller:

    Well, I have one further data point to contradict you. My wife, born in Texas and now living in California with me, says that "king" is closer to "kin" than "keen" (I spelled out the words when asking her so that she would not be influenced by my own British accent :)) She added, spontaneously, that she "uses a short I" in "king".

    FWIW, I don't think I hear [i:ŋ] in the speech of even those born here in California, although it is possible that my own phonemic system is biasing me.

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  8. Question for those who claim to observe this [iŋ] phenomenon in American speech: How do speakers who have this habit pronounce the word "skiing"? If "ing" is always [iŋ], then this word would have to be either a monosyllable, [ski(ː)ŋ], or else have a glottal stop, [skiʔiŋ]. For my part, I have never noticed the word being pronounced otherwise than as [skiɪŋ].

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  9. Baritonobasso:

    Given that the vowel transcribed as /i:/ is phonetically very often a narrow diphthong [ɪi], the monophthong and the ɡlottal stop realisations you mention are not the only possibilites. Californians et. al. could just do the narrow diphthong twice.

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  10. Is there some new brand of sophistication I am unaware of, or is it some new mercurial twist of the software to change orthographic gs into gammas?

    John M, with all the talk about AmE i:~ɪ being no more'n a matter of tense v lax, let us never lose sight of the fact that [ɪi] is alive and kicking on both sides of the pond. Indeed et. al. could just do the narrow diphthong twice. But (with due apologies) I feel bound to point out that when I try to do that I lose my [i] and am left with a mere chest pulse or sumpin as you call it, and when they do it their [i] seems to me to turn into a fully-fledged [j]. So no probs for them with skiing, then.

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  11. This is, I suppose, not fully relevant, but nonetheless... I originally come from Padstow in Cornwall, where the traditional pronunciation of ing in the -ing form of a verb (and only then)is, as far as I can hear, i:ng (for reasons unknown to me I can't write IPA here; that should be an eng at the end). Villages three miles away laugh (or rather laughed, I imagine) at us for this. I've never seen any reference to this elsewhere.

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  12. @Baritonobasso:

    In a phrase like "Three Easy Pieces", I personally have no trouble creating a [j]-like glide between "three" and "easy", although they are theoretically the same vowel (and my FLEECE vowel is generally monophthongal). I have no doubt that those with [iŋ] could use the same tactic in "skiing".

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  13. A Californian here.

    FWIW, I do believe I have [iŋg] (as opposed to [ɪŋg]) in finger, and I don't merge tin/ten or mini/many.

    Regarding the "skiing" question raised in the comments, I have the glide version suggested by @vp -- [skijiŋ]

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. @mallamb This might explain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:International_Phonetic_Alphabet
    Scroll down to the section "Voiced velar plosive".

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  16. Another native Californian. I definitely say [kɪŋ] and [fɪŋger] and don't merge tin/ten, but I think I do merge mini/many.

    In the small northern California town where I grew up, [θɪŋkn] could become [θɪŋki:n] whenever the second syllable needed to be particularly stressed for clarity (usually the third repetition). That rule was only for -ing suffixes, however, where the final consonant was always [n], not [ŋ] as in "thing." I would have had no trouble saying [ski:in]. Not quite a j-glide, but close.

    Sounds odd to me now, after 30 years in a larger city. I still say [θɪŋkn], at least sometimes, but now would stress it to the more standard [θɪŋkɪŋ].

    But California has more than one native accent. I think I can spot four or five, although not perfectly.

    In many parts of California, you can still hear features of the Southern accents brought over by the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s. In some areas, it's the dominant accent; in others, it lives on in subcultures. So in some situations, you'll still hear the pin/pen merger, for example. Sometimes that pin/pen sounds like [pjɪn] or [piɪn] to my ear. I do remember having difficulty understanding some of my classmates in elementary school over that issue. I may have picked up my pronunciation of "many" from them.

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  17. Just like that! Many thanks, Richard. I thought it might cure the rash of symbols in Asian fonts too, but as I had suspected, they seem to be hard-wired into the site's display. I somehow don't think it's because of the Asian fonts I need to have on most of the time for Asian languages.

    Can you throw any light on this too? It wreaks havoc with all sorts of other things.

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  18. David Marjanović18 November 2009 at 16:50

    [j]-insertion into vowel clusters (as in science) seems to be common in AmE, but does anyone do what seems easiest to me, which would be two identical vowels in two successive syllables, with nothing but (secondary) stress to keep them apart, like in French créé, agréé and so on?

    Can you throw any light on this too? It wreaks havoc with all sorts of other things.

    Does it change when you view the page in another encoding? It should be "Unicode (UTF-8)".

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  19. - does anyone do what seems easiest to me.

    Yes I do, as I explained earlier on this thread in yesterday's 20.13 response to John Maidment's 19.54 post.

    Thanks for the suggestion David, (sorry to peeve, but I think your peeve may derive from fussier conventions in German etc.) but I had had the encoding set to UTF-8 since before my attempt to make the display more legible peppered it with gammas. Richard has got rid of those for me, but the Asian fonts for bits of IPA have been there all along.

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  20. I say [skijĩŋ] for ‘skiing’. Whenever /i/ appears in an open syllable, there is a bit of an off-glide [ij], in closed syllables it is plain [i]. So ‘flee’ is [fɫij] while ‘fleet’ is [fɫit]. My /ɪ/ is quite low (lower than cardinal [e]) so I would say that the vowel before /ŋ/ is [i].

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  21. I am humbled by the realization that I have completely misunderstood rather a lot of John's post and posts of some others here, too. That will teach me to use big words that I don't understand! Back to the drawing board for me.

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  22. @mallamb: "By "really" here you mean phonetically, and that phonetic difference is not relevant to them."

    Yes, by "really" I did mean phonetically; I'm afraid I defined "reality" through my personal bias as a dialect coach! I would argue that the phonetic difference is extremely relevant to my clients, as otherwise they wouldn't have become my clients. But they may not have had any reason to consider it relevant until shortly before they became my clients; or they may simply have lacked awareness of what specific phonetic issues lay behind their need for a dialect coach. All they know is that people don't understand them easily, or that they are losing jobs because of their accent.

    Thank you very much for explaining where I went wrong in my understanding of what John wrote. It's very helpful, and very kind of you to take the time. Clearly I was in pretty far over my head.

    @vp: I never meant that ALL Californians think they use i in king, or actually use i in king. But enough Californians do actually use i king (regardless of what vowel they think they use) that it is considered a feature of many Californian accents. Not all, but many; enough that it is considered of note. There is some useful information about the varieties of California English, with links to other resources, at the link below. Naturally it won't chime with all of your own experience or your wife's, but that doesn't mean it isn't ALSO true. http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/americanvarieties/californian/

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  23. Amy, I offer you my sincere apologies for the ill-considered wording of "that phonetic difference is not relevant to them."

    But I did explain what I meant by it later on in the post:

    'you hear them "distinguished" phonetically, with your trained ear, which is no doubt an excellent instrument for that purpose! But the distinctions are functionally irrelevant in the language, however relevant they may be in orthoepics or sociolinguistics etc.'

    I was assuming you were a dialect coach, and was trying to say I do understand the relevance of the difference between linguistic functionality and social functionality to you and your clients. And you did understand:

    "But they may not have had any reason to consider it relevant until shortly before they became my clients; or they may simply have lacked awareness of what specific phonetic issues lay behind their need for a dialect coach. All they know is that people don't understand them easily, or that they are losing jobs because of their accent."

    I do have a terrible prolixity problem, you may have observed, and for once I was trying to be concise. What I meant, and what I should have said, was:

    'speakers do have intuitions of functional relevance as well. That is how I think you should interpret the astonishment of the clients who use the kin vowel in king "to learn that they really use a different vowel from that of keen"… that phonetic difference has never before been relevant to them…for the purposes of the real "learning" that learners of languages have to do to be able to communicate at all.'

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  24. My goodness, mallamb, no apology was necessary! But I accept it happily. My thanks were sincere; you helped me understand a point I had never before considered; probably because for me, up until this thread, it had had no functional relevance. :-) If it makes you feel any better, I never use one word where three will do; and I always end up with my foot in my mouth when I try to be concise. (Mind you, I hop around in that position often enough when verbose; see my first post.)

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  25. You'll notice that Penny Eckert's chart (at least the one on her website; her 2008 paper only includes the lowering movement) shows /I/ moving in two directions: the raising/fronting movement correlates with pronunciations that Norma Mendoza-Denton has documented among Chicano English speakers, specifically in the pre-velar-nasal environment, whereas the lowering movement seems to be used more often by Anglo speakers.

    As a speaker of urban Arizona English (which I've argued to be related to California English; Hall-Lew 2005), I have /I/ for `king' and `string' and `finger,' but definitely /i/ for `link' and `think'.

    I'll try to remember to check the Arizonans I interviewed who have pin-pen merger, (those associated with cattle ranching, many connected to the Dust Bowl migration mentioned above), to see if they might have a pattern different from mine, and what it might be.

    -Lauren

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