Thursday, 19 November 2009

One ell of a suffix

In the discussion of wholly and holy (blog, 30 October) I didn’t touch on the question of whether wholly is pronounced with one l sound or two (though some commentators did). So let’s do so now.
The general rule in English is that when you form an adverb in -ly from an adjective ending in l you simplify the two l sounds to one. Thus fully is ˈfʊli, partially is ˈpɑː(r)ʃəli. In addition, in an adverb formed from a stem ending in syllabic l the syllabicity is lost, thus simple, simply ˈsɪmpl̩, ˈsɪmpli, gentle, gently ˈdʒentl̩, ˈdʒentli (though there is some hesitation for subtly ˈsʌt(l̩)li). The ending -ically, too, usually has the underlying -ɪkəlli compressed to simple -ɪkli, thus physically ˈfɪzɪkli.
This means that for wholly we would normally expect only a single l sound. Does the fact that some speakers sometimes pronounce a double (geminated) l imply that they are treating this word as an exception, perhaps consciously striving to differentiate it from holy or hole-y? Perhaps it does. On the other hand, when we form a nonce -ly adverb from an adjective that is not usually made into an adverb in that way, double l may be preserved: you can experiment with dully ˈdʌl(l)i, smally ˈsmɔːlli, and futilely BrE ˈfjuːtaɪlli.
With the suffix -less there is no such simplification: guileless is ˈɡaɪlləs, not *ˈɡaɪləs; similarly tailless, soulless.

15 comments:

  1. Magisterial, John!

    Given the (albeit marginal) possibility of ˈsʌtl̩li and perhaps less marginal possibility of ˈsʌtl̩i, which may conceivably both be motivated by orthography, does anyone think that there is ever any similarly motivated difference in behaviour between ˈfɪzɪkl̩i and ˈpʌblɪkli?

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  2. I don't. I don't think there's any difference on the phonemic level between adverbs from -ic and from -ical adjectives, even if of a given pair only one is in use.

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  3. A lot of people glottalize the c in both spellings of the adverbs, and right enough I don't see how any difference could survive that! But they hardly ever come in pairs! And although 'historic' and 'historical' are differentiated, 'historicly' doesn't exist (officially, that is, but even the hits on Google reflect some awareness of this: 124,000 for historicly, 24,100,000 for historically – and that in spite of massively widespread misspelling of –ically adjectives).

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  4. Publicly and publically are both standard, though they are considered a single lexeme without differentiation in meaning. As far as I know, the trisyllabic pronunciation is used even by people who use the latter spelling.

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  5. I don't think you can suggest they're equally standard. No BrE dictionaries seem to recognize 'publically', and even the AmE ones that do seem to varying extents to give it a guarded welcome, for example only giving a sound file for 'publicly'. And the no-holds-barred Wiktionary gives it "fairly rare" (in spite of the "massively widespread misspelling" that goes on). You may be interested in the account of it in Stammtisch Beau Fleuve.

    And if 'publically' is rum, 'physicly' is rummer: I can't find it in any dictionary at all, though astonishingly there are 157,000 Google hits for that (42,300,000 for physically).

    So there would be quite enough scope for "similarly (i.e. orthographically) motivated difference in behaviour between ˈfɪzɪkl̩i and ˈpʌblɪkli"!

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  6. So perhaps we can say that the underlying (or historical) forms actually contain a double /l/, but that this geminate has been simplified in many commonly used words?

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  7. In some Queen song, I heard Freddie Mercury pronouncing "candlelight" with one /l/. It wouldn't have surprised me, and probably I wouldn't even have noticed it, if it were an extremely common word, or a word with non-obvious etymology.

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  8. Another factor tending to preserve the geminated /l/ is that the previous vowel sound is long. In all your examples with single /l/, the previous vowel is short.

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  9. The only word I can think of with an added -ly suffix where I pronounce ll is "solely". And I am petty sure I have [ɫl] --- a Janus Gemini.

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  10. Yep, solely, genteelly, stalely, coolly, vilely all have a double l for me. For some reason (frequency?), really doesn't.

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  11. Richard, yes I think it does tend to preserve the geminated /l/ if the previous vowel sound is long (or a diphthong). But on the 'wholly holy' thread I had already given 'really', along with 'fully', as really fully ungeminatable, and 'cruelly' (which I don't think I ever geminate), along with 'solely' (on which I differ from John M above in not geminating significantly more than I do with 'wholly'!), and even 'palely' and 'vilely' as belonging with 'wholly' to a whole spectrum of geminatability.

    I think what I said there bears repeating:

    As in every other branch of linguistics we are operating with a Procrustean bed: 'really', 'fully' etc. fit the non-geminated one perfectly, but 'solely', 'cruelly', even 'vilely', etc. come in all shapes and sizes of non-gemination.

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  12. I pronounce fully, wholly, and really with degeminated /l/, but shrilly and coolly with geminated /l/. I noticed this when I heard Jim Dale pronouncing them with degeminated /l/ in the Harry Potter audiobooks.

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  13. Thanks for the deep and complete analysis of this topic dear John. I have never heard of wholly pronounced with 2 l's always with one though.

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  14. As reply to literalminded's comment, Jim Dale's pronounciacing is really nice to listen although I haven't listened so much of how many L:s he says! :D

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