Wednesday, 2 December 2009

chicken

Sometimes the comments on this blog get sidetracked into topics that have nothing to do with the subject of the blog posting to which they are appended. So it was on 28 November, when David Marjanović was surprised “that anyone would seriously say anything other than [ˈt͡ʃɪkŋ̩]” for chicken.

As others sprang to point out, ˈtʃɪkɪn is in fact very common, indeed more than just common. It was the only form given in EPD when that dictionary was still edited by Jones, and indeed also under Gimson’s and then Ramsaran’s editorship. Only rather recently (since LPD came out, dare I venture?) have people started to recognize (for “BrE”, i.e. RP etc) the alternative possibility of ˈtʃɪkən, ˈtʃɪkn, ˈtʃɪkŋ. And I would guess that ˈtʃɪkɪn is still overwhelmingly the usual pronunciation for those who maintain the contrast of weak vowels in this position, ɪn vs. ən (the latter being also transformable into syllabic n and from there by progressive assimilation into syllabic ŋ).
For me the mystery is not so much the fact that the weak vowel in chicken is usually ɪ as the fact that the same is NOT true of thicken, stricken, quicken, sicken. They all have ə. I would guess that for most BrE speakers chicken ˈtʃɪkɪn does not rhyme with thicken ˈθɪkən, and I have no idea why that should be the case. Given the identical spelling and the similar morphology (a fairly transparent -en suffix), you would expect them to have the same vowels.
I can’t find anything relevant in Carney’s Survey of English Spelling (Routledge, 1994).
Here’s the OED.

24 comments:

  1. What about:

    Austen, Biffen (and various other proper names), and more interestingly:

    gluten, kitchen, lichen, linen, marten, pigeon, pollen, siren, warren, women?

    Words ending in -ain, such as mountain also have a similar pronunciation pattern.

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  2. And never forget:

    http://www.newfunnypictures.net/r-animals-1-eat-more-chicken-41.htm

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  3. I don't have access to the OED, so I can't check all the historic forms. However, the CED claims it's related to Old Norse kjúklingr, so I'm wondering whether there's any chance the -en has had -ing as a side form. In other words, the pronunciation suggests it could be a merger of "chicken" and "chicking". Anyway, this is pure conjecture.

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  4. I'm sure I say [ˈtʃɪʔŋ suːp], at least sometimes.

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  5. I actually thought ˈtʃɪkən was the older form, because I can remember, as a child, being corrected by a teacher for saying ˈtʃɪkɪn and told it should be ə.

    I kept on saying ˈtʃɪkɪn, and still do, though being an annoying child I deliberately overcorrected it to ˈtʃɪkʌŋ for the benefit of that teacher.

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  6. Levente,

    For me --

    [ə] gluten, pollen, siren ,warren
    [ɪ] kitchen, lichen, linen, marten, pigeon, women

    And what about -eign words? e.g. foreign, sovereign ([ɪ] for me)

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  7. John / Levente --

    For me :

    [schwa] gluten, pollen, siren, warren (all as John), + lichen + foreign

    [SIT-vowel] kitchen, linen, marten, pigeon (but not wigeon), sovereign

    I think that "pigeon" is borderline; it probably comes out with the SIT vowel in casual speach, but if I ever need to use it in the same context as "pidgin", I would almost certainly use schwa for the former and the SIT vowel for the latter,
    just as I would not normally differentiate between gorilla and guerilla unless the two were being used in the same context.

    Sorry for the lack of IPA; my browser is conspiring against me on this site.

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  8. Seems to me a bit of an odd batch from Levente.
    But for me --

    [ə] gluten, pollen, siren ,warren, pigeon, lichen [laɪkənz]
    [ɪ] kitchen, linen, marten, women

    Presumably it's the pronunciation lɪʧɪn that’s intended here, but I haven’t used that since childhood, when I remember being astonied to discover that these things I had only ever seen in print were laɪkənz. I see lɪʧɪn is still unknown to most dictionaries.

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  9. ə - gluten, pollen, siren, warren, pigeon, lichen, kitchen, chicken, mountain

    ɪ - linen, marten, women, foreign, sovereign, Austen

    I've no idea what to make of that.

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  10. All I wanted to point out is that there are many words ending in -en which have an (alternative) pronunciation with the KIT vowel among those who use that vowel in wholly unstressed syllables, some of them (kitchen, lichen) being very similar to chicken. So chicken is not so singular after all.

    And the pronunciation of words ending in -ain or -ein also points to the fact that the KIT vowel is still used in zero-stressed endings in some varieties of English.

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  11. I just wanted to mention that for me, a Californian AmE speaker, all of the words you listed most certainly rhyme with chicken and have the ɪ vowel.

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  12. The OED etymology for whatever it is worth

    OE. cicen, pl. cicenu. In the same sense Du has kieken, kuiken, MDu kieken (kiekijn), kûken, MLG and LG küken, MHG küchen; whence NHG küchlein; also ON kjúklingr (Sw kjukling, Da kylling). The relations between these words are not clear; some think that OE cicen represents an earlier *cíecen, going back, with Du kieken, to a Proto-Gmc *kiukīnom, a dim. of *kiuk- (cf. the ON), an ablaut-form of *kuk-, whence cock.

    But an OE cíecen ought to have given in ME chīchen; and the non-palatalization of the second c could be accounted for only by an OE contraction *ciecnes, *ciecnu, etc. at a date anterior to that of palatalization. But in all the OE and early ME examples the word remains full and uncontracted.

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  13. Most mysterious.

    Levente, thanks for the funny picture, but you still don’t say you did intend lɪʧɪn/lɪʧən rather than laɪkən, which incidentally cannot I think be laɪkɪn.

    I don’t think anyone but David Marjanović ever though chicken was singular! But if it's any consolation to him or anyone else (but sadly it can't be to my comic Irishman of http://phonetic-blog.blogspot.com/2009/11/heavnly-scansion.html?showComment=1259577992289#c3499550723037382123, as he is no longer with us), OED has chekon 1399 and chykon c1460, thus adding to the mystery of the etymology.

    And right enough I have ɪn for -ain -ein -eign etc. but then I have ɪ just about everywhere it's possible to have it in RP.

    Shannon on the other hand as a Californian AmE speaker has it just about everywhere it's possible to have it at all. Hence the hɛvɪn I also referred to under heav'nly scansion.

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  14. I was referring to lɪʧɪn.

    "I don’t think anyone but David Marjanović ever though chicken was singular!"

    Except for Professor Wells himself in the post we're commenting on. My original comment (or rather, question) was intended for him.

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  15. – I was referring to lɪʧɪn.

    Well as I said I had gathered from your list that that was your own pronunciation, and I did not think laɪkɪn was possible for laɪkən. But others have indicated here that they say lɪʧən for that. I asked whether you did intend lɪʧɪn/lɪʧən because those are the options for the lɪʧɪn you did intend.

    – "I don’t think anyone but David Marjanović ever though chicken was singular!"

    – Except for Professor Wells himself in the post we're commenting on.

    You’ve really lost me here. He only thought the -ɪn was singular with respect to the verbs he mentions. And the people he refers to "who maintain the contrast of weak vowels in this position, ɪn vs. ən" maintain that contrast all over the place, in a way which makes chicken singularly unsingular, as you yourself have demonstrated with your examples! You also give examples of proper names, and one of the various other proper names you refer to would be Picken, which I have only ever heard pronounced pɪkɪn, in case you think there is something singular about the -icken.

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  16. Professor Wells said:

    "For me the mystery is not so much the fact that the weak vowel in chicken is usually ɪ as the fact that the same is NOT true of thicken, stricken, quicken, sicken. They all have ə. I would guess that for most BrE speakers chicken ˈtʃɪkɪn does not rhyme with thicken ˈθɪkən, and I have no idea why that should be the case. Given the identical spelling and the similar morphology (a fairly transparent -en suffix), you would expect them to have the same vowels."

    What I wanted to demonstrate with my list (as you recognized), is that the words in question with "identical spelling and [...] similar morphology" have indeed got "the same vowels."

    Chicken, kitchen, lichen, Picken have similar pronunciation variants.

    The fact that verbs like thicken are pronounced differently is not in my opinion a "mistery" at all. The morphology of thick+en, strick+en, quick+en, sick+en with a completely transparent verbal suffix is not even comparable to that of chicken, in which the -en part is as far as I am able to judge completely obscured. And of course chicken, like all of the other words I mentioned, is a noun, and not a verb.

    It may be the case that my intuition in linguistic matters is not adequate, but I do not think that the pronunciation difference between chicken and thicken demands any explanation at all.

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  17. Yes and no. That the words may be grouped, once you accept the difference between words, is one thing, but why the pronunciation is [ɪn] or [ən] for a word or a group of words in the first place hasn't been answered here yet.

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  18. I get the impression that -ɪn does tend to yield to –(ə)n, for what that’s worth, in spite of aberrations like the above-mentioned chekon and chykon. My grandmother said sɜːtɪn and I say sɜːtn, and, I'm afraid, sɜːtən, which seems to further erode my claim to have a functioning distinction between bitten and bittern etc., but it could be precisely because sɜːtɪn is still exerting an influence: I still insist I wouldn’t say bɪtən. But I'm getting weary of this, aren't you? It may be the vowel length: I say both Merton and Mert'n. The only thing stunning enough to be worth adding is that I now see OED still has sɜːtɪn, and even puts it before sɜːt(ə)n. But what does it know?

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  19. I have just been rambling about the following:

    – I still insist I wouldn’t say bɪtən.
    For bitten, that is.

    – It may be the vowel length: I say both Merton and Mert'n.

    Nah. The obvious comparison was with curtain, and I would only have kɜːtn for that, except under the sort of highly marked conditions I mentioned for ˈsɛvən when I first claimed to make a consistent distinction between seven and Severn and the rest on the heav'nly scansion thread.

    And lo! OED has ˈkɜːtɪn, -t(ə)n again.

    It may be that the ˈmɜːtən variant exists because Merton is a proper name: I would have the corresponding variants for Girton and Burton.

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  20. For me (20-something Brit):

    [ə] chicken, gluten, pigeon (differentiated from "pidgin"), pollen, siren, warren, (lichen -- but it's /laɪkən/ for me and I'd always assumed /lɪʧɪn/ or /lɪʧən/ to be a rare misreading of an unfamiliar word)
    context-dependent [ə] or [ɪ] linen
    [ɪ] Austen, kitchen, marten, women

    Maybe that's evidence of degeneration towards schwas, or maybe not.

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  21. As a child (who knew no better, and who had simply read the word), I thought [lɪʧən]; when I grew up, and acquired some knowledge of science, I said [laɪkən]; but now, when I hear David Attenborough say [lɪʧən], I really no longer know which is to be preferred.

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  22. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether David Attenborough adopted that pronunciation because he judged that the spelling-pronunciation was so far advanced that if he said laɪkən no one would know what he was talking about?

    Yet the dictionaries all seem to have laɪkən (also Br lɪʧɪn, lɪʧən) etc. But it’s the N Am speakers who mostly go in for spelling-pronunciations, and you would think the BBC would have an eye to world sales for these series.

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  23. David Marjanović30 December 2009 at 00:32

    Belated thanks, I have learned a lot.

    Of course I knew about the /ɪ/ in women, because we were explicitly taught the pronunciation of this highly irregularly spelled word, and I also expected it in pidgin simply based on the spelling, but I had no idea how complex this issue is.

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  24. I looked up the word on my dictionary and I found ˈtʃɪkən and I think that pronunciation is very common, I asked some friends to normally saying chicken and I think I heard ˈtʃɪkən or ˈtʃɪkəŋ

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