Thursday, 3 June 2010
The tragic news of the Cumbria shootings introduced me to a place name I hadn’t previously come across. The gunman lived in the village of Rowrah ˈraʊrə.
This name is not in any of my reference books. It joins cowrie, along with Maori and perhaps for some Nauru, as an example of the possible sequence -aʊr- within a morpheme. I say ‘possible’ sequence, because I at least feel a very strong pressure to insert a schwa before the r and then smooth the result, giving ˈra(ʊ)ərə, ˈka(ʊ)əri.
This is because of the rareness or impossibility of having any of the stressed long vowels / diphthongs that end in or tend towards the close front or back areas immediately before r within the same morpheme. (The items I’m referring to are iː eɪ aɪ ɔɪ uː əʊ aʊ, i.e. FLEECE FACE PRICE CHOICE GOOSE GOAT MOUTH.)
For example, the only instances of -iːr- in RP and similar accents are cases such as key-ring, where a morpheme boundary intervenes. Otherwise, anything that would historically have had -iːr- (and still does in some accents) has -ɪər- instead, as in period ˈpɪəriəd and weary ˈwɪəri. (Obviously, in accents like south Walian, and for that matter Cumbrian, this historical development failed, so they still have the long monophthong.)
Similarly, what would otherwise have been -eɪr- has turned into -eər-, as in Mary, various. What would otherwise have been -uːr- yielded -ʊər- (fury, mural), and what would otherwise have been -əʊr- yields -ɔːr- (glory, moron). So far, so categorical.
When we come to the wide diphthongs, there seems to be more variability. In words like spiral and virus some speakers have ˈspaɪrəl, ˈvaɪrəs. Not me: I have to use aɪə here, or its smoothed reduction, thus ˈspa(ɪ)ərəl, ˈva(ɪ)ərəs.
Which is where we get back to cowrie and Rowrah.