1. English, as we know, has contrastive phonemes iː and ɪ, as in the minimal pair green ɡriːn vs. grin ɡrɪn. At the end of words like happy speakers of traditional RP, as represented by Daniel Jones (and for that matter by me) have a vowel that is clearly to be identified with the ɪ of grin, so ˈhæpɪ.
However many other accents, including what you might call today’s neo-RP, have a tenser vowel that speakers identify instead with their iː. We might transcribe happy in this newly respectable pronunciation as ˈhæpiː.
In 1978, for the first edition of LDOCE (JWL will correct me if I am wrong), its then pronunciation editor Gordon Walsh introduced the additional symbol i, to cover such cases where the contrast between iː and ɪ was irrelevant. He transcribed happy as ˈhæpi.
This notational innovation was widely welcomed and has since been adopted by most phoneticians dealing with English. EFL students were advised that in these cases they could use whichever they preferred, iː or ɪ. For the very many EFL learners in whose L1 there was no such contrast, this meant they could just use their undifferentiated native-language i. (In stressed syllables, of course, the contrast remains important and should be learnt.)
This convention saves space. It means that we do not need to give two separate pronunciations for the thousands of words involved: instead of
happy ˈhæpɪ, ˈhæpiː
valley ˈvælɪ, ˈvæliː
2. In the first two editions of LPD, most words with the one of prefixes be-, de-, pre-, re-, in cases where the prefix is not stressed and not used productively, were shown with a main pron involving ɪ and variant prons with ə and iː, the last of these being marked with a symbol to show that it was non-RP. The entry for believe looked like this:
No one has ever raised any queries about the inclusion of the iː variants.
As adumbrated in my blog of 29 Jan 2007, I decided for the third edition to save space by abbreviating the entries for these prefixes in the same way as I already had for the -y ending. So the entry for believe became
The logic is the same as with happy. It is an abbreviatory notational convention. I am surprised, therefore, when people say they find it ‘counterintuitive’. (Is it relevant to mention the common txtng spelling b4 for ‘before’?)
You could say that for my own speech I find it counterintuitive to write happy with anything other than ɪ. But I am happy (!) to go along with the i notation, given that so many people have a tenser vowel. By adapting the notation we make it more inclusive.
There is a lot more that could be said about the happY vowel. Whole articles (JWL, Susan Ramsaran) have been written about it. Likewise, there is plenty to say about its extension to the be-, de- etc prefixes. Here are some quick points.
- Quite often, particularly in rapid speech, the quality of the happY vowel is indeterminate as between iː and ɪ. Or the quality used may be intermediate between the two canonical qualities. Using a special symbol arguably helps to draw attention to this good news for the EFL learner.
- Some speakers have a lax quality finally but a tense quality prevocalically, thus ˈhæpɪ but ˈhæpiːə. We certainly don’t want to burden the EFL learner with this sort of irrelevant detail. We avoid it by agreeing to write ˈhæpi, ˈhæpiə.
- I think there is a good case for saying that English has not just one vowel system, but two: a ‘strong’ system and a ‘weak’ system. Like ə, the happY vowel i is part of the weak system. (Notice how the strong aɪ of variety alternates lexically with weak i in vary.) Trubetzkoy would have spoken of the iː ~ ɪ archiphoneme, reflecting a vowel neutralization in weak positions. Unfortunately, polysystemic phonology is something non-specialists find it difficult to get their heads round.
Lastly, you might like to know that the conversion for the third edition was done automatically from the existing files of the second edition using an algorithm devised for me by a programmer. I checked the results, of course, but this may have led to certain inconsistencies. But it is not an inconsistency that various words that lacked an iː variant in the second edition have ɪ rather than i in the third.