Thursday, 11 November 2010

further study

I have always tried to make sure that the entries in LPD are based on objective observation of usage as well as on my native-speaker intuitions (and, in some cases and to a minor extent, on what other reference books assert). But I too am human, and it is possible that I have sometimes got things wrong.

I am aware, for example, that many people use a laxer, ɪ-like quality when a stem ending in “i” is combined with a consonantal inflectional ending, as in studied, studies. (Personally, I have no such alternation, since like DJ I have phonetic ɪ throughout.) Yet (in my experience) such speakers often maintain, nevertheless, that studied does not thereby become a homophone of studded, even if the latter does not rhyme with (nonrhotic) juddered. So that’s why I allow for a three-way contrast: studied ˈstʌdidstudded ˈstʌdɪdjuddered ˈdʒʌdəd. (There are also people who do rhyme the latter two, and have ˈstʌdid — ˈstʌdəd — ˈdʒʌdəd, while rhotic speakers obviously distinguish juddered from the others. For me personally, on the other hand, studied and studded are homophones.)

If I had introduced an extra symbol , giving study ˈstʌdi, studied ˈstʌdɪd, studded ˈstʌdᵻd, juddered ˈdʒʌdəd, I am sure people would have regarded that as too complicated. There are never four such weak vowels in contrast in the same environment. (Notice, too, how ODP, which does use the symbol , sometimes gets it wrong, as when armistice is transcribed ˈɑːmᵻstɪs instead of the correct ˈɑːmᵻstᵻs, as demonstrated by Australian ˈaːməstəs.)

The same arguments apply, mutatis mutandis, to the -s ending: taxi — taxis, compare taxes, taxers.

I also leave the i transcription unchanged when suffixes such as -ness (shabbiness, holiness) are added. The suffixes which for many speakers — it seems to me — clearly do affect final i by changing it either to ɪ or all the way to ə are those involving the lateral: -ful, -less, -ly. So beautiful has -əf- or more conservatively -ɪf-; merciless likewise; and angrily ends in -əli or -ɪli. This is seen most dramatically when steadily and readily are pronounced with lateral release plus syllabic , for which the rule of syllabic consonant formation requires a schwa input. As I see it, the synchronic phonological derivation of this variant has to be ˈstedili → ˈstedəli → ˈstedl̩i. Likewise penniless → ˈpenl̩əs.

Why do I write -ɪ-, -ə- in polythene but -i- in polytheism? Not because of some general principle, but because it is my impression that people treat them differently. Am I wrong? Similarly with various other supposed “inconsistencies”. Ultimately, every word has its own pronunciation.

Still more on this tomorrow.

23 comments:

  1. Hello, thank you for this very interesting entry. I wonder if you could also comment on tense i / lax I / schwa in initial unstressed syllables? For instance deduce, because, become, repeat (and some other re...) versus cigar and guitar and the like... Thank you. Jonas Podlipsky

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  2. Vaclav, that's exactly what I plan to cover tomorrow.

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  3. The suffixes which for many speakers — it seems to me — clearly do affect final i by changing it either to ɪ or all the way to ə are those involving the lateral: -ful, -less, -ly.

    It seems to me too. Those of us who like you simply stick to ɪ in all these problematic places are fortunate in the amount of neurological processing power we conserve, are we not?

    But what do you mean by "the synchronic phonological derivation of this variant has to be ˈstedili → ˈstedəli → ˈstedl̩I. Likewise penniless → ˈpenl̩əs"? Why do you hypothesize transformational-type rules, neurological or otherwise? Whatever meta-level they operate at, it doesn’t involve me. I never say ˈstedəli, but have ˈstedl̩I in rapid speech as a direct development from (or rather degeneration of) ˈstedɪlɪ, and am as certain as it is possible to be in this uncertain world that for me ˈpenɪlɪs doesn't become ˈpenl̩ɪs, which would be my version of the above ˈpenl̩əs. Do you ever say ˈstedəli? I would not have expected it.

    I'm delighted that you write -ɪ-, -ə- in polythene but -i- in polytheism. I think that you are certainly not wrong in saying that this is not (Note) because of some general principle, but because people treat them differently, and I think they do that because they are more aware of the morphology of the latter than of the former. And not infrequently such phenomena provide evidence that on the contrary that people are more aware of the morphology of a lot of things than they are given credit for in linguistics.

    I did query whether the things I queried were in fact “inconsistencies”, and you have given the good (and kind) answer I said I expected of you, at least for some of them. And I "believe descriptions" in which "every word has its own pronunciation".

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  4. I wonder is there's a case for considering the intrusion of spelling in at least some of these examples - as described here in an earlier post.

    Sometimes when listening to people, I get a feeling that some speakers try to mimic the spelling in studed/studied and taxes/taxies - see the wonderful anecdote on Language Log http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2762.

    But it could be just a personal predilection since as a non-native speaker it took so much of my effort not to mimic the spelling - in fact I took it as a point of personal language development when I started misspelling their/there and than/then.

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  5. mallamb, that was my first reaction, too. Not only might I say ˈstedl̩ɪ "in rapid speech" or otherwise ˈstedɪlɪ while never ˈstedəlɪ, but I think this isn't uncommon.

    I think you can simply come to the final form in two ways, firstly from schwa for people who otherwise wouldn't skip unstressed vowels, and secondly through this skipping, even if you wouldn't have ə for older ɪ, in the same way you'd skip other vowels - just happens to be ɪ in this case. I don't know whether historically, there always was an intermediate step with ə.

    A difference might be in the syllabification of eligible consonnts. Would the first group of speakers go a step further from ˈstedl̩ɪ to ˈstedlɪ? Do (we of) the second group actually go straight to this bisyllabic form?

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  6. "consonnts" - mere typo, not trying to exemplify.

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  7. This guy claims he has happiness with /I/ and merriness with /i:/.

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  8. Lipman,
    But it would be a wonderful exemplification, comparable with the Johannine polythene vs polytheism.

    I hope I made it clear that in my case, and I should have thought John's, I do skip the ɪ, even though I don’t have ə for older ɪ, in the same way I'd skip other vowels. Why do you say you don't know whether historically, there always was an intermediate step with ə? There wasn't in my case, or apparently in yours, and John is hypothesizing the synchronic phonological derivation of this variant ˈstedl̩ɪ.

    I don't think it's at all usual for either group of speakers to go a step further from ˈstedl̩ɪ to ˈstedlɪ, whether directly or indirectly. Certainly it's not as noticeable as ˈset̚lə or ˈseʔlə etc for ˈsetl̩ə, but then perhaps it wouldn't be.

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  9. I don't think it's at all usual for [mallamb] to go a step further from ˈstedl̩ɪ to ˈstedlɪ

    Ah, but then it does make sense to assume an underlying schwa, ie assuming a phonologic equivalence of Cəl and Cl̩ (and similarly for nasals).

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  10. That's the trouble with assuming phonological equivalences are equivalent. Or indeed that anything "underlies" anything. Multi-level approaches have claimed all sorts of equivalences, not least neurophysiological ones, whereas to believe in "believing descriptions" I believe all we need to believe is that, to paraphrase John above, every phonological entity or structure has its own pronunciation, and every semantic entity or structure has its own meaning, at the two equal and opposite levels of articulation at which they are analyzed, and we may remain agnostic about the existence or contents of a black box corresponding to the correspondence between them as long as we can agree what the relata of the relationships between the relationships intersubjectively are.

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  11. I could never say [stEd.l.i] because I have underlying /stEdIli/ and I can only have syllabic consonants following underlying schwa.

    However, I often say [I.tl.i] for "Italy" in rapid speech. I _think_ the [l] unvelarized: it's definitely less velarized than in "little" [lItl]

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  12. If I had introduced an extra symbol ᵻ, giving study ˈstʌdi, studied ˈstʌdɪd, studded ˈstʌdᵻd, juddered ˈdʒʌdəd, I am sure people would have regarded that as too complicated.

    I wouldn't. If you want to see something complicated, go to Wikipedia. They even have a special symbol ɵ for the reduced version of the GOAT vowel (what sane people transcribe as əʊ).
    (OTOH, I agree that having different symbols for study and studied would be silly; it would make no more sense than having different symbols for the dark and clear L.)

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  13. Lipman,
    Ah, but then it does make sense to assume an underlying schwa redux

    In fact it makes so little sense to me that I've started to wonder whether you misread my "I don't think it's at all usual for either group of speakers to go a step further from ˈstedl̩ɪ to ˈstedlɪ, whether directly or indirectly" as "I don't think it's at all UNusual for either group of speakers to go a step further from ˈstedl̩ɪ to ˈstedlɪ, whether directly or indirectly".

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  14. @army1987 Perhaps because, for that guy, merriness is like polytheism, many morphemes, but happiness is like polythene, practically a single morpheme (even though, derivationally, it isn't really so).

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  15. @army1987

    My LPD isn't with me right now, so please correct me if necessary. But I remember the LPD1 giving schwa, not GOAT, for the first syllables of words like "obey".

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  16. I love your blog!
    Thanks a lot for keeping it updated..

    I'm going to attend an exam within these two months... and that exam includes Phonetics too..I haven't been studying since some time now and seem to have forgotten some very important lessons. your blog helps me revise them :)

    Thanks again :)

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  17. @vp: The ʊ in my post above is in italics, in case your font screwed it up. (I don't have any edition of the LDP nor does my library, but on the sample page of LDP3 @U is used for the second syllable of Adonai

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  18. @ army1987: There are different symbols for the dark l and clear l.

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  19. @army1987:

    OK: I have checked in LPD1. "Obey" has schwa as first choice and GOAT as second choice for BrE. AmE has these preferences reversed.

    This does cast a little bit of doubt on your claim that "sane people" would transcribe this vowel with GOAT :) Maybe a diaphonemic symbol such as /ɵ/ would simplify things, along the lines of the /i/ for happY.

    (One could also have a convention that the pretonic unstressed GOAT vowel may always be optionally realized as schwa, but it's possible that such a convention would have to make exceptions).

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  20. I've started to wonder whether you misread my "I don't think it's at all usual for either group of speakers to go a step further from ˈstedl̩ɪ to ˈstedlɪ, whether directly or indirectly" as "[…] UNusual […]"

    No. The idea was: if it is a "straight" elision of a vowel other than schwa, why would the following consonant be syllabic, which is typically a variant of schwa plus non-syllabic consonant?

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  21. Lipman,
    The idea was: if it is a "straight" elision of a vowel other than schwa, why would the following consonant be syllabic, which is typically a variant of schwa plus non-syllabic consonant?

    Yes, but only typically. And I didn't use such a technical term as "elision" and therefore if your "straight" elision is a reference to my talk of a "direct" derivation of ˈstedl̩ɪ from ˈstedɪlɪ, I am at fault for going along with your word "skip". That implies no compensatory lengthening, which is what I think the "syllabicity" of the l really is. And not merely that, but a merging of the ɪ into the laterally exploded sequence. For me the l has a distinct ɪ resonance. It is much clearer in 'muddily' than 'cuddly' which do not rhyme for me at all. And not only l. For example for 'participle', of which JW says "I give it initial stress and say ˈpɑːt(ɪ)sɪpl" ("irritating hamburgers", 29 September 2009), I also have ˈpɑːtɪsɪpl, or ˈpɑːtsɪpl, and I find I have compensatory lengthening and a distinct ɪ resonance of the s in the latter Even if 'steadily', 'muddily', 'participle', or anything else, is pronounced without obvious merging like that, you know how difficult it is to delimit the segments in spectrograms and things, never mind neurophysiological processes. Phonemic analysis is an extremely sophisticated abstraction.

    And only "typically" because of the accidental gaps in phonology and morphology. There is nowhere near as much pabulum for a similar "rule" for ɪ plus non-syllabic consonant. But look! I've found such a "rule": for me at any rate preceding r makes it much more likely, or at least a darker resonance of the apparently (though quite legitimately transcribable as [l̩]) syllabic consonant more likely. Thus ˈeərɪlɪ for 'airily' may become ˈeərl̩ɪ, ˈdevɪlɪʃ for 'devilish' may become ˈdevl̩ɪʃ, and ˈperɪləs for 'perilous' may become ˈperl̩əs. (I wouldn't count 'devil' [ˈdevl̩] or 'peril' [perl̩] since I never say ˈdevɪl or ˈperɪl. I only sing them, but that's enough justification for their being in LPD, like a lot of similarly marginal cases. I suppose I might even sing ˈdevɪld ˈkɪdnɪz if the occasion arose.) But it's all so subject to John's Law above: "Ultimately, every word has its own pronunciation." And for every speaker. For 'pencil' and 'stencil' I have ˈpensl, ˈstensl, and obviously ˈpensld, ˈstensld, but ˈpensɪlɪŋ/ˈpensl̩ɪŋ and ˈstensɪlɪŋ/ˈstensl̩ɪŋ. But for the more recherché 'cavil' I have ˈkævɪl, though for 'cavilling' I cannot detect any difference from my treatment of 'pencilling' and 'stencilling'.

    Why do you feel the need to look for rigour in such speculative "rules"? I wish you would give some thought to my post about this in the spirit of John's "Ultimately, every word has its own pronunciation".

    I appreciated techczech's link, but would not accept that I am delusional, like the claimants for the distinction between 'meat' and 'meet' in Crystal's anecdote. It's pointless to ignore the influence of spelling and familiarity with lexical items, and the way it gives rise to potential distinctions like those between 'bitten' and 'bittern', 'seven' and 'Severn', even for non-rhotics like me. I do not deny that if I were a birdwatcher I would probably say bɪtn for 'bittern' as I say pætn for both ˈpattern' and 'patten', though I am not at all unlikely to say ˈpætən for 'pattern'.

    Perhaps I try to be too thought-provoking. Let me know if you don't want your thought provoked.

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  22. By 'I wish you would give some thought to my post about this in the spirit of John's "Ultimately, every word has its own pronunciation"' I meant 'I wish you would give some thought to my above post of 11 November 2010 14:56 about this in the spirit of John's "Ultimately, every word has its own pronunciation".

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  23. This does cast a little bit of doubt on your claim that "sane people" would transcribe this vowel with GOAT :)
    I didn't say that. The U in that post was italicized.

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