Do you still believe there’s no weak form for couldn’t (as you state in LPD)?To which my answer is yes, I do so believe.
His query arises because he thinks he’s heard people saying kədn̩t for couldn’t.
This is entirely likely. In many English northern- and Midlands-flavoured accents you could reasonably call ə the customary pronunciation of the FOOT vowel (usually merged with STRUT). Even in RP and the south of England, the English FOOT vowel does seem to be getting more central and unrounded, more like ə.
We hear this in all the FOOT words: put, bush, full, butcher, cushion, pudding, bullet, good, wood, cook, look, wool, woman, wolf, bosom…. For the speakers we are thinking of, all these words have ə. And so do could(n’t), would(n’t), and should(n’t).
But the fact that millions of people say (ˈ)ʃəɡə for sugar does not mean that sugar has a weak form, any more than do pudding, cook, or butcher.
What it does mean is that for the handful of FOOT words traditionally described as having a weak form it may be difficult or impossible to detect any difference between the strong form and the weak form. This handful comprises could, should, and would. It means that for these speakers these words have no phonetically distinct weak form: they are always kəd, ʃəd, wəd, no matter whether the phonetic environment calls for a strong form or a weak one.
So if you hear aɪ ˈdənəu ɪf aɪ kəd ˈduː ɪt I don’t know if I could do it it might well be true that the difference between the putative strong and weak forms of could is not detectable.
But if you also hear aɪ ˈdʒəs kədn̩t ˈduː ɪt I just couldn’t do it, you can’t on that basis say that couldn’t, too, has suddenly acquired a weak form (which happens to coincide with its strong form).
We usually speak of weak forms of words only when they are paired with strong forms, the two being phonetically different. Thus we say at has a weak form ət alongside its strong form æt, and we can formulate principles for the use of one or the other.
There is perhaps a parallel in the case of the pronoun it. Most of our pronouns have paired strong and weak forms, thus he hiː — hi, you juː — ju, jə, us ʌs — əs, them ðem — ðəm (and for some speakers also əm ’em). On general grounds you might expect it to undergo weakening in the same way: yet it remains as ɪt. There is no distinct weak form. That is because in RP and similar accents ɪ happens to belong to both the strong and weak vowel systems: KIT coincides phonetically with the vowel in packet, rabbit. So you could say (though I wouldn’t) that it does have a weak form, but that it happens to coincide phonetically with its strong form.
In Australian English, on the other hand, where ɪ does not occur as a weak vowel except in certain restricted phonetic environments, and rabbit is pronounced ˈræbət, it behaves exactly as expected, having ɪt as its strong form and ət as its weak form. Pack it and packet remain homophones.
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I’ve got a busy few days coming up. So the next posting will be on 24 April.