Tuesday 29 December 2009
Many of you will have already read about this on Language Log. But you’d’ve read it here first if it weren’t for my self-imposed Christmas blogging break. (Thanks, Amy Stoller, for first bringing it to my attention.)
Steve Kleinedler, supervising editor of the American Heritage Dictionary, has had an IPA vowel chart tattooed across his back. Can there be any greater devotion to the cause of phonetics?
The word tattoo tæˈtuː is phonologically unusual, in that it has a strong short vowel, æ, in what I would consider unequivocally syllable-final position. The second t must be in the second syllable, because it is aspirated just like the one in two ˈtuː. Therefore the preceding æ is syllable-final. But æ, like other short strong vowels, does not normally end a syllable. (The Cambridge EPD syllabicates the word as tæt.ˈuː, in my view wrongly: tattoos does not form an exact rhyme with that ooze.)
You can see why a regularized variant təˈtuː, with a weakened first vowel, should also sometimes be encountered. The mystery is why it remains a minority choice.