The Guardian has a regular rubric in its Corrections and Clarifications column, Homophone Corner. Yesterday’s read as follows.This led me to wonder what proportion of NSs have illicit (illegal) and elicit (evoke) as categorical homophones. Most of us, for sure. But are there some who make the vowel of elicit tenser than that of illicit? And do they do this variably or categorically?
I ask because this is relevant to the notation appropriate for the Latin prefix e- in English words. As you will be aware, for the third edition of LPD I simplified the notation for the unstressed prefixes be-, de-, pre-, re-, deciding to use the happY vowel i rather than enumerating mainstream ɪ plus variant iː. (In any case we still need the further variant with ə.) I really wasn’t sure whether to include the e- words in this, but eventually decided to.
Even that decision left marginal cases that were difficult to decide, and for which I may with hindsight have made the wrong decision. Elect? Event? Eleven? Of course, the decision for each particular word must depend not on etymology but on whether there appear to be people who use the tenser vowel — hence the inclusion of eleven, which does certainly not contain Latin e-.
It also means that the main pronunciation given for elicit, iˈlɪsɪt, looks different from that for its putative homophone illicit, ɪˈlɪsɪt, which clearly has no tense-vowel variant. (Compare the main prons for descent diˈsent and dissent dɪˈsent, which likewise are homophones for most speakers but I think not all.)
For previous discussion of the general issue, see my blog for 29 Jan 2007.