Before we start on the promised discussion of iə and related topics, let’s have a bit of history.
In 1954 Daniel Jones published an interesting article entitled “Falling and Rising Diphthongs in Southern English” in Miscellanea Phonetica ii: 1-12 (issued with Le Maître Phonétique).
The article starts with a general discussion about two types of diphthong, ‘falling’ (with decreasing sonority) and ‘rising’ (with increasing sonority), distinguishing both types from simple sequences of two vowels.
The ‘common’ English diphthongs ei, ou, ai, au, ɔi, he says, (i.e. the FACE, GOAT, PRICE, MOUTH and CHOICE vowels, which we nowadays write eɪ, əʊ, aɪ, aʊ, ɔɪ), are all ‘falling’. ‘Rising’ diphthongs are ‘uncommon’, but as an example of one he adduces the ĕo of Tswana.
He then discusses ‘the vowel elements of words like ruin, bluish’. There may, he claims, be either a succession of two short vowels (ˈru-in, in today’s notation ˈrʊ.ɪn) or a falling diphthong (ruĭn, = rʊɪ̯n); as a third possibility there may be a long vowel plus a short one (ˈruːin, = ˈruːɪn).
In unstressed positions, on the other hand, as in valuing, the possibilities are again a succession of two distinct vowels or a diphthong; but this diphthong is ‘generally a rising one, ŭi’. Furthermore, ‘in many such words there is an alternative pronunciation with wi as well as u-i. Thus valuing may be any of ˈvælju-iŋ, ˈvæljŭiŋ, ˈvæljwiŋ (= today’s ˈvæljʊ.ɪŋ, ˈvæljʊ̯ɪŋ, ˈvæljwɪŋ). Although it may be difficult to distinguish between these possibilities, ‘the distinctions are possible, at least in theory, and are probably felt subjectively by the speaker in slow utterance’.
Applying this approach to words that can have the falling diphthong iə, he distinguishes two classes: those that have alternative pronunciations with i-ə, such as idea, theatre, theory, museum, Ian, and those that do not, such as clear, fierce, nearly, hearing [i.e. distinguishing the varisyllabic first group and the non-varisyllabic second group]. A possible minimal pair for some speakers (though not for most) would be rhea and rear. [Today I would use as an example the more familiar Korea vs career.]
Words with the rising diphthong, such as hideous, easier, luckier, colloquial, theoretical, should be compared with those having a secondarily-stressed, falling diphthong, such as reindeer, Bluebeard, wheatear, realistic. With reindeer (falling diphthong) we can compare windier (rising diphthong or sequence of two separate vowels).
The rising-diphthong words “are sometimes said with two syllables and sometimes with one [, which] is shown by their variable treatment in verse, where the metre sometimes requires two syllables though more often, it would seem, one.” Jones adduces two lines from Hamlet, in one of which the word audience requires disyllabic pronunciation, and in the other trisyllabic.
Have of your audience been most free and bounteous
[I like to quote the British national anthem, in which -ious has to be disyllabic in happy and glorious, and compare it with the hymn Glorious things of thee are spoken, in which it has to be monosyllabic. See blog, 16-17 January 2007.]
And call the noblest to the audience,
Jones then applies a similar analysis to the uə-type sounds in fewer, renewal; tour, poor, skewer; contour, tenure, uranium, neurotic; influence, valuable, statuary, puerility, and again finds in Shakespeare lines in which virtuous must sometimes have two syllables, sometimes three.
He finishes by considering further possible rising diphthongs in words such as narrower, follower, coalesce; shadowy, yellowish, coefficient; forayer; essayist, archaism.
In the eleventh edition of his EPD (1956) Jones introduced two new symbols, for the rising diphthongs in happier (ĭə, corresponding to LPD’s i‿ə) and influence (ŭə, corresponding to LPD’s u‿ə). When Gimson took over as editor, he abandoned them.
In LPD I followed Jones in recognizing the various RP possibilities for these words. So I show museum , for example, as mju ˈziː‿əm, while fierce is just fɪəs. In mju ˈziː‿əm the italicization of the length mark shows that the first vowel may be short rather than long, while the compression mark indicates that between z and m we may have either a sequence of two separate vowels or else a falling diphthong, so that the word as a whole may consist of either three or two syllables.
Inspired by Jones’s pair reindeer — windier, another phonetician (I think it was Bjørn Stålharne Andrésen, but I can’t lay my hands on the reference, so this is from memory) performed a listening experiment in which he got speakers to imagine that as well as reindeer and roedeer we also have a kind of deer called a windeer; he asked them to pronounce in suitable carrier sentences the words windeer (kind of deer, with its falling diphthong in the second syllable) and windier (more windy, with its putative rising diphthong), and then played the results to listeners who were asked to decide which of the two words had been said. They proved unable to do this with better than random success. So the distinction between NEAR (my ɪə) and happY plus schwa (my i‿ə) may indeed be ‘felt subjectively by the speaker in slow utterance’, but the hearer cannot reliably detect it.
(to be continued on Monday)