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|Subject:||Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?|
I'm having a hard time identifying the technical term for the change to
the sounding of the ''e'' vowel in the English definite article ''the'' when
the next word begins with a vowel.
When the next word begins with a consonant, people in my area
typically sound the definite article as ''thuh.'' When the next word
begins with a vowel, they typically sound it as ''thee.''
In linguistics, what is the technical term for that change?
Yardley, Pennsylvania, USA
Well, the name for the phenomenon of having different forms of a word in different
phonological contexts (like before a vowel or a consonant) is <b>allomorphy</b>.
We say there are two <b>allomorphs</b> of the definite article:
&unsp; /ðə/ (before consonants)
&unsp; /ði/ (before vowels).
Interestingly, there are also two allomorphs of the indefinite article:
&unsp; /ə/ (before consonants)
&unsp; /ən/ (before vowels).
Everybody knows this last one because <i>a</i> and <i>an</i> are spelled different.
But <i>the</i> and <i>the</i> aren't spelled different, so this allomorphy in the
definite article often comes as a shock to English speakers.
Notice I didn't say that the the letter "E" was pronounced one way or the other. Writing
is not language; spoken language is language. Writing is just one way we record
speech, and English spelling does not do a good job of recording Modern English.
So don't expect any consistency from it. It's better to think of English words as spoken,
and their spelling as just being a funny heiroglyphic system with no relation to
pronunciation, except occasionally, by accident.
|Reply From:||John M. Lawler click here to access email|