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Subject: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?
Question: 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.''

Thuh book
Thee essay
Thuh camel
Thee aardvark

In linguistics, what is the technical term for that change?

Thank you,
Paul Schlicher
Yardley, Pennsylvania, USA

Reply: The alternative ways of pronouncing "the" are universal in English, I believe, not just one local area. The only mildly-technical term I can think of for it is "vowel reduction", implying that the pronunciation as "thee" is basic in some sense, and the shorter and more central pronunciation before a consonant is derived from that.

Geoffrey Sampson
Reply From: Geoffrey Richard Sampson      click here to access email
Date: 16-Dec-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    Marilyn N Silva     (15-Dec-2012)
  2. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (17-Dec-2012)
  3. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    John M. Lawler     (15-Dec-2012)

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