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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: I am not aware of a name for this rule other than "the-allomorphy".

There is a general pattern in English that many vowels become schwa /ə/ or "uh" in
unstressed position and this is called vowel reduction.

However, I am not sure if "the-allomorphy" is part of that because this is conditioned
by whether the following sound if a vowel or consonant. There is also a question of
whether "the" is "thee" undergoing vowel reductions before consonants or "thuh" with
vowel raising before another vowel or if it's a frozen vowel change.

My intuition says that the underlying form of a "the" has a schwa, but the question
needs more examination.
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 17-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?    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (16-Dec-2012)
  3. Re: Technical Term for a Change of Vowel Sound?    John M. Lawler     (15-Dec-2012)

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