LINGUIST List 11.563

Tue Mar 14 2000

Disc: Underlying Schwa?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Jorge Guitart, Re: 11.511, Disc: Underlying Shwa?
  2. Douglas G. Wilson, Re: 11.553, Disc: Underlying Schwa?
  3. kdcaldw, Re: 11.542, Disc: Underlying Schwa?

Message 1: Re: 11.511, Disc: Underlying Shwa?

Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 14:03:36 -0500 (EST)
From: Jorge Guitart <>
Subject: Re: 11.511, Disc: Underlying Shwa?

James Fidelholtz wrote: 
> Going back to Jorge's original query:
> >1. Given that shwa appears predictably in weakly stressed syllables in
> >AE, is there a ***class*** of vowels that are pronounced shwa under
> >weak stress,
> Yes. ALL vowels (see below) [Oh, well, SOME nonlow front V reduce to
> 'barred-i' instead of shwa, generally due to environmental factors (eg
> j_kt, [in 'object'] ie palatals)]
> >2. [snip] Is it the case, then, that swha alternates only with vowels
> >other than front nonlow or are there cases of alternation between front
> >nonlow and shwa?
> Well, we have the following examples:
> lEmur, lmyUrin
> salIva, salvAt
> VEns, Vn(j)Uzin
> judgmnt, judgm_e_ntl (also barred-i in judgment)
> The only vowel I don't know any shwa alternations for is [oy] (see
> Fidelholtz w/ Browne ca. 1974 (Gtown paper 'Oy, oy, oy' in volume edited
> by Shuy & Bailey); compare, however, 'destroy/destr_u_ction' By the
> way, see Fidelholtz 1976, pp. 200-213 in the CLS vol. 10, for a fairly
> thorough treatment of VR in English.
> >2. Are there underlying shwas? Calculus, ...[snip]. Is there a
> >pronunciation of calcul- that would show that the underlying
> >vowel is other than shwa?
> Yes, all of the above. The only source (not quite, but after
> any other C) for [j] is in certain environments before lax [u] (when it
> gets tensed, basically before CV, with a few more details covered in
> Fidelholtz 1967 (_MITRLEQPR_, I forget which number right now).
> And what about nonalternating shwas? You'd have to torture me
> to get me to admit that they're underlying. If pushed, I'd derive them
> from an unspecified vowel, which, being unstressed, simply reduces.
> OK, the facts, as always, get a little messy around the edges, but it
> seems to me that the general situation is quite clear: unstressed vowels
> reduce to shwa (or one of its contextual variants, depending on the
> dialect, etc.), except for:
> 	'frequent' words if the vowel is before two consonants and a
> stressed vowel and in the first syllable of the word (this is actually
> somewhat more complicated); frequency or rarity has no effect in
> unstressed syllables surrounded by stressed ones: all vowels reduce
> always (cf. 'sal_i_vate', where sal_I_va shows the vowel is underlyingly
> tense, and 'comp_e_nsate').
> 	Jim

Jorge Guitart comments:

I find Dr. Fidelholtz's answers to my original questions totally
convincing. Therefore I am dropping the subject.
Thanks to all who wrote.

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Message 2: Re: 11.553, Disc: Underlying Schwa?

Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 01:15:45 -0500
From: Douglas G. Wilson <>
Subject: Re: 11.553, Disc: Underlying Schwa?

The LINGUIST Network wrote:

> ...

> Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2000 19:13:52 +0800
> From: <>
> Subject: different kinds of schwa ?
> a) Two different kinds of schwa ?
> In my very native style of American English I fail to find this
> division into two different kinds of unstressed vowels Jorge
> mentions. For example, in "pallet" and "ballot" I pronounce everything
> the same except for the initial consonant (I would transcribe as /
> pal't, bal't /. Is it a mere coincidence that, as far as I know,
> every case of this supposed high-front unstressed vowel corresponds to
> a syllable where the vowel is SPELLED with " i " or " e " ?

I think only some speakers make the distinction, and in only some words. It is
difficult/impossible to remove the influence of orthography from the speech of a
literate person. In my 'standard American' speech, there is little or no
distinction between the 'two schwas' ('pallet' rhymes with 'ballot' pretty well).
My Random House dictionary differentiates 'carat' [kart] from 'caret' [karIt], but
I think hardly any speaker does (if he can even remember which is which!). The
dictionary's pronunciations do not exactly parallel the spellings, however -- for
example, '-age' is given as [-ij] (or [-IdZ]) in such words as 'adage', 'message',

- Doug Wilson
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Message 3: Re: 11.542, Disc: Underlying Schwa?

Date: Mon, 13 Mar 2000 21:06:04 -0500 (EST)
From: kdcaldw <>
Subject: Re: 11.542, Disc: Underlying Schwa?

I don't claim to have any great insight into this, and I'll admit that a lot of the 
discussion is over my head (I subscribe to this list mostly out of curiosity and to 
learn a few things), but I thought perhaps I could contribute a few examples and 
let others discuss them as to how they relate to the topic at hand:

calumny - calumnious
Malthus - Malthusian
autumn - autumnal
ridiculous - ridicule
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