LINGUIST List 11.707

Wed Mar 29 2000

Disc: Underlying Schwa?

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


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  1. Jorge Guitart, The UR=PF Hypothesis and the parable of Vlet

Message 1: The UR=PF Hypothesis and the parable of Vlet

Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 14:33:38 -0500 (EST)
From: Jorge Guitart <guitartacsu.buffalo.edu>
Subject: The UR=PF Hypothesis and the parable of Vlet

I The UR=PF Hypothesis

Suppose that the underlying form of a word is its phonetic form, as T.
Venneman declares. Let me call the underlying form the 'underlying
representation' (hereafter UR). Let PF stand for the phonetic form, so we
can call Venneman's hypothesis the UR=PF Hypothesis, or UR=PF for short.

If UR=PF is true, it means that in American English (AE)

a) Adam and atom have the same UR; 

b) the URs of Adam and adamic have absolutely NO vowels in
common and neither do the URs of atom and atomic;

c) the grammar of AE does not include a process of shwa formation, for
none is needed (shwa is underlain by shwa): AE users simply learn that the
LAST vowel of both Adam and atom is a swha, and the same for the FIRST
vowel of both adamic and atomic;

d) the grammar of AE does not include a process of intervocalic flapping
of t/d, for none is needed: AE users simply learn that the first
consonant (C1) of Adam is [D] (the flap) and the same for atom; they
also learn that the C1 of adamic is [d] but that of atomic is [t].

e) ordinary AE users [that leaves out clever linguists such
as my dear friend Jim F] never make any mental generalizations such as
'the first vowel of the morphemes adam and atom are pronounced as the same
low front vowel (ae) when they are the only morpheme in the word but are
pronounced as the same mid central vowel (shwa) when another morpheme
follows' or 'the second vowel of the morphemes adam and atom are
pronounced as the same mid central vowel when they are alone and are
pronunced as the same low back vowel when another morpheme follows' or
'the C1 of both adam and atom is D (the AE flap) when they are alone but
if another morpheme follows, then C1 is [t] in atom but
[d] in adam' or 'the way that the morphemes adam and atom are pronounced
in all those words is related to stress', or 'the UR of atom in
atom is identical to the UR of atom in atomic and the UR of adam in Adam
is identical to the UR of adam in adamic and there are principles
specifying how these morphemes and all morphemes are pronounced in
different contexts.'

f) the UR of the first word of the phrase'lemme do it' is different from
the UR of the first word of the phrase 'let 'em do it'. Of course you have 
learned that it is the same word in both cases, but since there is no
flapping process (the word is pronounced [leD] in the second phrase you
simply have in your head a list of all the pronunciations of that word in
the different contexts. (Incidentally there is no process of nasal
assimilation either) Oh, and it is [let] in 'let George do it' :
And so the list includes [let], [lem] and [leD]. Any others? 


II. The parable of Vlet

I have heard a very clever four year old child named Jenny
who is a native speaker of AE and is still illiterate say 'lemme do it'
and '[leD] 'em do it' and '[let] George do it.' Last night
I showed Jenny a picture of a dinosaur and said to her. 'This is Vlet,
rhymes with let". Then she fell asleep. This morning I woke her up and
showed her the same picture and asked her "Who's this? "[vlet]', she
replied. She then said, "[vleD] is a made-up name, isn't it?" 

Assignment: analyze Jenny's phonetic behavior in the light of UR=PF. You
are free to propose alternatives.

Jorge Guitart

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