LINGUIST List 14.3224

Mon Nov 24 2003

Sum: Vowel/Zero Terms

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Ivan A Derzhanski, Sum: Vowel/Zero Terms

Message 1: Sum: Vowel/Zero Terms

Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2003 21:10:55 +0200
From: Ivan A Derzhanski <>
Subject: Sum: Vowel/Zero Terms

Ten days ago I asked (Linguist 14.3103): "Is there a more or less
commonly accepted term in English for a vowel that alternates with
zero, as the /o/ in Russian _rot_ `mouth', pl. _rty_?"

I thank Lev Blumenfeld, Greville Corbett, Karen Davis, Bruce Despain,
James Fidelholtz, Irene Gates, Irena Gintilas, Robert Hoberman,
Michael Johnstone, Svetoslav Marinov, Ora Matushansky, Kyle Rawlins,
And Rosta, Andrew Spencer, Mike Szelog, Gary Toops, R�my Viredaz,
Jeroen van de Weijer and Moira Yip for replying to my query.

The term `fleeting' was the winner, with 7 votes. The second choice
was `jer' or `yer', with 4 votes and with the caveat that it is only
applicable to Slavic languages (and not to all of those, nor to all
vowel/zero alternations in them), and then only if the audience is
already familiar with the background.

There were 2 votes for `furtive' and for `evanescent' and 1 for each
of the following: `alternating', `epenthetic', `excrescent',
`floating', `fugitive', `ghost', `latent', `reduced', `unstable',
`vanescent'. Some of these are problematic in various ways. For
example, `alternating' doesn't say whether the vowel alternates with
zero or with something else; `ghost' has been used for the inverse (a
segment identified as vocalic or consonantal, but featurally
unspecified, as the French "_h_ aspir�"); `reduced' also has a
dangerous variety of meanings.

One respondent brought up the terms `contraction' and `deletion'. The
term `spook' was suggested, as an alternative to `ghost'. Finally,
R�my Viredaz mentioned the French term `(voyelle) mobile', which puts
the English term `movable' (one I had come across) in proper context.

Ivan A Derzhanski <>;
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