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Summary Details

Query:   English pretonic syncope
Author:  Katalin Balogne Berces
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonetics

Summary:   Dear Linguists, A few weeks ago I posted a query about schwa-zero alternation before stressed vowels in English. Counter to my expectations, I got quite a number of answers, for which I would like to thank all those who decided to help me. Lev Blumenfeld wrote about an (inconclusive) phonetics experiment on intonation cues to the contrast between words like prayed and parade. He also sent the writeup of the experiment and a list of minimal or near-minimal pairs. Such minimal pairs are segmentally nearly identical, esp. in fast speech: they rarely contain a fully voiced schwa, and they differ in e.g. the duration and voicing of the sonorant. Ian Crookston described his and a colleague's intuitions about the phenomenon, namely that it is very old-fashioned and posh, and that it may be more restricted than post-tonic syncope as far as the flanking consonants are concerned. E.g. for him p'tato is impossible in isolation. Viktor Tron pointed out to me that the process cannot be described solely in terms of phonological environment but reference must be made to use too since the tendency to drop the schwa depends on e.g. frequency. Also, he raised the question of whether there is really a categorical neutralisation, whether the initial consonant cluster resulting from syncope in p'lice is the same as in please. He expressed his doubts and referred to French, where effects of phonetic conservation of properties have been documented. This reminded me of a discussion on LinguistList (March 2000) about underlying schwa where the issue of rules that aren't 'true on the surface' came up, and Geoffrey S. Nathan wrote: 'Consider, for example, the contrast between 'police' and 'please', which, on the surface contrast in voicing of the
(ignoring the irrelevant final consonant difference).' In his answer A.F. Gupta highlighted the importance of dialectal variation, since the two clusters ARE homophonous in his speech (both l's are devoiced and both words are monosyllabic). ( Herb Stahlke is completing a paper that deals in part with my question: the devoicing of schwa in potato, Detroit, surprise, permit, etc. and the vocalisation of the lateral in police, which is much more widespread in English. He also attached a page from the paper. With the help of Mike Maxwell, Viktor Tron, and Adam Werle, I could compile the following list of references: Bolozky, Shmuel. 1977. Fast speech as a function of tempo in natural generative phonology. Journal of Linguistics 13. 217-238. Dalby, Jonathan. 1986. Phonetic structure of fast speech in American English. Indiana University Linguistics Club. Fidelholtz, James L. 1975. Word Frequency and Vowel Reduction in English. Robin E. Grossman, L. James San & Timothy J. Vance, eds. Papers from the 11th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. 200-213. Hooper, Joan B. 1978. Constraints on schwa-deletion in American English. Jacek Fisiak, ed. Recent Developments in Historical Phonology. Mouton. 183-207. Donca Steriade, C?cile Fougeron. 1997. "Does deletion of French schwa lead to neutralization of lexical distinctions? " in Euro-Speech 1997, Proceedings of the 5th European Conference on Speech Communication and Technology, University of Patras, vol. 7, p. 943-937. also in: Donca Steriade. 2000. "Paradigm Uniformity and the Phonetics/Phonology Boundary" in J.Pierrehumbert and M.Broe (eds.) Papers in Laboratory Phonology vol. 6, Cambridge Univ.Press Zwicky, Arnold. 1970. Auxiliary Reduction in English. Linguistic Inquiry 1. 323-336. Zwicky, Arnold. 1972a. On Casual Speech. Peranteau, Levi, & Phares, eds. Papers from the 8th Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society. 607-615. Zwicky, Arnold. 1972b. Note on a Phonological Hierarchy in English. Robert Stockwell & Ronald Macauley, eds. Linguistic Change and Generative Theory. Indiana University Press. 275-301. Thank all of you for your help, Katalin Balogne Berces ===== Katalin B. Berces English Linguistics PhD Programme ELTE University Ajtosi Durer sor 19-21, Budapest, H-1146 Hungary

LL Issue: 13.971
Date Posted: 08-Apr-2002
Original Query: Read original query


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