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Summary Details

Query:   Neutral vowels across languages, Part I
Author:  Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Phonetics

Summary:   Dear all,

Below is a summary of the responses to my posting about one month ago, http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-3204.html.
Somewhat surprisingly, not least in view of a summary on a related matter posted only a few days later at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-3260.html, only six people responded.
Nevertheless, their replies and discussion gave me much food for thought and, promisingly, raised even more questions than the ones that first prompted my posting. My very sincere thanks go to, in order of appearance:

Joaquim Brand?o de Carvalho
Georgios Tserdanelis
Toby Paff
James L Fidelholtz
Uri Tadmor
Eduardo Rivail Ribeiro

A summary of the returns follows. Please feel free to contact me directly for more details -- or more discussion.

= Neutral vowel quality =
Dutch (some dialects) - unrounded mid central
English - unrounded mid central, but often realised as a high central vowel (IPA 'barred [i]'), as pointed out in SPE
French (Parisian) - rounded mid front
modern Greek - tense [e]
modern Hebrew - [e] in epenthesis and filled pauses
Japanese - unrounded high back
Karaj? (an indigenous language spoken in Central Brazil) - lax unrounded mid central
Lushootseed (formerly Skagit, a Salish language from Washington State) - the neutral vowel seems to have the quality of English schwa, and predictable patterning as such, although it turns up as [i] before laryngeals
Makassarese - [o]
Micmac (Mi'kmaq) - unrounded mid central
Polish - there were two different views here. One, that the default vowel is unrounded mid central. Another, that Polish has [e] for epenthesis and [i] for other default uses
Portuguese (Brazilian) - [i] in epenthesis
Portuguese (European) - unrounded high mid-back in epenthesis and stress-induced alternation, same quality or unrounded mid central in filled pauses
Russian - unrounded high mid-back
Serbo-Croatian - [a]
Somali - copy of any lexical vowel quality in epenthesis
Spanish - [e]
Turkish - unrounded high back
Yawelmani - copy of lexical high vowel in epenthesis

Joaquim Brand?o de Carvalho: epenthetic vowels may have many different qualities across languages, viz. those that occur as copy of a lexical vowel. Uri Tadmor echoed the point.

Georgios Tserdanelis: the modern Greek tense [e] is the epenthetic vowel used to avoid word final consonants, especially [n]. It is also used in filled pauses and in short questions equivalent to English 'huh?'. In Greek compounding, the linking vowel is always [o]. Both vowels can occur in stressed and unstressed positions with some change in duration though little change in quality (they get devoiced between voiceless consonants sometimes too).

Toby Paff: the Dutch vowel is used to break up consonant clusters, and it may have slight rounding.

James L Fidelholtz: in Mi'kmaq, hesitation seems to be marked by [e], besides laryngeal consonants. The connecting morpheme has the form [i]. English may also have default uses of [i], eg in diminutives. Other data showed neutral use of the vowel qualities [@] and [i] in the same language.
Filled pauses can take on virtually any vowel quality in English, though some vowels may sound more natural than others. The same is true of the vowels in the positive 'uh-huh' and the negative 'uh-uh'. James L Fidelholtz also recommended a book by Szpyra, Jolanta (1995), _Three Tiers in Polish and English Phonology_, Lublin, Poland, that addresses issues related to default vowels in both languages.

Eduardo Rivail Ribeiro: the neutral vowel of Karaj? occurs in unstressed syllables and is the epenthetic vowel breaking up consonant clusters in loanwords, for example. Filled pauses are marked by a specific morpheme.


LL Issue: 14.3574
Date Posted: 20-Dec-2003
Original Query: Read original query


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