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Title: Supposed Compensatory Lengthening
Submitter: Lynn Guindon
Description: I've noticed a phenomenon only recently involving the apparent shift of
length from the consonant to the vowel. English speakers are frequently now
pronouncing 'irregular' as though it were 'eregular'. While it is possible
that length is being transferred or metathesized, I am more inclined to
think the following three suggestions are more likely:

1. The speaker is undergoing a bit of morphological reanalysis based on the
fact that we pronounce the unstressed vowel in the prefix 'in-' more or less
the same way that we pronounce the vowel (when unstressed) of the prefix
'e-' (irreconcileable vs. erect). This morphological confusion might arise
because the fact of the nasal in the prefix 'in-' having undergone total
assimilation to the following 'r' is no longer accessible to most native
English speakers. Another example of this confusion of morphemes deriving
from homophony is 'could of' from a confusion of 'could have' with 'kind of'.

2. The speaker may be subconsciously aware that the syllable is long, but
confuse syllable length with vowel length. I say this because for me, the
double 'r' in irregular really is long, beginning in the coda of the first
syllable, and extending into the onset of the next. This makes the first
syllable heavy (VC), which can be reinterpreted as V: by speakers for who
the double 'r' is in the process of reducing.

3. A combination of #1 and #2.

If anyone else has noticed this, or knows of an explanation already posited
for it, I would greatly appreciate a response. I will, of course, be happy
to summarize the responses for the List.

-Lynn Guindon
Date Posted: 11-May-2010
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Specialty: English
LL Issue: 21.2179
Posted: 11-May-2010

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