silent letters (was broadcasters)

Aaron E. Drews aaron at LING.ED.AC.UK
Thu Aug 10 17:55:59 UTC 2000

Benjamin Barrett wrote:
> Doesn't it come down to how they're pronounced?

Well, I guess being a dialectologist would be pointless otherwise. :-)

> I can say them as one long
> syllable (and I believe many do), but in my dialect, they are two because a
> slight schwa comes into play before the /r/.

Personally, I don't think there is a schwa before /r/.  I think the
schwa *is* the /r/ (well, hooked schwa).  For me, and I suspect for many
of us two-syllablers, the 'schwa' is an off-glide of the preceding
diphthong and the progression from that off-glide to hooked schwa.

English doesn't like triphthongs for some reason, on the assumption that
hooked schwa is vowel-like.  We tend to insert /j/ or /w/ or glottal
stops and sometimes /r/ itself (mostly in non-rhotic varieties) to
prevent triphthongs.  In words like 'fire', 'hour'/'how're', 'iron', the
preceding diphthongs might become monopthongs before /r/, but still
remain a diphthong because of hooked schwa (this would be the one long
syllable).  If the vowel remains a diphthong, an off-glide gets inserted
before the vowel-like /r/ preventing a triphthong. This produces a
(C)VCV string, the medial consonant indicating a syllable break
(consider an epenthetic glide in "see it", "say it", "sew it", "do it").

I'm sorry this if this isn't very clear... I've just spent an hour or so
trying to explain this to a semanticist.


> Benjamin Barrett
> gogaku at
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On
> > Behalf Of Aaron E. Drews
> > > Has anyone NOT heard AI @RN  ('eye-ern)?  I've heard this
> > pronunciation all
> > > my life, and use it myself.
> >
> > That's what I would use two.  I would count it as two syllables, but
> > counting syllables with /r/ is difficult.  What about, say, "fire" or
> > "hour"?

Aaron E. Drews                               The University of Edinburgh
aaron at                  Departments of English Language and       Theoretical & Applied  Linguistics

Bide lang an fa fair  \\  //
                       \\// /
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