cannot: OED pronunciation again

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 17 18:49:48 UTC 2005

At 1:27 PM -0500 1/17/05, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>Not bad, lacking IPA; he certainly is not a posh RP speaker, and his
>stress is on the second element, but I'm not sure what that has to do
>with my message.

Agreed that the McEnroe example doesn't really touch on the
possibility of [KAEn at t] as an alternant of [KAEnat], which now that
you mention it do both seem possible to me for RP.  I'll have to
listen for these next time I watch a BBC telly show or British movie.
(They will tend to differ in stress as well, I should expect--the
former much like "can it" with fully reduced second syllable, the
latter with some stress retained on the second half.)

As far as the Johnny Mac sort of case below, I'm sure I've heard both
first and second syllable stress on "cannot" in U. S. English, based
inter alia on the rhythm rule.  "You canNOT be SERious" would be
natural enough, but I think "You CANnot COUNT on him" might be more
likely (when there's a stressed syllable immediately following the
"cannot") than "You canNOT COUNT on him".  Or maybe it's just that
both patterns are possible in this context.  In any case, I share
Dale's intuition that the "can it" pronunciation (my description, not
his*) is impossible in the varieties of U. S. English I'm familiar


*and now that I think of it, a bit misleading, since "can it" can or
must undergo raising (=> "kee'un it") for many U.S. speakers for whom
"cannot" cannot.  From what I've been told, this difference won't
arise for U.K. speakers, RP or otherwise, but I could be wrong about

>>on 17/1/05 5:02 pm, Dennis R. Preston at preston at MSU.EDU wrote:
>>>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>>  -----------------------
>>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>>  Poster:       "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU>
>>>  Subject:      Re: cannot:  OED pronunciation
>>--> -
>>>  larry,
>>>  If you shift the stress to the first syllable (as
>>>  I have heard some posh RP types do), the
>>>  pronunciation [kaen at t] works.
>>>  There are also British Isles [kaen@] dialect forms (less posh).
>>>  dInIs, who is known for hanging around posh types in general
>>Not being a linguist, I know not how to record Mr Mackenroe's Wimbledon
>>outburts other than as:
>>'You kuh-naht be serious!'
>>- Neil Crawford
>Dennis R. Preston
>University Distinguished Professor
>Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic,
>        Asian and African Languages
>Wells Hall A-740
>Michigan State University
>East Lansing, MI 48824-1027 USA
>Office: (517) 353-0740
>Fax: (517) 432-2736

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