cannot: OED pronunciation again

Dennis R. Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Mon Jan 17 22:04:28 UTC 2005

Nope; I was just observing that the vowel would be raised even in the
dialects of nonraisers as a result of the following nasal (or appear
to be raised as a result of the influence of the nasal formant).

You are quite right however to observe that function words, including
modals, often show considerably less raising among raisers, but
whether that would extend to nonraisers, all of whose low vowels
would appear to be raised in nasal environments, is hard to say. If
the same distinction existed, however, it could be attributed to


>At 2:06 PM -0500 1/17/05, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>>Even in nonraisers, the nasal element in the stressed syllable would
>>cause the vowel to be raised (or at least cause the perception of it
>>to indicate raising, based on the nasal formant).
>I'm not sure I follow--are you saying that all speakers distinguish
>"Can it!" ('put it in a physical or metaphorical can') from "Can it"
>(as a response to "It can get down to 50 below in Lansing") on the
>basis of the first vowel's formants?  I was assuming that for many
>raisers, only the lexical verb and not the modal will undergo
>raising, or a high degree of raising.  Is this wrong?  And aren't
>there non-raisers (e.g. in the U.K.) who would neutralize the
>distinction between these expressions?  If so, would some of them
>also merge "cannot" with these?  I'm not sure how "the nasal element
>in the stressed syllable" would affect this, since they all have
>such.  (And now that I think of it,it wouldn't be an American-style
>script [a] that the non-schwa RP cannotters opt for in the secondary
>stressed syllable, of course, but open [O].)

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages
A-740 Wells Hall
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Phone: (517) 432-3099
Fax: (517) 432-2736
preston at

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