Voiceless vowels in English

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Apr 8 17:43:25 UTC 2008

I recall learning that we don't have voiceless vowels in English.

Two words have recently come to my attention, though, that seem to:
Chicago and hilarious.

The first "i" in Chicago seems to vary between voiceless and
nonexistent (onset = [shk]). In hilarious, the first "i" in hilarious
seems to range from +/- voiceless [I] to+/- schwa.

I can understand that the [I] in Chicago goes voiceless because of the
voiceless environment.

In hilarious, it seems the environment inducing this is the unstressed
syllable [hI]. Hibachi and Hidalgo seem to work the same. Perhaps this
is because the voicing of the vowel is permitted to be delayed to the
next consonant.

Is there a general rule for devoiced vowels in English?

Benjamin Barrett
a cyberbreath for language life

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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