Voiceless vowels in English

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Tue Apr 8 18:05:24 UTC 2008

Not just English:

1) In weak syllables (no stress, no pitch accent)
2) Between two voiceless sounds or a voiceless sound and pause
3) In allegro, casual speech

These will do it in pert nigh any lg. It gets codified in some (e.g.,
Japanese) but goes unnoticed in many (most) others.


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
>Subject:      Voiceless vowels in English
>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

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

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

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