Voiceless vowels in English

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 9 04:35:08 UTC 2008

The "h" in "aha" a voiceless vowel? The "h" in "aha" is usually the
one used to teach English-speakers how to say the voiced "h" of
languages like Czech and Slovak. (Ever wonder what the difference
between these two languages is? In Czech, _v Americe_ "in America" is
pronounced ['vamErIcE], whereas, in Slovak, it's pronounced [f
'?amErIcE].) But the, back in the day, the "r" in "thr-] was used to
teach American-English-speakers how to trill an "r." Nowadays, in the
Northeast, at least, I have to practice my native pronunciation of
"thr-" with a trill, i.e. with at least two taps, lest I be corrupted
by the local "thr-" with vocalized(?) /r/. E.g. local "through" sounds
a lot like [T at ru] to me.


On Tue, Apr 8, 2008 at 1:59 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>  Subject:      Re: Voiceless vowels in English
>  -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  At 10:43 AM -0700 4/8/08, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>  >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?
>  >
>  You're not counting the "h" in "aha" or (the second one) in "uh-huh"
>  as voiceless vowels, I take it?
>  LH
>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
 -Sam'l Clemens

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list