Voiceless Vowels in English

Geoffrey S. Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Wed Apr 9 15:14:50 UTC 2008

Herb Stahlke wrote:

> Date:    Tue, 8 Apr 2008 15:13:47 -0400
> From:    Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Re: Voiceless vowels in English
> English voiceless vowels get confused with aspirated fortis stops.  English
> fortis stops aspirate if they are initial in stressed syllables, as in
> [phat] vs. [spat] or the [p] [rEp at thISn].  In unstressed syllables, schwa
> devoices between voiceless obstruents.  So the schwas in "between,"
> "Detroit," "surprise," "Chicago," etc. are all devoiced.  Initial lenis
> obstruents are voiceless in English and so the schwa also devoices.
> Herb
Here I must disagree with Herb.  Not only I, but the person across the
hall (born and bred in the D) has voicing after the /d/ in the name of
the city.  I'll follow Arnold in saying that vowels devoice between
voiceless consonants in unstressed position, especially word-initially.
So in words like 'peculiar', 'catastrophe', but not, for example
'tradition', where there's an intervening /r/.
Just for fun I did a totally unscientific spectrogram check, including
on my neighbor (who had no idea what I wanted) and confirmed this.
Interestingly, although the initial /d/ /is/ in fact voiceless in my
neighbor's speech, the schwa is voiced.  So this is a phonological
process, not just phonetic spread--the initial /d/ is phonemically
voiced, and the schwa treats it as such (and doesn't devoice) even
though the /d/ ultimately surfaces as voiceless.


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

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