hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 23 21:56:26 UTC 2008
Here's the message on diphthongs I posted in Rich Format, now in Plain
Text. Thanks to Mark and LanDi for showing me how to change that in
I'll give it a try. First, it might be useful to distinguish between
a diphthong and a vowel sequence. American English "idea" has a vowel
sequence, and the last vowel, a schwa, is a separate syllable.
Southern British "dear" has virtually the same sequence of vowel
sounds, but it's one syllable, and BE has falling diphthongs ending in
/@/. AmE r-ful varieties don't.
When I teach phonetics, I make the same statement you had heard, that
the second element of the diphthong indicates direction of tongue
movement rather than endpoint, although this is a matter of degree and
depends on things like speech tempo and just where the second element
is articulatorily. If the second element is a schwa or an /r/, then
the tongue is more likely to get pretty close to that position, simply
because of where it is.
Whether you transcribe the second element of a falling diphthong as
/I, U/ or as /j, w/ is a matter of choice. The difference between
non-tonic /I,U/ and final /j, w/ is functional rather than formal.
They are for all practical purposes the same sound, one used in a
vocalic position and the other in a consonant slot. It just happens
that we can notate them differently depending on what we consider
their function to be. This is more obvious with /r/, which has nearly
the same position in the vowel space as /@/. We tend to think about
it as a consonant, and it's hard sometimes to convince a beginning
student that it can also be a vowel. As a vowel it can be transcribed
as schwar or as syllabic retroflex /r/. I think most people prefer
the schwar, but for diphthongs /r/ gets used.
I can illustrate a number of features of AmE diphthongs from my SE
Michigan variety of Inland Northern. I have a phonemic contrast
between lowered and raised /a-/ diphthongs. In this particular case,
the first element of the diphthong will be either the inverted lower
case print <a> or something close to /@/. They occur in their usual
Canadian Raising environments, but they contrast in open syllables and
before /-nd/, so
/h at I/ (greeting)
/k at Ind/ "variety"
/ba:U/ "front end of a boat"
/b at Uwa:U/ (sound a dog makes)
/ra:Und/ "circular, spherical"
/r at Und/ (preposition)
Notice that the raised diphthongs are shorter, as CR predicts, even
though they occur where CR would predict the lowered diphthong.
Similarly, I have
/ba:rd/ "banned" (preterit of "bar")
/b at rd/ "poet"
I have quite a few minimal pairs like these, but what they all seem to
have in common is that the two forms always come from different
lexical categories. Clearly it's a partial phonemic contrast since it
doesn't occur in all environments.
Back to whether to represent the second element with a vowel or glide
for a moment. The choice depends on the point you want to make. I
tend to use /I/ and /U/ for those diphthongs and /r/ for the /r/
diphthongs. If I'm comparing Upper South and Lower North
pronunciations of "drive," I'll use the vowel variant so that I can
more clearly demonstrate the lowering found in the Upper South (and
Lower South) diphthong. Central Indiana speakers have /draIv/ while
Southern Indiana speakers have /draav/, where the vowel quality is low
central, not back. I can't show that change as clearly if I use the
What makes the /r/ diphthongs distinct from vowel + /r/ codas, at
least in my speech, is that they start with vowels that I have only in
diphthongs. /a/ (lower mid central) does not occur as a monophthong,
and open <o> also occurs only in the diphthongs /OI/ and /Or/ and
never as a monophthong. Where many varieties of AmE have
monophthongal /O/, mine has the low back rounded vowel.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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