/schwa-r/ and the Great Vowel Shift
Rudolph C Troike
rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Wed Feb 9 09:38:00 UTC 2000
I take the beginning of the various changes that coalesce under
the GVS label to result from the weakening of the latter part of bi-moraic
vowel nuclei (Chomsky & Halle's tense vowels) to a glide, which had a
differentiating effect on the initial segment. This segmentation of a
formerly "long" element thus led to processes that are still in train.
Ergo, [i:] became [iy] > [schwa-y] > [ay]. The change is not imaginable
otherwise. This creates pattern-pressure effects, which Trager & Smith
recognized, giving us (phonemically) /iy/, /schwa-y/, /ey/, /ay/, /oy/.
/schwa-r/ makes for comparability. Phonemically, it makes no sense to
consider /schwa-r/ a single segment, creating an odd phoneme with a very
restricted distribution. If it is done nevertheless, then it is more
plausible to treat it as syllabic /r/, rather than a peculiar "hooked
schwa". (Will we also treat the unstressed syllables of <bottle>,
<cotton>, <bottom> as unique phonemes?) As much as I love DARE, I don't
take the decision as to how to represent the nucleus of <her> as decisive
either theoretically or descriptively. I'm certain the editorial decision
was not intended to impose conformity on the linguistic community.
And incidentally, I repeat Raven McDavid's effort to eliminate
"dialect" from the public discussion of linguists trying to communicate
with the public, and to replace it everywhere possible with "variety" and
derivatives. We've quit talking about "substandard"; we should do the same
with "dialect". Much of the difficulty linguists have in communicating
with the public comes from our insistence that the ordinary meaning of the
word should be given up by everyone else, and our "neutral technical"
meaning adopted. 50 years and more of fruitless efforts should convince us
to stop needlessly making enemies. -- Ciao for now, Rudy
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