Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue May 22 14:14:57 UTC 2007

On May 21, 2007, at 9:30 AM, James Harbeck wrote:

>> I know I also insert a vowel sound there. But now that I know it's
>> naughty,
>> I will continue to do so :)
> Are you aware of other places in your dialect (or idiolect?) where
> you similarly insert a schwa between [p] and [l]? That is, is there a
> documentable transformation pattern?
> I wonder whether this particular one isn't lurking the background for
> many English speakers, given that it's quite common to say
> "puh-leeze" as an emphatic form of "please."

the "paraplegic" case looks like it arises as a solution to a
challenge in pronunciation; some people report that they find
"paraplegic" 'hard to say'.  (so this case belongs with "athlete" and
some other cases we've considered.)  i haven't thought through the
details here, but there are phonologically similar words (SWSW accent
pattern, the second S syllable beginning with stop + liquid) that
also pick up a schwa: "cataclysm" gets pronounced "catacalysm" every
so often, and sometimes spelled that way as well.  (what i'm not sure
about is whether the greek prefixes "para" and "cata" play any role
in the process, or whether they turn up in the examples just because
they allow us to construct long words with the relevant phonological

the emphatic, expressive, or exclamatory expansion of "please" is, i
think, a very different phenomenon, sharing only the involvement of
syllables beginning with stop + liquid.  emphatic expansion is a
deliberate reworking of the phonology for specific pragmatic
purposes.  the expansion is iconic: more substance acting as a sign
of more meaning (i got this idea from lectures by jakobson many years

> I would guess that it's
> coming from the aspiration of the [p].

i doubt it.  the expansion is available for words in pl- and kl-,
true ("please", "clear", "clean", and, yes, "Christ", and for some
people, "cute"), but it's also available for bl- and gl- ("black",
"bright, "gloomy").  (note: "cute" has an alternative expansion with
lengthened nuclear vowel, spelled "cuute" or "cuuute"; and "Christ"
has a further expanded form "Keerist", with a secondary accent on the
first syllable.  there are other word-particular details.)

> But how far does that go?
> Could we, in response to "The bride will wear plaid," say "puh-lad?!"

i think we could, in the right context, to exclaim about the content
of the expanded word.  however, "puhleeze", as it's usually spelled,
is not merely exclamatory, but has a conventionalized sarcastic use.

> How about with [k] -- I don't think I normally hear "kuh-lose the
> door!"

well, not *normally*, but it's an available distortion, in the right
context (where it might, for instance, express exasperation).

> On the other hand, the [k] and [l] are often separated in
> "nuclear".

a very different kind of re-shaping, as you can see by noting that
merely inserting a schwa would produce the four-syllable version
"nucalear" -- which is attested, though very infrequently, vastly
less than the very popular three-syllable version "nucular".


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