Pronunciation question (from L. Urdang)

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Tue May 29 02:34:15 UTC 2007

>From Larry Urdang, who was having trouble sending to the list:

----- Forwarded message from Laurence Urdang <urdang at> -----

  [IPA is not available in my email font.  I tried to keyboard the unique characters in Word, then copy them here from there, but that wouldn't work, which is why I have described "X."  For some unknown reason, the schwa copied.]

  In my many years of experience in establishing the [phonetic symbols and in transcribing the pronunciations of words for dictionaries (Funk & Wagnalls International Edition, Random  House Unabridged, Collins English Dictionary, etc.), I have always regarded the n in words like didn’t, wouldn’t,  couldn’t, shouldn’t, etc. as  a syllabic: ['dIdXt] (where X is a lower-case roman "n", with a tiny circle below it), etc., because that’s the way they were pronounced by native speakers of English.
  In recent years, I have noted that their pronunciation has shifted to the use of a full schwa: ['dIdənt], etc.  The change appears to be very deliberate and emphatic: people are pointedly saying the latter rather than the former as if it were a mark of culture or sophistication or, perhaps, just for clarity of articulation.
  Am I hearing things, or has this change been noticed by others?  I suggest that it might not be a change but that the schwa pronunciation might be increasing in frequency.
  Has anybody else noticed this, or am I just “hearing things”?  Has any written comment appeared on the subject?
  Laurence Urdang
  4 Laurel Drive
  Old Lyme, CT 06371
  urdang at

----- End forwarded message -----

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