Pronunciation question (from L. Urdang)

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue May 29 13:18:17 UTC 2007

As an undergrad way back in 1971 I was taught to use the schwa + n in transcribing "didn't," etc. In grad school I learned about the syllabic "dotted n," which makes far more sense.

  I can't recall hearing anyone actually saying "didunt."  Sounds weird. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I've heard "didint" used for strong emphasis: "No [Mommy] !  I DIDINT do it!"


Jesse Sheidlower <jester at PANIX.COM> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Jesse Sheidlower
Subject: Pronunciation question (from L. Urdang)

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

----- Forwarded message from Laurence Urdang -----

[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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