Numerous descriptions of the vowel systems of different Englishes have been proposed during the past centuries. Most of these descriptions include a group of vowels that are analysed as diphthongs. This group comprises several sets that are variably seen as diphthongs or as monophthongs. These sets are shown in (1).
|Sets of vowels potentially categorized as diphthongs in English|
|a.||price, mouth, choice|
|d.||near, square, force, cure|
Practically all accounts of English take the vowels in (1a) to be diphthongs.1 Accounts of British English2 count the vowels in (1b) to be diphthongs too, those of American English are varied (diphthongs in Chomsky & Halle 1968; monophthongs in Kenyon & Knott 1953 or Giegerich 1992). Sweet (1900) transcribes fleece and goose as [flijs] and [guws], it is only Jones (1917) who (wrongly, as I will argue) alters the British tradition, and introduces the currently prevalent monophthongal symbols [iː] and [uː] for the vowels in (1c). American accounts again vary, the typical case is to lump the vowels in (1b) and (1c) together, either as diphthongs ([ey], [ow]; [iy], [uw]) or as (tense) monophthongs ([e], [o]; [i], [u], respectively). The vowels of the last group, (1d), are vowel+[r] sequences in rhotic American English, occasionally centring diphthongs. In British English they were diphthongs at the beginning of the last century, but have all gradually monophthongized. This is reflected in the transcription of force by Jones (1917): [fɔːs] (vs. Sweet's [fɔəs]); cure and square by Upton (1995): [kjɔː] (vs. Gimson's [kjʊə], 1962; already mentioned in Jones 1917) and [skwɛː] (vs. Gimson's [skweə]), and also near by Lindsey (2012a, 2019): [nɪː] (vs. Upton's [nɪə]). I take all the vowels of (1d) to be long monophthongs, and all the vowels of (1a–c) to be “diphthongs”, or more precisely, not single monophthongal vowels. This categorization is based on the distribution of these vowels, to which we turn presently.
My work is supported by NKFIH #119863. I would like to thank the first reader of this paper, Ádám Nádasdy, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. I am grateful to George Soros, too.
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After all, I am talking about transcription symbols here. The realization of these vowels varies, but there is reason to believe that transcription symbols are selected to reflect their analysis.
In this paper the term “British English” is used to denote the post-RP reference accent of the south of England. Some differences between the earlier Received Pronunciation and this variety are hinted at by Cruttenden (2014). Lindsey (2019) provides a more extensively description.
In British English the following vowel categories are unsplit or merged, so only the first keyword is listed: lot = cloth, start = palm = bath, force = north = thought.
Unstressed strut may also occur word finally. As we will see below, unstressed kit (and optionally foot) also occurred word finally in an earlier variety of British English, Received Pronunciation.
Their phonetic length very much depends on whether there comes a fortis or lenis consonant after them.
Note that [uː] may merge with [oː] or [əː] for some speakers, so cure [kjuː], [kjoː], or [kjəː].
The form [ləjatys] is considered uneducated.
The definite article also has two variants for many speakers, [ðij] and [ðə], but it is invariably [ðə] for others: the apple [ðəapəl]. In fact, th indefinite article also may occur as an invariant [ə] (Britain & Fox 2009).
The article before the last example also depends on its variant: [ə wíjɡə], but [ən úwiɡúː].
As has been said above, free vowel+schwa often merge into a long monophthong: we’re [wij ə]
The preposition of [əv] does not appear to have the allomorph [v], only [ə], which, in turn, have lacks.
This is an alternation that started to develop, but then receded: historically words with final [u] had a long vowel (goose), which developed a short variant in unstressed position (foot), but by today this short variant has disappeared again. Thus, this is not the lengthening of a short vowel, but the shortening of a long vowel “undone”. So what we observe in this case is a failed attempt at value-“laxing”.
Wells attributes the introduction of the symbol [i] in this function to Gordon Walsh, the pronunciation editor of LDOCE (Wells 2010).
The transcription of unstressed goat is rather variable: Jones (1917) has [ˈɔːtomouˌbiːl], among other variants, Jones (1967) has [ˈɔːtumubiːl], among others. Note that [o] contrasts graphically with lot, which is [ɔ]. So in Jones [o] occurs only unstressed, [u] may occur both stressed and unstressed.
Surprisingly, even in stressed position, contrary to Jones's claim cited above, as in the alternative form [dʒəˈnouə] or boa [ˈbouə], but these cases need not concern us here.
Goedemans & van der Hulst (2013) mention that Dutch and German might be among the very few languages in which VC is heavy, but VV is light. But a reanalysis of Dutch by van Oostendorp (2000) proves it not to be exceptional.
Views differ as to how the nonmoraicity of these consonants is to be accounted for, but here we do not have to delve into details.
Note that this word has an alternant in which the first vowel is also stressed. In this alternant the glide is obligatory: [jú*(w)nájt].
That is, there is no general ban on vowels occurring before any consonant. Some vowels may be inhibited before some consonants.
There are very few examples of words ending in unstressed [iɡ]. It is not even obvious if the [i] in Danzig is indeed unstressed. Of course, if it is stressed that explains its failure to alternate with schwa.