Friday, January 13, 2012

Medial Posttonic Schwa Syncope

In Canadian and American English, a word-medial posttonic schwa is often deleted. This refers to a schwa which follows a stressed syllable. However, schwa deletion only occurs in a specific context.

The following words have a word-medial schwa which can be deleted:

chocolate
camera
family
interest
different
opera
happening
listening
offering
traveller

In certain words, however, the schwa is never deleted. This is the case in the following words:

quarrelling
felony
colony
coronal
mineral

The schwa is never deleted when the schwa is preceded by a sound which is a liquid or alveolar nasal and followed by a sound which is a liquid or alveolar nasal. Another way to state the rule is with distinctive features. It is possible to say that the schwa is never deleted when the preceding sound is +sonorant/+coronal and the following sound is +sonorant/+coronal. The schwa can be deleted when the following sound is +sonorant/+coronal but in such a case the preceding sound must be either -sonorant/+coronal or it must be -sonorant/-coronal. For example, in the word "opera" the /p/ has the distinctive features -sonorant/-coronal and in "listening" the /s/ has the distinctive features -sonorant/+coronal.

Word-medial posttonic schwa syncope is a common rule of Canadian and American English but the rule does not apply in all environments. The rule is blocked when the preceding and following sounds are +sonorant/+coronal. The reason that the rule fails to apply here may be that the sounds have the same places of articulation and thus the deletion of the schwa makes the articulation of the two sounds less salient. Another reason may be ease of articulation. It is possible that with sounds which are homorganic, the retention of the schwa preserves a syllable structure which is not only less marked but also requires less effort to articulate.

4 comments:

Salva said...

Hello!
Very interesting post. However, you didn't provide an explanation for words such as , , , or . Those are not preceded and followed by +son, +cor, and yet they block syncope.

Salva said...

monogamy, balloting, opacity, monitor...

BCD said...

Hi! I have a quick question about this. When studying Linguistics in the English language, this subject came up. My professor gave a list of words as examples, including many that you listed. He also told us about a word, I think it was four syllables, that when commonly spoken had medial schwa deletion. What is interesting about this particular word though, was that when the schwa is deleted in speech the consonants surrounding the deleted schwa have to switch places somehow in order for the schwa deletion rule to work. For a while now, I thought I remembered that word to be "interesting," however when I was trying to explain it the other day I realized I hadn't remembered correctly, because the consonants in "interesting" don't switch when spoken with medial schwa deletion. Is there any chance you know the word I'm trying to remember that does this? It's been driving me crazy. Sorry for the long comment.

Les Zsoldos said...

I"m not sure, but I think the word you're thinking of might be comfortable.