Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dress vowel and /st/ cluster

I just opened Well's LPD. On page xxvi, I see this " ɛ for the vowel which LPD writes as e".

Before quoting dictionaries, one should familiarize with their transcription systems. I don't trust IPA for comparative phonetics across languages. German /u/ is closer to the cardinal vowel 8. When some German, who knows his phonetics well enough, ends up pronouncing his vowel when he comes across the IPA symbol /u/ in English. Besides Cardinal vowels, IPA system is just phonemic. Within a language (say, English), one can use the lexical sets, and see how vowels vary across dialects.

The reference lexical set in this case is: DRESS vowel. British folks transcribe it as /e/. Americans transcribe it as /ɛ/. Then, British folks claim that American DRESS vowel /ɛ/ is more opener than their DRESS vowel and that their British DRESS vowel is more opener than the monophthong /e/. Basically, their vowel is [e̞]. See the underlying diacritic for lowering. Wikipedia for RP DRESS transcribes it as [ɛ~e̞]

If someone wanna shoot for a general British accent, they should just avoid RP. Use Geoff Lindsey's system. Check hispost. Geoff uses the same American DRESS vowel for the general British accent.

I know someone personally, who is trained in articulatory phonetics, teaches aspiring actors, voice overs, and also knows the other stuff like Stern, etc. He keeps the same vowel for both General American and general British accent, even though he uses narrow phonetic transcription for other lexical sets.

Another point about the consonant cluster /st/. This cluster has a special historical significance. In Middle English, long vowels before a consonant cluster got shortened usually (They call it precluster shortneing). Before voiced homorgonic clusters like /nd/, /ld/, /rd/, /mb/, /ng/, the vowels got lengthened (this is homorgonic lengthening); later, some of these vowels got shortened. Still, we see that effect in words like kind, child, climb, etc. Before the cluster /st/, vowels got lengthened in Middle English. That's why we see its effect on words like Christ, Eustace, Houston, ghost, least (cf. breast), beast, feast, etc. Whatever the history of 'yester or yesterday', we don't see a modern variant of some lengthened vowel from Middle English there. It is a plain DRESS vowel.


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