Date: Tue, 27 Jan 1998 15:42:00 -0600


Subject: Re: Phonetic transcription--help

On Tue, 27 Jan 1998, Alan Baragona wrote:

I have a student with a Texas

accent who, like many Southerners and Westerners, simplifies the

diphthong [ai] (among others). But I can't really transcribe her vowel

as either [a] or [ae]. Her pronunciation of like is not a homophone

of either lock [lak] or lack [laek] but is pretty much smack in the

middle, as if she stops in the middle of the glide or rather sets her

mouth to say the glide but holds the pure vowel. I don't really know how

to transcribe her like without an approximation that doesn't do her

justice and can potentially confuse the class.

On Tue, 27 Jan 1998, Garland Bills wrote:

As a native speaker of that same (standard, of course) dialect, it

seems to me your characterization is quite accurate. The IPA symbols for

the three vowels in our dialect are [ae] for lack , [a] for like , and

"script a" for which I'll use [[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]] for lock . In articulatory terms,

probably the simplist (and not really too oversimplified) description is

that all three are low vowels in front, central, and back positions

respectively. Phoneticians will probably make our lives more complicated

than this -- right, Don Lance?

You bet, Garland. For some speakers the vowel of 'pot' is low central, so

the vowel of 'like' would be, in their speech, either a fronted low central

vowel or retracted low front vowel, the former being the more logical

description. This particular situation was discussed in a number of

sources in the 1950s, as I recall. If one's 'pot' vowel is low back, then

Garland's description is fine. The echo of his phonology in my head tells

me he has accurately described his own speech.

Roger Lass (Phonology..., Cambridge UP, 1984, p. 137) points out that in

historical descriptions it appears that as the Middle English long vowels

underwent the Great Vowel Shift they left the (monophthongal) phonemic

system, but some structuralist discussions of "phonemic contrasts" seemed

to treat the Southern U. S. monophthongized "long i" as if this [a] had

somehow re-entered the system of English phonemes. Phoneticians don't make

people's lives more complicated; stubborn phonetic facts do that.