Date: Tue, 25 Jul 1995 11:52:33 EDT
From: Douglas Bayer x3701 3NW dbayer[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]YUKON.HQ.ILEAF.COM
Subject: Re: sherb't
Tim Behrend asked about the pronunciation of "sherbe[r]t."
I'll take a stab:
In this case, the unstressed syllable echoes the vowel
in the stressed syllable. There's simply no other
sound or stress in the word to cause speakers to budge
out of "er" position.
Vowels in unstressed syllables in English centralize--
to "uh" /V/ near back vowels, or to a central "ih" /-I-/
near front vowels and dental consononants.
In fact, the job of an unstressed vowel is not to add or
subtract information or otherwise draw attention to itself.
If you don't centralize such a vowel, you change the stress
pattern of the word.
This "er" is a third variation of "uh" and "ih". To uncurl
the tongue and unround the lips after "sher" and noticibly
move the tongue to "eh" /E/ position is to give "bet"
secondary stress -- it makes "sherb't" a "sure bet."
The er is particularly noticible near the Great Lakes because
of strong vowel raising and the heavily retroflex r there.
So it seems we're gone the next step and reinterpreted
"sherb't" as "sherbert" to better fit our native phonology.
We notice when we're surprised by sherbet's foreign spelling.
I add the following because you work with Asian languages,
Tim, and propably have contact with Asian speakers of English.
(Q: Was Aukland speech born of Northern English and Scots,
like Great Lakes speech, or of Southern English, like
Even though "er" is a digraph, the two letters
represent a monothong -- a mid-to-close central vowel.
I grew up in Rochester, NY using noticibly "raised" or
close vowels in "have and "bird" ("hAYIf" and bWRd")
This is characteristic of most "Great Lakes" accents,
(the sales-region of the "Death of a Salesman"...)
Now I live in Eastern Mass, where folks use far broader
vowels ("hahf" and "bI:d"). But the "hard-r"and "r-dropping"
pronunciations are both retroflex. New Englanders may lower
their tongues, but they don't uncurl them.
Another characteristic of the American r is lip-rounding.
We were taught that the initial "w" is silent in "write"
and "wrong," but for us it's alive and well -- as well as
in "read" and "right"." Some English teachers in Japan
have had good success teaching initial r- to their students
by instructing them always to append an invisible w-.
Lip-rounding alone fools most listeners into thinking
that the speaker is curling back her tongue.
Furthermore, the G-L "sh" tends to be lip-rounded, and even
retroflex. This I rarely see noted. But I've had remarkable
and immediate success teaching Japanese students to
pronounce our hard-r by first teaching them my "sh."
You see, a sonogram of the Japanese "sh" /Sy/ shows peak
energy well above 4kHz, near "s," while the American "sh"
peaks as low as 2kHz. This is near the Japanese bilabial
"F" /Hw/. So I instruct them to blend "fu" and "shi"
into "fwsh" for an Amurrican "sh," then tell them to add
voicing and reduce the frictation. Voilar! R!
Finally, Great-Lakers regularly pronounce final -t as a
glottal stop /?/, without changing tongue position.
There's no hint of any t-like gesture toward the ridge
behind the teeth in "ca?" "hur?" "ge?" "visi?"...
"sure be?" or "sherber?"
This leaves "sherb" containing exclusively lip-rounded,
retroflex phonemes /sh/ and /er/, the labial /b/, and a
vowel that is unstressed, so whose job it is not to do