Date: Tue, 25 Jul 1995 11:52:33 EDT From: Douglas Bayer x3701 3NW 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. --Doug Bayer 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 New England?) 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 anything. --Doug Bayer