Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 09:14:45 -0700


Subject: Re: variation in unstressed vowels

On Thu, 27 Jun 1996, David Bergdahl (614) 593-2783 wrote:

RE: Dan Coyle's request for more info on Ohio official

In some apparently standard dialects (used by radio &tv announcers, politicians)

a word like official has an elongated /o/ with main stress on the initial

syllable and a secondary stress on [fIs^] and [*l] with low stress. This

pronunciation has become standard in the last 25 yrs., I would guess, or at

least become more prominent. My intuition (for what it's worth) is that

pronunciations with schwa are heard as "slurvian" and to be avoided, hence the

strange stress situation of a primary followed by a secondary rather than an

unstressed syllable. Another plausible explantion is that it's one of the words

affected by front-shifting of stress, as in The Columbus DISpatch, POlice,

MOtel, &c. Some speakers may have level stress in official : each syllable

equally stressed, as if it were French.

A non-standard (although used by former Gov. Rhodes, from Appalachian Jackson,

OH) pronunciation with unstressed /o/ or schwa initially has [i] as the stressed

vowel, popularly spelled of-FEESH-al. But that, I think, is the result of the

change in syllable boundary with the loss of the final vowel when the [l] became

syllabic. Since [I] doesn't appear in open syllables, it was raised to [i]. . .

or, at least, that's my theory.

I assume that in the paragraph above, your first "[I]" uses the twelfth

letter of the alphabet, while the second "[I]" uses the ninth. Otherwise

I'm really confused (and maybe even a bit "Ill").

In any case I doubt that Gov. Rhodes's pronunciation has anything to do

with a syllable boundary shift, since the word 'fish', too, is pronounced by

some Ohioans, and other Midwesterners (others on this list can

probably enlighten us as to the feature's geographic boundaries), with a

vowel that native New Yorkers seem to hear as [i] but which in my

experience is a diphthong [Ij] (read "capital-ay jay").

I lived in Yellow Springs, OH, during the Rhodes administration, and

don't recall hearing anyone say "OH-fish[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]l", so I assume it's an

Appalachian feature characteristic of the southeastern area of the state.

Peter McGraw

Linfield College

McMinnville, OR

I moved into southern Ohio in 1968 from Syracuse in upstate NY, but I grew up on

Long Island, N.Y. in a suburb on NY, so the pronunciations I'm describing are

"foreign" to my ears since they're neither my native pronunciations nor the

"standard." Hope this helps.



Associate Professor of English Language and Literature

Ohio University / Athens fax: (614) 593-2818