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Following my question Are there any words in English pronounced with /e/ at the end? I was wondering if there are any words pronounced with an unstressed short monophthong at the end of word that are not /ə/? The only words I could think of were "aqua", "alpha", etc., however, when I looked them up in the Macquarie Dictionary (excellent Australian dictionary, although admittedly phonemic rather than phonetic) it has them listed as /ˈækwə/, /ˈælfə/, etc. Wiktionary also has them as /ˈækwə/ (UK) and /ˈæɫfə/. Other words: bee /b/, taxi /ˈtæk.s/, do /d/, go /ɡ/, emu /ˈiːmj/. In Australian English these are all either diphthongs or long monophthongs (Wiktionary lists some of these as short monophthongs for US accents).

The reason for all these questions is for teaching people with a different phoneme inventory how to pronounce different languages closer to a native speaker, whether English-to-Other or Other-to-English.

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    Here's the American system, from Kenyon and Knott. – John Lawler May 29 '14 at 2:32
  • @JohnLawler Thanks, but that link makes no distiction between short and long monophthongs, i.e. grin /ɡɹin/ & green /ɡɹiːn/. It also has nothing to do with vowel sounds at the end of words. – CJ Dennis May 29 '14 at 3:19
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    The point is that "long" and "short" monophthongs are artifacts of a phonemic system; it appears that what you call "short" or "long" are what phoneticians call "lax" and "tense", respectively. As for lax final vowels, /ɔ/ does (law, thaw), but /ɪ ɛ ʊ/ don't occur finally, and neither does /æ/, which isn't lax, but which you may consider "short"; I don't know. I spose Australian phonetics must have more use for diphthongs, though. – John Lawler May 29 '14 at 14:04
  • I thought that in Australian English each vowel was pronounced as at least a dipthong, and more commonly a tripthong, tetrapthong,... infinipthong ;-) (Just kidding.) – Drew Jul 30 '14 at 5:36
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    American English doesn't have "short" and "long" monophthongs the way that British and Australian English have. That's why the Kenyon and Knott system doesn't make a distinction between them. – Peter Shor Jul 31 '14 at 23:34
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How about "eerie"? Wiktionary has this listed as /ˈɪəri/. This would make "Siri" a word as well, though it is a name.

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    We Australians pronounce eerie as /ˈiːɹiː/ (same vowel sound in both places) and Siri as /ˈsɪɹiː/, "short i" and "long e" sounds. City, me, be, taxi, etc. all have the same "long" sound at the end. We also distinguish between "i" /ɪ/ and "ee" /iː/ although to a non-Australian speaker they may sound the same, ignoring length. – CJ Dennis Jul 30 '14 at 6:45
  • @CJDennis I can see why you'd say that, but /i/ at the end of unstressed me and of taxi, city, eerie is not the same phonemic vowel as the first vowel in eerie or easy, though the same quality (for many speakers): it never has the full length of the true fleece vowel /i:/. (For many speakers, the quality difference between kit /ɪ/ and fleece /i:/ is lost here). Compare the length of the vowels in seedy. The first very long, the second very short. /i/ is known by the label, the happy vowel to differentiate it from the fleece vowel, /i:/. – Araucaria Jul 31 '14 at 13:00
  • @Araucaria I see your point with seedy /ˈsiːdiː/ as it does sound different from CD /siːˈdiːː/. C /siːː/ D /diːː/ Sid /sɪd/ Siddy /ˈsɪdiː/ seed /siːd/ sit /sɪt/ city /ˈsɪtiː/ seat /siːt/. I would describe "i" as always short /ɪ/, and "ee" (and its variants) as usually long /iː/ and sometimes extra long /iːː/. Otherwise if "ee" could be short you couldn't differentiate between sit /sit/ and seat /sit/, which in AuE are quite different. I just recorded and measured the length of the vowels in sit, 0.112s; seat, 0.155s and CD, 0.181s, 0.345s. – CJ Dennis Aug 1 '14 at 3:32
  • Your interesting experiment shows some of the effects of the environment on the length of a vowel:) The /ɪ/ and /i:/ in sit and seat are both shorter than they would normally be, because they are followed by an unvoiced consonant (an effect known an pre-fortis clipping). If you did Sid and seed they would be considerable longer. 'C' is shorter than 'D' because it isn't taking stress, whereas the 'D' is. Nice experiment. – Araucaria Aug 2 '14 at 10:41
  • To show that /i/ and /i: are different you could record the /i/ at the end of city and compare it to the first /i:/ (also unstressed) in CD. – Araucaria Aug 2 '14 at 10:44
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happy.

spa. In American English, the vowel matches the short "o" in rock, not the schwa in "ruck". Similarly, "ma", "pa", and "da", but not "momma" or "poppa".

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spa lists the following words as rhyming with spa: bra and schwa.

spaghetti.

http://pronunciationtips.com/endings3.htm lists: twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, and ninety.

  • That's pretty nifty! – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 9:48
  • IPA: seventy ['sEv(ə)nti], ninety ['nʌInti] but eighty ['eIti:] – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 9:52
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+50

The answer to this question will depend on the level of transcription used. In very broad transcription of English, the answer yes. For more narrow transcription, however (including vowel length and offglides), the short answer is no. In general, there is no English word which can end in a short unstressed monophthong that is not [ə], or a schwa-like sound.

This is due to several phonological processes in English:

(1) A vowel lengthening process that applies to tense vowels in an open syllable. In a simplified case this would include all words terminating in a tense vowel.[1]

(2) A constraint that forbids open syllables in English terminating in a lax vowel. These are also known as checked vowels.[1]

(3) A vowel reduction process that applies to unstressed vowels. These vowels become neutralized (information is lost), are no longer contrastive, and in general reduced to a schwa-like sound, which is canonically transcribed as [ə] in English.[1]

To see why this plays out, let us consider the possible cases of a word ending in a short unstressed monophthong and why these phonological processes make it impossible.

(a) Suppose we have some word which ends in a tense vowel V. Tense vowels are lengthened when in open syllables according to (1). Thus, no matter how stress is assigned, V will be realized as V: (or VV, whichever you prefer).

(b) Suppose we have some word which ends in a lax vowel V. According to (2), lax vowels are checked in English, so there can be no open syllable ending in a lax vowel. Syllables which do violate English phonotactics (therefore they are not English!).

However, it does seem other unstressed vowels besides schwa can terminate a word. From a phonetics course:

three weak, unstressed vowels Schwa, KIT and FOOT do occur at the end of words such as teacher, China, happy, to.[2]

In particular, words like < happy > and < copy > are transcribed as ending in a short unstressed tense high front vowel [i]:

['hæpi], ['kɒpi] [3]

Nevertheless, tense vowels (in English) are actually often transcribed as having a glide appended, matching the "place" of the vowel.

< see > [sij] [1]

< who > [hu:w] [1]

For the word , this corpus of English by Heather Goad (Associate Professor of Linguistics at McGill University) also transcribes it with the final sound being the palatal glide [j]. Here are eight such instances from her corpus.

(the same also holds true for < you >, there over 200 instances of it being transcribed as [juw] which is not the same as [ju])

From these two sources, then, < happy > does not terminate in a short unstressed monophthong and should be transcribed as [hæpij]. The appended glides are called offglides, and sometimes are put in the superscript of the vowel with the offglide. Vowels with offglides are not monophthongs but diphthongs.

[i:] ~ [iy] ~ [ɪY] alternate in English, but [i] is absent altogether.[5] This again lends evidence that < happy > does not end in an unstressed short monophthong but a short unstressed diphthong.

Note additionally that vowel length is not contrastive, which makes sense when we realize that vowel length is predictable in English. Contrastive features cannot be predicted, since they are used to encode lexical information.

As a disclaimer we must remember that the IPA symbols are abstract and idealized representations of sounds present in natural language. Thus there may be some speakers whose schwa might not accurately be transcribed as [ə] but perhaps closer to [ɨ] or even [ʌ]. Regardless of the specifics of the realization, none of these are contrastive, e.g. saying < a boot > [ʌbut] is the same as [əbut]. However, if we want to stress the definite article, the phrase gets realized as [ebut], e.g. It was a boot that John lost (and not a foot). This is because schwa in general cannot be assigned stress and from (3) unstressed vowels are generally reduced to schwa.

[1]Applied Phonetics & Phonology: English Vowels. Tom Payne, TESOL at Hanyang University, 2007. http://pages.uoregon.edu/tpayne/APP2007/APPSession03-4-2007-Payne-print.pdf

[2]ENS101G Phonetics I: Lax vowels. Pétur Knútsson, 2008. https://notendur.hi.is/peturk/KENNSLA/02/TOP/VowelsLax.html

[3]ENS101G Phonetics I: Stress and weak vowels (Week 5, powerpoint). Pétur Knútsson, 2008. https://notendur.hi.is/peturk/KENNSLA/02/02schedule.html

[4]Goad, Heather (2010). English-Goad: Online Corpus of Phonological Development. McGill University. ISBN 1-59642-438-9. Web access: http://childes.talkbank.org/data/

[5]Stockwell, Robert and Donka Minkova. Explanations of Sound Change: Contradictions between Dialect Data and Theories of Chain Shifting. Web access: http://www.ling.ohio-state.edu/~ddurian/AWAC/Stockwell%20Minkova%201999.pdf

  • Contrastive features cannot be predicted, since they are used to encode lexical information. -- Absolutely. – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 9:57
  • This seems to make rather sweeping presumptions, also bracketing everything into 'English,' esp., the first sentence. – Kris Aug 2 '14 at 10:00
  • How about the short /i/ in 'happy'? This is a so-called tense vowel, but isn't long. Similarly how about the vowel /u/ in 'thank you letter'. These are all tense, short and unchecked. The /i/ in 'happy' will certainly never reduce to schwa and neither will the /u/ in 'thank you letter' [If you add the weak vowel stuff in I'll upvote you!] – Araucaria Aug 2 '14 at 12:00
  • @Araucaria Thank you for bringing up this issue with < happy >. I have addressed it now towards the second half of the post. – user3898238 Aug 2 '14 at 20:52
  • The links you've put in don't seem to work ... – Araucaria Aug 2 '14 at 22:14

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