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In English, a syllable-initial consonant is semi-vowelized before a semivowel?

For example, what's the IPA pronunciation of the word music?

/mjuzɪk/

or

/mʲuzɪk/

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    There are many, many different dialects of English, and I don't believe their treatment of initial /mj/ is all the same. Oct 20, 2017 at 12:04
  • I would also review your sentence "In English, a syllable-initial consonant is semi-vowelized before a semivowel?" Given that the "syllable-initial consonant" is /m/, /m/ can only be before a semivowel if it precedes /j/ or /w/ in English, you can't say that /m/ precedes a semivowel if you are transcribing something as /mʲuzɪk/. In this case /mʲ/ is a unit and precedes the back vowel /u/. Oct 30, 2017 at 22:16
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    Answering your question for a different consonant, I believe that in American English, some of the pronunciations of tune are [tuːn], [tɪun], [tjun], [tyn], and in British English some are [tjuːn], [tʲuːn], [tʃuːn]. All of these are allophones, so it doesn't really matter which one you use, although [tjun] is the best one to aim for as it's most widespread. There are probably other pronunciations I'm missing. I don't know whether [mʲ] is used in any dialect of English, but if you're hearing it then it probably is (although maybe your ears are deceiving you because you're used to Japanese. Nov 1, 2017 at 18:48

2 Answers 2

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To answer your question "What's the IPA pronunciation of the word music?"

[mʲuzɪk] is not an accurate transcription in any dialect of English*. I have also used square brackets instead of slashes as palatalization is not contrastive in English, and so brackets are properly used to indicate a level of detail beyond phonemic detail.

The superscript "j" ([◌ʲ]) indicates palatalization (which does occur in English), not "semi-vowelization." From Wikipedia:

Stops are palatalized before the front vowel /i/ and not palatalized in other cases.

However, /m/ is a nasal (sometimes called a nasal stop), but I don't think this claim is meant to include nasal stops, however, I'm not a phonetician. You can hear [mʲ] pronounced aloud here, where you can tell that this isn't a native English* sound.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the palatal approximant ([j]) as the correct transcription.

Brit. /ˈmjuːzɪk/ U.S. /ˈmjuzɪk/

Tl;dr: /ˈmju(ː)zɪk/ is correct, [mʲ] is not an English sound*.


* - That I am aware of. I would love to hear about one, though.

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  • I was not talking about yod-dropping. I can't really tell the difference between [mjuzɪk] and [mʲuzɪk]. Can you? The OP speaks a language which has the phoneme /mʲ/, and I assume he is hearing some people saying [mjuzɪk] and some saying [mʲuzɪk] and wondering which is correct. If he is, then they're probably allophones in English, and you can use either one. Oct 30, 2017 at 23:55
  • @PeterShor Oh, ok, I removed that from my post. Just a guess. (also, thanks for removing the bold/italics, that seemed like overkill). Hm, I hadn't considered that /mʲ/ was a Japanese phoneme. I'll mess with Praat later. Do you have any recordings of [mʲuzɪk]? Since you indicate you can't tell the difference Oct 30, 2017 at 23:57
  • I don't, but you can probably find lots of /mʲ/ phonemes in Japanese words. Oct 30, 2017 at 23:58
  • @PeterShor I'll see what I can find. Oct 31, 2017 at 0:00
  • Here is the pronunciation of a Japanese word beginning with /mʲ/. The first syllable sounds just like the way lots of English speaker pronounce mew to me. Jan 26, 2019 at 15:59
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The IPA pronunciations /mj/ and /mʲ/ in /mjuzɪk/ and /mʲuzɪk/ are allophones in English. Most English speakers will not be able to distinguish them without listening carefully (and maybe not even then), similarly to the way that Japanese speakers have trouble distinguishing /l/ and /r/.

Which way should you pronounce music? I don't think it matters. Which way do native speakers pronounce music? I think it varies.

For evidence, here is the pronunciation of the Japanese word ミュウツー (the Pokemon Mewtwo) and here is the pronunciation of ミュンヘン (the city München/Munich). The start of both words sounds just like mew to me.

And here are people saying мюзикл [ˈmʲʉzʲɪkl] (musical) in Russian. The start of this word sounds only slightly different from mew; that is, to me, the Russian /mʲ/ doesn't quite sound correct for English, but the Japanese /mʲ/ sounds very much like some English speakers pronounce /mj/.

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